The Power and the Form - Part 2
But what is the "form?" A form is something that comes very near, and yet is not the thing itself. It is something like what painters call a lay figure; and from which they draw when they have not a living subject to copy. The lay figure represents a man with all the limbs, sinews, and muscles; but life, breath, and motion are wanting. For instance:
1. There is the form of repentance. A person may profess to be very sorry for, and to have great conviction of sin, talk about a law-work, and guilt on account of his transgressions; and yet not have that life-giving power of the Spirit upon his soul producing real contrition and true repentance. It may be only the workings of natural conscience, and not that peculiar teaching of God the Spirit in the heart of a sinner whereby he is broken down into godly sorrow and deep penitence of heart before the Lord.
2. So with respect to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a natural faith in Christ as well as a spiritual faith. A man may have heard so much about Jesus Christ under ministers who extol him highly, speak of his Person, proclaim his blood, and dwell upon his justifying righteousness, that he may fancy he has faith in Christ, because he has heard so much of him with the outward ear; and yet be all the time without living, genuine faith. This special gift and work of God upon the soul may be still fatally wanting.
3. So with respect to love to the Lord Jesus Christ. There may be a natural love toward him. A man may have heard and read so much of his kindness to sinners, and such glowing descriptions of the beauty of his Person, that he may have fallen in love with him. Just as Roman Catholics have their crucifixes and paintings of Christ, and in admiring their crucifixes and adoring their paintings, feel the workings of fleshly love towards him whom they suppose to be there represented; so a man may have heard so much about the love of Christ, that he may have his fleshly affections roused up, and mistake them for that pure love which is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost.
4. So we may have something that draws us towards the Lord s people. We may feel that there is an amiableness about them; we may believe that they are the Lord s living family, and wish to be like them; to talk as they talk, and speak as they speak; and this we may mistake for love to the brethren; whilst all the time our heart may be completely destitute of that true love to the brethren, the fruit and effect of the Spirit s work upon the soul.
5. So with respect to the gift of prayer. It may seem to ourselves, and those who hear us, so simple, so fervent, so earnest, so humbly expressed, that surely it must be a spiritual prayer. And yet, we may often mistake a mere natural gift for that special grace of God whereby we are enabled to pour out our heart before him.
6. So we may be able by what we have felt under the convictions of natural conscience to live a life of separation from the world, to overcome sin when not very strong, to walk in the commandments and ordinances of God blameless; and yet be destitute of the vital power of the Spirit s teachings and operations, without which all these things are but as the convulsive twitchings of a dead body under the action of an electric battery. Like Herod, a man may do many things, and yet be absolutely devoid of the vital power of godliness brought into the heart by the Spirit of God.
IV. - Well, some may say, if this be the case, how may I know that I am not deceived altogether? If a man may go so near, and yet not be a real character, what evidence have I, says some poor tempted child of God, that I am not deceived? Now what is said of these characters? They deny the power. Have you done that?
But what is it to "deny the power?" The power may be denied in various ways.
1. It is denied by some publicly and openly. There are some preachers professing the doctrines of truth, who cut down all experience, and say, it is nothing but frames and feelings. This is to deny the power of godliness. If we have no frames, if we have no feelings, I am very sure the Spirit of God has not made our bodies his temple. If we have never had frames of sweet meditation, a frame of living faith, a frame of divine love, a frame of spiritual-mindedness, a frame of heavenly affections, I am very sure the Spirit of God has never blessed our soul. Again, if I am without feelings-a feeling of sorrow for sin, a feeling of faith towards Jesus, a feeling of love towards his name, a feeling of love towards the brethren; if we are without these gracious feelings, we are dead as stones as to any possession of the life of God. So that, to cut down experience, and say, it is nothing but a parcel of frames and feelings, is to deny the "power of godliness."
