Page images
PDF
EPUB

SERMON IV:

ON FORMALITY AND HYPOCRISY IN RELIGION.

Rev. iii. 1.

I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou

livest, and art dead,

We have frequently considered the state of the world as lying in wickedness; and have expressed our grief on viewing the folly, the obstinacy, and the impending rúin of sinners. But let us remember, that many affect to weep for others, whose own circumstances demand their tears and their pity. They seem filled with a pious indignation at the more notorious breaches of the law of God; and when these and other commandments are enumerated to them, “ Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not commit adultery,” with the greatest self-complacency they say, “ All these have I kept from my youth up.” But they are, notwithstanding, very defective in real religion. They have the form of godliness, and make a fair and flourishing appearance at a distance; but when we come near, instead of meeting with fruit, we find nothing but leaves. I

say not this to check the well-built hopes of a Christian. I would on no account raise groundless scruples and jealousies in the heart of any genuine, humble, self-suspecting servant of God. What then

shall I do? Shall I make no inquiry whether there be any such characters among us or not? Or shall I say, “Yes, I am satisfied that you are all of you Christians. I am fully persuaded that there is not in this nume. rous company one hypocrite, one painted sepulchre, one nominal professor. I verily believe that you are all true Christians, children of God, and heirs of glory.” God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, how greatly I should rejoice to make this declaration. But if I were to do it, should I not be too hasty ? Alas! how many are there who have never set apart one hour in their lives, to consider seriously, whether they have any title to life and salvation or not! In such a case, should I flatter and encourage them, and promote their delusion? Should I whisper peace to men, who must speedily be awakened, or be ruined for ever? No, faithfulness to God, love to your souls, and a concern for my own, forbid it. But do thou, O Lord of life, pour out on thy unworthy messenger, the spirit of power, of love, and of a sound mind; and enable him to illustrate this important truth in such a manner, that it may be the happy means of undeceiving the miserable self-deceiver. May it also establish the faith, and encourage the heart, of every upright Christian ; while he finds that he has more than a name to live; being dead, indeed, to sin, and alive to God, through Christ Jesus our Lord.

“I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.”

These words contain a part of the severe reproof which was given to the angel of the church of Sardis. They express the lifeless state of religion in that so

ciety; and they are followed by this important exhortation; “ Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die."

I proceed now. to inquire what is requisite to procure a person a name to live; and who are those whose religion is entitled to no higher character. I shall afterwards describe the : guilt: and danger of resting in such a lifeless profession. .,;

I. We are to inquire what is necessary to give a man a name to live.

It is certain that many have not attained even to this. Their own consciences, and all around them, unite in condemning them as dead to every thing holy. : What must a man do, therefore, in order to establish a reputation for religion?

I answer, that it is necessary that he abstain from vice, and the grosser pollutions of the world. A man may get the name of being rich without making a figure, or living up to the income which he pretends to possess. · But no one can be deemed religious without some sort of decency of behaviour, and a general freedom from public and scandalous vices. The world, however credulous, is not easily imposed upon in this instance. It is often difficult for a Christian, the humble, serious, upright Christian, who designs, and earnestly endeavours, 66. to live soberly, righteously, and godly,” to establish and maintain an uncensured reputation. But where there is no care. to keep ourselves unspotted from the world, or when we live in the known commission of any one sin, we may say what we will, and make what pretences to religion we please, yet we shall not be able to gain any credit. :

[ocr errors][merged small]

hiin say

Besides this, there must be an external appearance of devotion. Mere negatives will not be sufficient. Let a man be exact and pharisaical in washing the outside of the cup and the platter; or let

with truth, “ God, I thank thee, I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers;" yet if he go no further, none will account him truly religious. If he neglect all positive duties; if he show no regard to religion in the house of God, in the family, and in the closet; if he cast off fear, and sestrain prayer before God; if he never read the word of God; and, still more, if his seat in God's house be always or generally empty; it he be not also regular, constant, and apparently devout in the performance, whatever he think of himself, others will never regard him as a genuine Christian.

This, at least then, is requisite to procure for a man a name to live, that he be free from more open and scandalous vices; and that he regularly attend to the duties of religion, and appear to be a proficient in Christian virtues and graces.

But there are many of you who hear me this day, who have not so much religion as this. How can I think otherwise of you, when some of you live in the indulgence of vice; or when your places in this house are so frequently empty, or filled with sleepy and indifferent hearers ? I am surprised and grieved at your conduct; and it makes me tremble when I see you apparently casy in such a deplorable and dangerous condition. Where, sinner, is thy conscience? Dost thou think that it is dead, because it does not disturb thee as forinerly? If this be thy opinion, thou art miserably deceived. It is not

dead, but sleepeth; and it'is not so fast asleep, as t prevent its marking thy sins, though it does not a present reprove them. But be assured that th arch-angel's trumpet will awaken it; and then thoi wilt be convinced that it has never been idle. I will, with an amazing exactness, set thy siņs i order before thee, and charge them home upon the with a dreadful resentment. But come now, and le us reason together : though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow; and though they b red. like crimson, they shall be as wool. Why wi ye die, when Christ has most expressly engaged that if

you will awake, and arise from the dead, h will give you life ? ; ..^ Yes," methinks I hear one of you say, would, but I cannot arise. That is what grieves me It is life and strength that I want. I am sensible o my danger, and see the bottomless pit gaping wid to receive me. I would flee from the wrath t come; but O! wretched man that I am, who shal deliver me? I can do nothing of myself. I coul as easily lift a mountain, as make my wicked, stub born heart obey, or love, or trust in a Saviour. know that he is the Holy One of God; but, lik the unclean spirits, I believe and tremble, lest m sins should procure for me a more dreadful con demnation.”

Do you say so sincerely? Then you are alread awake. Though others be strangers to your presen temper, conflicts, and resolutions, and perhaps thin you dead; yet he who knows your works, pro nounces you alive. He sees you loathing yoursel for all the evils which you have committed; h

« PreviousContinue »