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servances, and yet of whom, without the least breach of charity, it may be affirmed, that their affections are riveted on the world. Ambition, pleasure, gain, the lust of the flesh. They are present, it is true, where prayer is wont to be made, but they pray not, because their spirit is not one formed for prayer. They adopt the words of supplication, and are sometimes loud in the vocal response, but the spirit and the feeling is not there, and there comes not up from the depths of the heart the still small voice of a living faith. They listen, and with a respectful ear, to the word of God as it is read from the sacred desk, but they bring to the hearing no spiritual understanding. They attend to the word as it comes from the pulpit, in line upon line, and precept upon precept, and yet they shut up every avenue to the heart, and will not give admittance to any thing which suits not the even tenor of the smooth formality in which they love to repose. It is thus, my friends, that the natural enmity of the human mind to spiritual religion is fostered and strengthened by the mere observance of the outward form and fashion of religion. An over eager attention to the name diverts the eye from the substance, as the charms of music may lull the sense of pain in one whose delight is in the mellowed breathings of the lute, or as an opiate of sufficient potency deadens feeling, by an overpowering counter influence. So, where an individual has an over estimate of that which makes but the outside of religion, what real religion is, is quite forgotten; and where there is a most scrupulous exactness in externals, it frequently, and most unfortunately occurs, that repentance for sin, contrition and humiliation, are neglected; faith in Christ as our alone righteousness, and love to him as our alone Master, are absolutely unknown; spiritual affections, delight in prayer, watchfulness over the heart, dread of sin, forgiveness of injuries, lowliness, meekness, resignation, fear, purity, holiness, are things strange and unwelcome; while in these very persons vanity and dress, and display, and amusement, and business, and company, and indolence, and selfishness, and pride, and forgetfulness of God, govern the heart supremely; and govern the heart more easily, my brethren, because the form of godliness without the power, the name to live while dead, lulls to rest the ill-informed conscience, by having administered an opiate of most terrific power. Most true, my brethren, most emphatically true, is the declaration
Vain are our fancies, vain our flights,
If faith be cold and dead;
To Christ the living head.
Of every formalist, let the grade of his formality be what it may; of every individual who so raises the externals of religion as to depreciate the practical necessity of a changed and sanctified heart, it may be said that he has the form, but denies the power of godliness; and the Lord Jesus Christ, who directed this epistle to the Church of Sardis, has stamped on the heart, and on the head, and on the hands of all such—“Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead."
On the part of my subject which has thus far occupied our attention, I have but one word of concluding exhortation. Seek to ascertain, by every mark and criterion of Scripture, the reality of your religion. Beware of formality, in every shape and under all its disguises. Let the whole vigour of your souls, let all the powers of your
understanding, and all the energies of your entire being, be directed to the actual powers of religion. Lay the foundation of your religion deep; build not with untempered mortar; for the time is coming which shall try every man's work of what sort it is. And if, my dear friends, there shall come the solemn day of decision, and you have at that day nothing better than what you now, have, the mere name to live, what sentence can be expected other than that which is recorded—“ Depart from me, ye cursed ?" What destiny can come other than that which is determined—“the blackness of darkness,” the gnawing of the worm which dieth not; the horrors, the everlasting horrors of the second death? Rouse from these slumbers. God is a spirit. Awake from the death-like sleep of formality. Pray to God that the flesh and the living breath of religion may come on the bones now dry and destitute of vitality. Then, roused to newness of life, shall you stand on your feet, the ransomed of the Lord, for time and eternity
FORMALITY IN RELIGION,
ILLUSTRATED IN THE
HISTORY OF THE CHURCH AT SARDIS.
REVELATIon iii. 1-6.
In my last discourse I called your attention to the introductory description of the Saviour, and to the awful spiritual condition of the Church at Sardis. It was shown that the expression—“who hath the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars," was intended to intimate that in the mysterious economy of grace, the Lord Jesus Christ has in his hands the dispensation of the Spirit in all its graces and operations, and that he controls the movements of his ministers. It was further shown, that the sin of the Church of Sardis was formality, nominal reli- , gion; and after having enlarged sufficiently on this fact, I endeavoured to improve the occasion by pressing on your minds the force of some practical remarks. We come in the present discourse to consider the
IIId. General division, the counsel and the threat, contained in the second and third verses of this epistle—“Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast and repent.
The first particular of advice here given to the members of the Church of Sardis is, that they be watchful. The cause of the most lamentable departure of this Church from the spirituality of religion, is no where distinctly stated. This exhortation, however, may give us the clue by which that cause may more readily be discovered. They had not been sufficiently vigilant against the inroads of the great enemy of their salvation. And, my friends, I would incidentally remark, that wherever there is a defection from the spirituality of the Gospel; wherever there is a disposition to sink the genuine influence of religion into mere formality, the cause is to be traced to a want of spiritual vigilance. But no matter what was the cause of the declension so seriously charged on the members of the Church of Sardis, the counsel of the Lord Jesus Christ was, that they should be watchful; that they should rouse themselves from the guilty slumber into which they had fallen; that they should shake off the drowsiness and stupor which had enchained their spiritual senses; that they should be awake to the wiles of the great adversary; that they should be renewedly active in the examination of the state of their own souls and of their Church, and animated by a fresh zeal, in the discharge of their several duties; that they should afresh give themselves up to the love and the