You will observe these men do not deny godliness; they dare not do that; but they deny the power of it in the heart of a saint, under the operation of the Spirit. Every jeer and sneer, every taunting speech thrown out against frames and feelings just manifests what a man s heart is; it is opening a door through which you can look indeed into the secrets of his bosom, and there see the serpent coiled up and hissing enmity against God s truth and against his living people.
2. Others deny it by their life and conversation. If a man walk in the lusts of the flesh; if he wallow in uncleanness or drunkenness; if he be altogether given up to the power of pride and covetousness, he denies the power of godliness by his actions as much as the preceding deny it by their words.
Both these characters deny the power of godliness outwardly the one in word, the other in deed.
3. Others, having more regard to conscience, cannot go that length of outward enmity; yet they too deny it inwardly. For instance, are there not those who secretly think there is no absolute need for the soul to be emptied and stripped, and to have a revelation of Christ; and that they can be saved without such an experience of the bitter and the sweet, the sorrows and the joys that the Lord s people speak of? And are not these secret thoughts much strengthened and fostered by those ministers who profess to preach Christ as distinct from, and far superior to experience? What more common than such language as this from the pulpit: I cannot bear to hear people talk of their castings down and liftings up; they dwell and pore so much upon self; why do they not go out of self, and look to a precious Jesus?
I want to know if this is not inwardly denying the power? They dare not say there is no such thing; but they speak of looking out of self to Christ, as if there were no inward experience of Christ, no visitations of his presence and love; and as if all religion consisted in a dry, speculative knowledge, without one inward grain of life and feeling. Their talk of looking to Christ is very plausible and subtle; but its real aim and drift is to deny the power of vital godliness in the heart of a saint.
4. But there are others who deny it virtually and actually by the non-possession of it. For instance, there are many who say they approve of, and that there is nothing like experimental preaching; they will crowd and cram a chapel to hear the experience of God s people traced out; and yet all the while they virtually and actually deny the power of it by the non-possession of it in their hearts. They have imbibed such a knowledge of the plan of experience from constantly hearing it preached, and they are so certain that it is the truth, that they will hear nothing else, and yet the vital power has never reached their conscience.
V. -And this leads me to our last point- "From such turn away." But how do we turn away from them? We turn away from them when we feel no union with them. I have thought sometimes that we may divide the quickened family of God into three classes. There are those whose religion is commended to our judgment; there are those whose religion is commended to our conscience; and there are those whose religion is commended to our judgment, conscience, and affections. Have you not felt in conversing with persons professing godliness that there are some whose religion you receive in your judgment? You dare not say that they have not the fear of God: nor that what they have told you of the dealings of God upon their soul is not genuine. But still what they say does not much enter into your conscience.
Again; there are others who speak of the dealings of God upon their soul so clearly and plainly, so distinctly and undeniably, that what they say is at once commended to our conscience; but still there is something wanted; it does not kindle a secret flame of love within, nor lay hold of our affections. And then there are others whose religion is not merely commended to our judgment and conscience, but to our very heart and soul. These at once leap into our affections; we love them, and cleave to them, and feel a vital union of soul with them.
Now if we can get hold of people in this threefold way, or in any one of them, we are not to "turn away" from them. None of these deny the power of godliness. If we can receive them into our judgment, it is not so good as receiving them into our conscience; and receiving them into our conscience, is not so good as receiving them into our affections. But if we can get them into our judgment, we must not "turn away" from them. But there are those whom we cannot even get into our judgment; their religion seems to be nothing but deceit and delusion. We cannot trace the hand of God in them; we cannot see any distinct marks of the Spirit upon them. From these we are called upon to "turn away."
But we "turn away" from those who deny the power of godliness in several ways.
1. First, we "turn away" from them as regards conversation with them. If people talk to us about religion, and we speak in an approving tone to them, whilst there is something in our heart which does not believe they are vitally partakers of grace, we are but playing the hypocrite; we are sanctioning that which we know in our conscience we do not approve of. If therefore any person talk to you about divine things, and you cannot receive him into your judgment: if you drop any word that seems to sanction that man s religion, you are plastering him over with untempered mortar, and sewing pillows under his arm-holes. The word of truth bids you "from such turn away;" that is, have no such conversation with him; give him no false hope; bolster him up with no vain expectations.
