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This is godliness, which, as the apostle here says, "is profitable for all things, [and in particular] has a promise of the life which is to come."
They who live godly, who adhere to and observe the doctrine which is according to godliness, and practise the several parts of piety just described, shall obtain everlasting life; happiness and glory in a future state, when the life that now is has a period.
This is so certain and so manifest a truth, that to you it needs no proof or demonstration. Jesus himself assures us, he came, that his people "might have life; and that they might have it more abundantly," John x. 10. He has declared, that when he shall come again to judge the world, and shall finally separate men according to their different characters, "the righteous shall go away into life eternal," Matt. xxv. 48. He said to his' disciples: "If I live, ye shall live also:" John xiv. 19; and bid them "not to fear," though a little "flock," since it "was their Father's good pleasure to give them a kingdom," Luke xii. 32. This is, as it were, his last will and testament: "Father, I will that they whom thou hast given me be with me, where I am, that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me," John xvii. 24. It would be tedious to recite only a small part of the passages of the gospels and epistles of the New Testament, where this is clearly taught. I shall only remind you of the beginning of the second epistle to Timothy, and of the epistle to Titus. The former is: "Paul an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God, according to the promise of life, which is in Christ Jesus." The latter: "Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness: in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.
Upon the foundation of this well-grounded hope, the apostles recommended it to men to forsake all sin, and practise all virtue. For, says St. Paul, "If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye through the spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live," Rom viii. 13. And in the last chapter of this epistle to Timothy, 1 Tim. vi. 17—19. “ Charge them that are rich in this world, that they do good, that they be rich in good works,-laying up in storea good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life," 1 Tim. vi. 17-19.
"This then is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation."
III. The third proposition in the text is, that "godliness has also the promise of the present life, or the life that now is."
This, possibly, may require some proof and evidence. The former proposition, some may be ready to say, is indeed unquestioned, and without controversy true and certain. There does "remain a rest to the people of God," Heb. iv. 10. When Christ shall come again to render to every one according to his work, there will be equal and exact retributions made to all. And the righteous shall receive a full recompense of all their services, labours and sufferings. But here it is not so. Here the religious and virtuous seem not to have any very desirable portion allotted to them. They are often neglected and scorned: and even hated and oppressed." They are truly and properly styled pilgrims and strangers on this earth. And this world is to them a very vale of tears. Did not Paul and Barnabas, as they went on confirming the churches which they had planted, acknowledge, "that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God," Acts xiv. 22. Does not St. Paul likewise say, that "all who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution," 2 Tim. iii. 12. And Solomon under the ancient Mosaic dispensation, when promises of temporal good things for the righteous are thought to have been more express, declares from his observation of things: "that no man knows love or hatred by all that is before him," and that "all things come alike to all," Eccl. ix. 1, 2..
To which I would answer, that nevertheless it ought to be supposed, that there is a truth in the observation of the text, that "godliness is profitable for all things, and has promise of the life that now is." We have no good reason to charge the apostle with inconsistency. Nor has he forgot what he said upon other occasions, of the afflictions and persecutions endured by himself or others in the service of truth. No, these things were ever present to his mind. And he immediately adds after the words we are considering: "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation. For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, especially of them that believe."
Let me attempt an illustration of this point in the following observations.
1. It is certain, that God's providence is over all his works, and that he has an especial, and
more favourable regard to righteous and sincerely good men than to others. As David says: "The righteous Lord loveth righteousness, his countenance doth behold the upright," Ps. xi. 7. which ought to be admitted as an undoubted maxim, never to be called in question: and is equivalent to what St. Paul says in the words cited just now, "God is the Saviour of all men, especially of them that believe."
2. It ought to be owned, that the great promise of the gospel is eternal life, or happiness in a future state, the life which is to come, as it is expressed in the text. "And this is the promise that he has promised us, even eternal life," 1 John ii. 25. Again, "And this is the record, that God has given us eternal life: and this life is in his Son," ch. v. 11. And to the like purpose many other texts of the New Testament. See 2 Tim. i. 1. Tit. i. 1—3. Heb. viii. 6.
