“Exercise thyself unto godliness.” 1 Timothy 4:7
The main work which God commands and commends to the children of men, is to glorify him upon the earth by exercising themselves to godliness.
What is godliness? Godliness is a worshipping the true God in heart and life according to his revealed will.
Second, godliness is a worshipping the True God. All religion without the knowledge of the true God is a mere notion, an airy, empty nothing.
Third, godliness is a worshipping God in heart and life. Godliness is the worshipping God in the inward motions of the heart and the outward actions of life.
Fourth, godliness is a worshipping God according to his revealed will. Every part of divine worship must have a divine precept. The institutions of Christ; not the inventions of men, are the rule of worship.
Godliness should be every man’s main and principal business because it is God’s chief end in sending man into this world and continuing him in it.
Now then, if godliness is a worshipping the true God in heart and life according to his revealed will; and if godliness is the main work which God commands to the children of men, it is of the utmost importance to us to consider:
Do we worship God? Do we truly exercise ourselves unto godliness?
Consider how this duty is so exceedingly neglected by mankind (and well may we mourn that it is so!) and then examine your own heart and life to see if you do indeed “Exercise thyself unto godliness!”
First; How eager is the worlding for wealth and earthly things! Though they loiter about the meat which endures to eternal life, yet they can labor for the meat that perishes; though they are so negligent about the kingdom of heaven, yet the kingdom of earth suffers violence. What pains do the mariners take for treasure! What perils does the soldier undergo for plunder! What labor and industry does the husbandman use for profit! he rises early, sits up late, denies himself, loses his sleep, rides and runs to and fro, embraces all opportunities, is eaten up almost with cares and fears, all for the earthly mammon, — while the heavenly mansions are like the unknown part of the world, which no man regards or looks after; “they pant after the dust of the earth,” as greedily as hot creatures do after the air to cool their scorched entrails (Amos 2:7). The serpent’s curse is entailed on that poisonous brood; the dust is their diet, they feed on ashes. They laugh at dangers, and trample upon difficulties, they force their way through darkness and the shadow of death, through stifling damps and overflowing floods, through rocks and mountains, in the pursuit of earthly treasures (Job 28:9-11). Ah, what a pity is it that this jewel should hang in a swine’s snout, which would so well become the Christian’s finger; that this diligence, this violence, should be exercised about men’s earthly and particular calling, which would so well suit their heavenly and general calling.
Is it not sad, that so noble a being as man’s soul should be wholly taken up with such mean, sordid things? God has entrusted you with a precious soul, descended highly, even from God himself, claiming kindred with the glorious angels, and capable of inheriting that kingdom, to which the most glorious empires of the world are but muck-heaps. Are you not one of them that employ this princely soul altogether about unsuitable and earthly practices, and causing it (as the lapwing, though it have a coronet on its head) to feed on excrements? It was one cause of Jeremiah’s sad lamentation that “the precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold,” should be “esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter” “they that were brought up in scarlet, embrace dunghills” (Lam 4:2, 5). Have not we more cause of sorrow that men’s souls should be put to no better use than earthen pitchers that they which should be brought up delicately in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, should be busy about dross, and embrace dunghills; that your precious soul should thus seek after earth and vanity, when it should be always standing and waiting in the presence of the Lord?
May I not say to you, Are you not ashamed, being an immortal, spiritual substance, the offspring of God, and capable of his likeness and love, to be glued as a toadstool to the earth, to spend your time and strength, venture the perishing of your mortal body, and immortal soul too, for that meat which perishes? Ah! how costly is that treasure which makes him a beggar to all eternity!
