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ing to him, and to all good men; for he says there is great peace to them that love it, and are not offended at, or made to fall by it.
And if the Word of God itself, so infinitely gracious and holy, can be rendered hurtful by the perversity of men's evil hearts, so, in like manner, may be all outward forms of religion: and indeed all observances of the commandments of God, which are in the letter and not in the spirit.
But surely no one would say that the Holy Scriptures, both old and new, ought not to be read constantly and diligently, because the letter of them is dangerous without the spirit: and no one ought to say but that the forms of religion, such as that of daily prayer and the like, ought not to be observed diligently and constantly, though there may be danger in a wrong use of them.
But, however, it is evident, from the many cautions of Holy Scripture, that there is some peculiar danger we are all in, of taking the outward form and shadow of religion for its life and substance. The many cautions of our Blessed Saviour to the Jews of His day on the subject, so frequent, so strong and awful as they are, every seriously thinking person must consider as applicable in some way to ourselves; inasmuch as human nature is always liable to the same dangers : and as the Apostle has warned us that in these latter days the great corruption of Christians will be marked by this circumstance, their “ having the form of godliness, but denying the power of it,” we should be particularly watchful upon this subject.
Now, perhaps, the most common and obvious instance of this dangerous self-deceit is that of going to Church, and there kneeling or sitting down while the Minister is praying, or even joining with him in words, without attending or considering them, and therefore asking for mercy without really feeling the want of it, from not thinking of our great need of it. And when the Scriptures are read, either not attending to them at all, or not applying them each to himself. Now this is, of course, very hurtful to us, because it produces a habit of indifference to sacred
and inattention to prayer; which are some of the worst things which a Christian has to dread, lest they should grow upon him; and also, because it makes the worship of God, which ought to be a delightful service, tiresome and painful, so as to
lead a person to think, as the Jews said of old, “what profit is there that we have kept His ordinances,” and “ what a weariness is it" in serving Him. The Psalmist speaks of the Law of God being delightful to him, pleasant as food to his taste, and sweet as honey. But, to take the illustration given before, unless a man is in health food is not pleasant to him, and honey is not sweet to him, and will neither nourish him nor do him good; and so, also, unless a person will rightly dispose himself to the worship of God, such service will neither be pleasant to him, nor will profit him or make him any the better, but rather will lead him to loath and disrelish sacred employments, and indispose his heart to serious prayer. And surely no ter evil than this can happen to us in this world.
But this is, perhaps, the most obvious and plain instance of our keeping up “the form” of religion, and losing “the power of it; so much so, that when Formalism is spoken of, it is, generally, merely to caution persons against this error, or some that is considered akin to it, such as fasting, which Scripture and the Church have so much recommended to us as a means of grace. And, indeed, so much is said against these dangers as to have led persons into a general neglect of these most necessary duties, for fear of their being abused and made mere forms. And with, perhaps, almost equal reason, might men be induced to dissuade us from the study of Holy Scripture, because "the letter killeth," and " the spirit" alone, contained therein, " giveth life."
But it will never profit us to give up a known duty and means of grace for fear of misusing it; for the same evil spirit is quite sure to follow us, and to deceive us in some other shape. For this is not curing the disease, but only driving it to another part, and perhaps to a more dangerous one.
The same kind of formalism, that is to say, a method of adopting an outside appearance of religion in the place of that which is from the heart, now very extensively prevails in another shape; the custom of taking up religious expressions, and certain outward forms of speech, and a mode of talking respecting our most adorable and Blessed Saviour, and many other things, which, if sincerely believed, would imply very great holiness, some such as none but a very good man could use without insincerity, and yet such as a truly good man would scarce dare to use.
Now all this seems to me a great system of formalism ; because it is very evident how it may all be, without a person ever being any the more truly humbled before God. For it is directed to the eyes and ears of men ; it is not directed to the eyes of the all-knowing God, who seeth in secret: and unless a person
is very diligent and watchful himself in keeping the commandments of God, and in urging them upon others in all possible
ways, I do not see how this can be otherwise than a very great snare to his conscience, as a kind of formalism, and one of the easiest kind. To go to Church very often without attending to the service there, is not so bad a kind of formalism as this, because it requires more trouble. To hear Scripture read, and not attend to it: to hear the Minister pray, and not pray with him, is no better than formalism : but it is a worse formalism to quote the words of Holy Scriptures ourselves without attending to them; and to use holy words of prayer to the Most High without thinking of what we are doing. And so, also, with regard to Baptism and the LORD's Supper, unless we seriously consider the high and heavenly things contained in them, it is rendering them mere forms, and making the chief and most important parts of our religion no better than those Jewish observances and ceremonies, the adhering to which, St. Paul tells us, would be so dangerous; keeping to the letter that killeth, and not to the spirit which giveth life.