3. Nevertheless there are under the gospel dispensation promises and assurances of comfort, peace and happiness to good men in the present world. Says our Lord, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth," Matt. v. 5. Arguing against solicitude for the things of this present life, he says: "Therefore take no thought," that is, be not anxious, "saying, what shall we eat? or what shall we drink? or wherewithal shall we be clothed? For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness: and all these things shall be added unto you," Matt. vi. 31, 32. And, every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundred fold, and shall inherit everlasting life," Matt. xix. 29. Or, as in another gospel, "shall receive an hundred fold, now in this present time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions: and in the world to come, eternal life," Mark x. 30. And when he forewarned the disciples, that " in the world they should have tribulation," John xvi. 33, he sufficiently assured them, that through him they would have peace and comfort.
4. But yet neither the law nor the gospel makes promises and assurances of remarkable prosperity and greatness to all good men in this world. Not much wealth, or great honour and respect from men: but rather only a competence of good things, favour and esteem with good men, and those among whom they live. This seems to be what our Lord means, when he says, all these things, food and raiment, before spoken of, shall be added unto you.
Nor is it any thing more that is promised in the Old Testament. So particularly in the thirty-seventh Psalm, a remarkable portion of scripture, with regard to this point. "Trust in the Lord, and do good. So shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed," Ps. xxxvii. 3.—" For the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace," ver. 11.-"I have been young, and now am old: yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread," ver. 25. And at the sixteenth verse of that psalm: "A little that a righteous man has is better than the riches of many wicked." Which is entirely conformable to what our Lord observes: "A man's life consisteth not in the abundance which he possesseth," Luke xii. 15. And considering the snares and temptations of this present world, some wise men have chosen a competence as the most desirable condition, preferable as to want, so also to abundance. Says Agur: "Remove far from me vanity and lies; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: lest I be full and deny thee, and say, who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain." Prov. xxx. 8, 9.
5. Some inequality and diversity of circumstances, with a variety of afflictions, is not unsuitable to the present state and condition. In this world the nature and constitution of all men is frail and mortal; it is a state of trial not of recompense. All therefore must unavoidably be liable to some, yea to many inconveniences, troubles, pains, sorrows, and disappointments. And all without exception must in the end submit to the stroke of death.
Good men, as well as others, may meet with trials and afflictions. It is the necessary consequence and result of the present frame of things. It cannot be otherwise, without a continued series of miraculous interpositions, and overthrowing the present course of nature, and turning this world, which appears to be a state of trial, into a state of remuneration and reward. Good men being mortal as well as others, they are liable to various bodily weaknesses and indispositions, to pining and tedious sicknesses, and even to long-continued exquisite and tormenting pains. And they may be tried and exercised with other disasters and afflictions, the
death of children or other relatives and friends; at other times, by the unkindness and sad miscarriages of those whose spiritual and eternal interests are most precious and desirable to them.
In such a world as this, wherein all are frail and mortal, where there are different characters, wise and foolish, good and bad; where there are different tempers and dispositions, where there is much peevishness and perverseness, as well as mildness and compliance; there will be a great deal of uneasiness and unhappiness, and a very considerable diversity of circumstances. Some bad men may attain to abundance of outward grandeur and worldly prosperity, and some good men may be depressed, abused, and ill-treated. At the same time considering, that neither the affliction of the one, nor the prosperity of the other can last always; and that neither condition is unmixed, and entirely throughout uniform and of a piece, the inequality is not vast. For in much outward prosperity, the most established and secure, there will be cares and fears, and there may be stinging reflections. And in afflictive cases there are usually some intervals of ease, some alleviations and abatements of pain and grief, some refreshing supports, cordials and consolations.
Which leads us to observe farther:
6. Piety has many advantages relating to this present life, and good men have grounds of support and comfort in every condition: whereby the "promise of the life that now is," is fulfilled and made good to them.
But the farther consideration of this point must be deferred to another season.
THE PROMISE ANNEXED TO GODLINESS.
For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.-1 Tim. iv. 8.
HAVE already shewn what we are to understand by bodily exercise, and that godliness has promise of the life which is to come.
III. The third thing is, that "godliness has promise of the life that now is." And for illustrating this point several observations have been mentioned.