2. But secondly, the precept implies that you are to "turn away" from receiving him as a member of the church. If a man or woman comes before you wishing to be received into your church: and you cannot in your conscience believe the work of God with all his profession is begun upon him, you are to "turn away" from receiving him.
3. But you are also commanded to "turn away" from those that deny the power of godliness as regards their company. Unless you are persuaded in your judgment, or your conscience, or your affections, that they are living people of God, you are to "turn away" from them so as not to walk with them in seeming fellowship and union. You cannot indeed as the Apostle says 1Co 5:10 go altogether out of the world; nor would we wish to be otherwise than courteous and civil to those who address us in terms of civility and courtesy. But that is another thing from endorsing their religion, and stamping it with our approval, by freely or frequently associating with them. For myself, if I speak a word whereby I express union to those whom I do not receive in my heart, I feel that I am telling God and man a deliberate lie, going against the conviction of my conscience, and doing what I hope God may ever keep me from.
But then, on the other hand, courtesy, kindness and civility are due to all. And if we "turn away" from any because we are not able to take them into our bosom, and cannot, consistently with a good conscience, foster their vain hopes and bolster up their delusive expectations, that is no reason why we should treat them with contempt. The word of truth commands us to "honour all men," and towards the people of God to "put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering."
Now, what testimony have we who desire to fear God s name that we have anything more than a "form of godliness?" We have a form; that is very clear. But have we any living testimony in our conscience that we have something more than the form? Have we ever felt the power? We have no testimony that we are possessors of godliness unless we have felt its power.
But there are children of God there may be some here present this morning who are now, and have been for weeks, or even months, without the feeling power; and they are perhaps writing bitter things against themselves because they are not under those lively feelings that they once enjoyed. But since you have once felt it, have you ever denied the power, or with all your darkness and deadness, do you deny it now? Is not this rather the feeling of your soul? "O that I were as in months past, as in the days when God preserved me; when his candle shined upon my head, and when by his light I walked through darkness" Job 29:2,3. Is not this rather the language of your heart, O that the Lord would bless me indeed! would revive his work upon my heart, and give me life and power, to enable me to believe in his name! O that he would visit my soul with some discovery of his love, and bring me out of that gloomy and dark state in which I am so sadly sunk!
These are the feelings of a living soul. But those who have but the "form of godliness," deny all these exercises. They want no revivings; they are sighing after no manifestations; they never plead with the Lord to look down upon them and bless them; they are satisfied with an outside religion; they are contented with the mere form. If they can deceive themselves and one another, it is enough. But the living soul, who has the fear of God alive in his bosom, is not so satisfied; he wants living manifestations of God s presence, sweet communications of God s mercy, and the blessed overshadowings of the Spirit upon his heart. If he has not them, he feels he has nothing.
Thus, while this text cuts to a thousand pieces those who have but the form, it does not wound the poor mourning child of God who is sighing and crying after the power. Every sigh, cry, and groan that he has on account of his dark, dead, gloomy state are so many living evidences of that power. Whence arise your sighs? What makes you mourn upon your bed? Whence spring those breathings in your soul as you sit by your fire-side after the Lord s presence- that he would speak to your soul, and manifest himself to you? Why, they spring from this conviction deeply wrought in your heart, that nothing but the power of God can reach your soul. All short of that is stamped upon your conscience as nothing.
Now these are the people we are to receive to our bosom, those who have godliness, and those who have the power of godliness. But those that deny it, be it in word, or in deed; be it virtually by their life and conversation, or inwardly and secretly- from such we are to "turn away." This may bring us a bad name; this may load us with hatred and reproach; this may often prove very cutting to our feelings; but we shall in the end reap the benefit of it, in having the secret testimony of an honest conscience, and the smiles of an approving God.