And what renders this kind of formalism so peculiarly dangerous is, that it enters into the very holiest things of religion, and makes a mere form and profession of things which are the most concerning and affecting of all; things which ought not to be thought of, much less spoken of, without reverence and awe.
For let it be allowed that Faith in the merits of CHRIST, and in the Justification of His Holy SPIRIT, are the most important subjects in the whole of the Bible, so much so, that they make up the whole of religion, and that to hold them rightly is eternal life. But if the most important, then they must also be the most divine and holy, and if so, then is the danger much greater than on any other subject, lest we should not consider them with sufficient attention and seriousness. The danger of formalism upon this subject must be far greater than upon any other.
Nor do these observations apply only to any particular class of persons or opinions, but, in some shape or other, to all of us alike, in all our approaches to God, and imperfect ways of serving Him; for all true religion depends upon our endeavouring from the heart to please Gon, and doing every thing we do from the love and fear of Him. But whenever we have formed any little regular habits of devotion, there is a danger of our resting in them as forms, and not advancing in the knowledge of God; and still greater danger of our wishing to persuade other people that we are religious, instead of being so. How common is it with regard to the observance of the Lord's day! Many think that if they go to Church, and do nothing in the way of amusement and employment all day, that they are doing very well ; but surely, if this is all, it is little better than mere formalism. Sunday is, in an especial manner, a day of thanksgiving, to commemorate the Resurrection of our LORD; and business or worldly employment are chiefly objectionable on this account, that they keep us from heavenly employments, which consist in devotion to God, and any little works of charity to man.
The whole of the matter will in short come to this,-that we have very great need, every one of us, without exception, to labour after a habit of reverence,—unaffected and quiet reverence, in every thing whatever pertaining to God, and in all those things in which He is graciously pleased to give us tokens of His presence among us.
“ Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them :" such are the words of Christ Himself; and this thought should make us stir up ourselves to very reverend attention whenever we come into God's house, and all the while we are there; not to any overstrained feeling, but to humble and attentive thoughts. Surely it is very little to say that we should feel as if we were coming into the nearer presence of a Great King, or of one whom we loved and dreaded very much; to be thinking of other things and persons, cannot but be great disrespect to His Divine MAJESTY.
Or again: “This is my Body," are words respecting the Holy Communion which imply something very much more than this,the life-giving presence of Jesus Christ, in some very awful manner, a savour unto life and also of death ; though it would be irreverent in us to explain how or in what manner He is present. No miracle which our blessed Saviour worked on the bodies of men, is greater than that which He works at the Holy Communion on their souls. If this be the case, which we doubt not, how very cautious ought we to be lest we should do dishonour to His Body and Blood; lest we be like those Jews of old who, when He was present among them, knew Him not; and having no sense of His presence, received no benefit from it, but rather perdition. We should stir up ourselyes both before and after, to devout thoughts respecting it, lest we should forget, and not discern therein the Lord's Body.
In the next place, with regard to Scripture, we should use ourselves in every way to a reverential regard for it, as considering that in every part of it it contains a Spirit that giveth life. We know how people look upon any thing which has been given them by a very dear friend whom they have valued and loved ; they value it according to the love they have for their friend. Or what would they think of a letter from a friend in a distant country ? Surely, therefore, the manner of our receiving Holy Scripture will prove the state of our hearts towards God.
Now these things here mentioned are not certain feelings, to be called up and put on at certain seasons only, but they are the actions in which a reverential habit of mind shows itself. We must at all times be practising a deep reverence towards God, and praying for it; and these are the occasions in which it will show itself in express acts.
For God we know is always present; and the great difference between bad and good men is this,--that the latter are in some degree sensible of God's presence, and the other are not. For He is in some wonderful manner about our path and about our bed, seeing and hearing all that we say and do. The chief way to become sensible of this, is of course attentive and frequent prayer. And any thing that humbles us in our own sight and in the sight of men, has also this effect; for the more we think of the eyes
of men, the more we forget God's presence. For this reason fessing our sins” is called "glorifying God.”
glorifying God." And when the holy David would do honour to God, he laid himself open to be despised of men; saying to the reproaches of his wife, “I will yet be more vile than this, and will be base in mine own sight."