1. It is certain that the Divine Providence is over all his works, and that God has an especial and more favourable regard to righteous and truly good men than to others.
2. It ought to be owned, that the chief promise of the gospel is eternal life, or happiness in a future state.
3. Nevertheless there are under the gospel dispensation promises and assurances of comfort, peace and happiness to good men in this world.
4. But yet neither the law nor the gospel makes promises and assurances of remarkable worldly prosperity and greatness to all good men in this world.
5. Some inequality and diversity of circumstances, with a variety of afflictions and troubles, is not unsuitable to the present state and condition.
6. Piety has many advantages relating to this present life, and good men have grounds of support and comfort in every condition; whereby the promise of the life that now is, is fulfilled and made good to them.
This was just mentioned the last opportunity. And it is the main point, which is now to be made out by us.
And I presume, that all may by this time be sensible of the reasonableness of the method in which we have proceeded: first insisting upon the promise of the life which is to come: inasmuch as that promise, and the hope of future eternal life, cannot but be an immediate source of comfort and joy. And without that promise and hope, the practice of virtue, and the profession of truth, if possible, would in some cases be extremely difficult and uncomfortable. For what
should induce men to hazard all their present interests for the sake of truth? With what satisfaction could an upright friend and patron of religion and virtue resign this present life, and submit to and undergo a painful death for the sake of truth, if there were no life to come where some recompense may be received?
In showing, then, the advantages and comforts of piety here, and its promise of the life that now is, the promise of the life which is to come must be supposed, and taken for granted, or well proved: as indeed it is a certain truth, or faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation.
In making out this point I intend to insist on the several following particulars.
We will compare the condition of good and bad men in this world. In the next place we will observe some temporal advantages which piety will be attended with, and may be the means of. It also secures from some temporal evils and troubles and finally it affords comforts and enjoyments which are not to be had without it.
1. Let us compare the condition of good and bad men in this world. For possibly, if we do so, it may appear, that the irreligious, who mind nothing but the affairs of this world, have seldom even now, upon the whole, any great advantage or superiority above the truly good
It is true, there are some instances of bad men, or of such as concern themselves about nothing more than a form of godliness, who have a great deal of outward worldly prosperity: and there are some good men in very low and mean circumstances, who meet with a great deal of worldly trouble and affliction; but it is not always so: neither do all bad men prosper: nor are all good men in adversity. Success does not always attend unrighteous or hypocritical men in their unrighteous designs. If they are unsuccessful; if they are disappointed in their aims and pursuits, how distressed then is their condition! how great their grief and vexation! which a good man avoids, or very much moderates upon like occasions.
Supposing the covetous and ambitious to prosper, and obtain the advantages they aim at; still those advantages are exceeding uncertain and vain. They cannot afford a great deal of satisfaction. For they are accompanied with cares and fears, and may be all lost. If they are not lost, they must be soon left: how soon, man knows not. "Riches," as the wise man observes, " certainly make to themselves wings: they flee away as an eagle towards heaven,' Prov. xxiii. 5. And, says the Psalmist, "Man that is in honour abideth not," Ps. xlix. 12.
There is no stability in earthly things, and but little satisfaction to be had from them whilst they are possessed. How unsettled, for the most part, is the condition of those who are in places of honour and preferment! How numerous and how watchful are their enemies and opposers! For which reason fears and jealousies oftentimes perplex and torment the minds of those who are in the most exalted stations. And though men are much advanced, the greater power, honour and splendour of some others may occasion envy, pining grief, and vexation. Whilst men have many and great advantages, and almost every ingredient of worldly felicity, some one trouble or affliction, or a restless desire of some one thing still wanting, may imbitter every enjoyment.
There is not then, any thing very tempting in the most splendid circumstances of bad men. 2. It should be considered, that there are many temporal worldly advantages, which do usually attend the practice of piety, and which it is the means of. Sobriety and temperance conduce to the health of the body, which is a very great blessing, and to the clearness of the understanding, the vigour of the mind, and all the intellectual faculties.
The health of the body, which is a very great blessing, the clearness of the understanding, the vigour of the mind, and all its intellectual faculties attend upon, and are fruits of piety. Sobriety, with frugality and diligence, will ordinarily go a great way toward obtaining and securing a competence of all things needful and convenient: and the meek shall inherit the earth. Mildness of disposition and temper, and moderate affections, conduce to health and long life. These also, together with a prudent and agreeable behaviour toward all those we converse with, if they advance not to honour, will procure the favour and good will of some, and good repute with the wise and discerning. "He that will love life," says St. Peter," and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile. Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil," 1 Pet. iii. 10-12. It is the advice of Solomon: "Commit thy ways unto the Lord,
and thy thoughts shall be established," Prov. xvi. 3. Again: "When a man's ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him," ver. 7. He also observes: "A man's wisdom maketh his face to shine," Eccl. viii. 1. Which is not more true of that part of wisdom, which consists in knowledge and understanding, and an ability to resolve difficult questions, than in that wisdom which consists in a virtuous conduct, and a mild, discreet, and obliging behaviour among men. Goodness and beneficence secure men respect in the time of their prosperity. And if their circumstances change, and they be brought into trouble, they will still be beloved and esteemed, and they will meet with some to protect and supply them, and interest themselves in their favour, as the exigence of their case requires.
3. Another thing to be said in the behalf of godliness is, that it tends to prevent, or secure from many evils. This is implied in the last-mentioned particular. Let me however show this more distinctly.
Many evils, some inward, others outward, are prevented by the several branches of piety. The sober and temperate avoid the bad effects and consequences of intemperance and licentiousness. He who governs his passions and affections lives free from many uneasinesses and disquietudes that torment and pierce others of ungoverned affections and passions. The truly pious man, that is not ambitious of honour and preferment, state and grandeur, who is not covetous, who enlarges not his desires after much wealth and large revenues, avoids solicitude and perplexity. The humble man that overlooks neglects and ungrateful returns, and some scornful and disdainful treatment, possesseth himself in peace, when others destitute of that virtue are rendered unhappy, or rather, make themselves unhappy, by the misconduct of other men.
The meek and patient, who can pass by, or bear with some injuries and offences, avoid strife and contention, and all the disagreeable consequences thereof, and the train of evils that attend them. Ungoverned excessive anger, deep and lasting resentment, beside the inward uneasiness they produce, oftentimes involve men in great and inextricable difficulties which might have been avoided. And whilst the man of ungoverned passion loses the favour and affection of friends, the mild and discreet subdues the hearts of enemies, and gains their good will and esteem.
4. Lastly, Good men have many comforts and enjoyments which others are destitute of. Solomon recommending wisdom, openly declares (not at all fearing to disappoint those who should hearken to his counsel, and make the experiment), "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her; and happy is every one that retaineth her," Prov. iii. 17, 18. And in another place he says: "A good man shall be satisfied from himself," ch. xiv. 14.
A discreet and thoughtful person, who has considered the nature of religion, and the extent, of its precepts and obligations: who has formed to himself just sentiments concerning God and the way of serving him: and who does actually perform the duties suited to his capacities and circumstances; revering, honouring, and worshipping God, infinite in perfection, and the fountain of all good; loving, relieving, helping his fellow-creatures according to his power, with fidelity and readiness; will ordinarily enjoy much peace and tranquillity of mind.
If at any time he have been misled from the paths of virtue, he has now repented of all his sins, and trusts in the forgiving grace and mercy of God, who pardons and accepts repenting and returning sinners: and he keeps himself in his favour by carefully avoiding all known sin, and performing sincerely every known duty.
He has now the pleasure of integrity, though not of perfection. And being in the frame of his mind and the conduct of his life, obedient and conformed to the will of God, he has a persuasion of his favour and acceptance, which is the truest joy and satisfaction.
Such an one is happy in every circumstance. Alteration of outward condition will not utterly destroy his peace and tranquillity, satisfaction, comfort, and joy. The sentiments and language of the Psalmist are those of all good men in general. "There may be many that say, who will show us any good? Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us. Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased,' Ps. iv. 6, 7.
If he be in prosperity, he owns God to be the giver of every good and perfect gift, and with delight offers up to him sacrifices of praise and thanks.