How foolish is man, and what a silly thing, to prize and take pains for husks before bread, vanity before solidity, a shadow before the substance, the world’s scraps before the costly feast, the dirty kennels before the crystal water of life, a mess of pottage before the birthright, and the least fleeting and inconstant good before the greatest, truest, and eternal good. Their particular callings are but about earth; and yet how eagerly are they pursued. How closely are they followed! how constantly are they busied about them! Their general callings are about their souls, their eternal salvation; yet how lingeringly is this calling entered upon, how lazily is it followed, and how quickly cast off. O foolish man! who has bewitched you, that you do thus dislike and disobey the truth? The favor of God, the promises of the gospel, the covenant of grace, the blood of Christ, the embroidery of the Spirit, the life of faith, the hope of heaven, joy in the Holy Ghost are laid before man; yet he overlooks them all, and lives like a mole, digging and delving in the earth. Though men see before their eyes an end of all earthly perfections, that the beauty, the bravery of all earthly things is but like a fair picture drawn on ice, quickly perishing; that their riches and estates are but like snow, which children take much pains to rake together to make a ball of, which upon the sun’s shining on, presently melts away; though they see daily men that hoarded up silver, and wrought hard for wealth, hurried away into the other world, leaving all their heaps behind them; yet they will take no warning, but, as the silly lark, still play with the feather in the glass till they are caught and destroyed by the fowler. — What say you, friends, should we not blush to think that worldings are more busy and laborious about the low things, the rattles and trifles of this life, than we are about the high affairs of God and our soul, the noble and serious concernments of eternity?
Second, how do men make superstition and idolatry their business! Though they are careless about divine institutions, yet they are zealous for human traditions. How zealous were the Pharisees for the inventions of their elders! Though they were backward where God commanded, they were forward when men commanded. What an outcry did Micah make for his idol! What a diligent search did Laban make for his images! Gideon must die for throwing down the altar of Baal. How earnest are many for priests, altars, sacrifices, days, meats, consecrations! In these their zeal is hot, boiling over to the scalding of themselves and others! Jeroboam will be at great cost for his idols; they must be not iron, or brazen, no, not silver, but golden calves; not gilded over, but massive, molten gold. The Israelites will spare their jewels for their idols (Exo 32:3). Micah’s mother, to make molten and graven images, will lay out eleven hundred shekels of silver. The papists are so prodigal, though it is the less wonder in them, because they hold such actions meritorious of salvation, that not only their churches, but even cloisters, are stuck and stuffed with costly, pearly presents to their supposed saints.
How many zealots, that will hardly give a penny to the relief of a poor Christian, throw away pounds for the maintenance of superstition.
They slight their relations to further their idolatrous devotion. Nay, they will sacrifice not only their estates and children, but their lives and all their outward comforts, to superstition. How did the worshipers of Baal cut and lance themselves! Ahaz sacrificed to the gods of Damascus that smote him; so fervent he was that he chose rather in the service of false gods to be scourged, than in the service of the true God to be saved.
Alas! what sorrow does this call for and command, that men should be so hot and fiery in will-worship, in false worship, wasting their wealth, cutting and carving their bodies, as if they were made only to be their slaves, and themselves to be the tyrants over them, laying out so much cost, and exercising so much cruelty, for that which is worse than nothing, for that which will not only not profit them, but extremely and eternally prejudice them; and in the interim, the easy yoke of Christ is scorned, the power of godliness slighted, which might be minded with much more mildness and mercy to their outward and inward man.
Third, as many, make the world their main work, and others superstition their principal occupation, so most make wickedness their chief, their constant trade and business. While holiness is but coldly entertained, but complimented with, sin is laid in the bosom and heartily embraced; the turnings and windings that are in the sinner’s way are not easily to be observed. In what haste and hurry is Absalom for a halter! what work does lust make in Amnon to waste his body, and send his soul to endless woe! how fast does Gehazi run after a leprosy, as if he might come too late! how sick and violent is Ahab for Naboth’s vineyard! how fiercely does Balaam ride, even without reins; after the wages of unrighteousness! How eager and earnest were Pharaoh and the Egyptians to fight against God! What a stir, what ado they make to overtake destruction, and to sink like lead in the midst of the mighty waters! Joshua could stop the sun in its course, but not stop Achan in his covetous career. Paul, before his conversion, followed the saints with such close persecution, and was so mad upon it, that like a tired wolf, wearied in worrying the flock, he lay panting for breath, and yet still breathed out persecution. — Men run by sin away from God, even to the tiring of themselves here, and tormenting themselves hereafter. They run as fast as if they feared that hell would be full before they came thither.
All the rubs which are laid in their way do rather increase their rage than hinder their riot. When God would stop the steam of their lusts by his prohibitions, laws, judgments, like waters dammed up, they swell the more, and like the possessed person, break all those cords in pieces. When Paul chides the Ephesians for their idolatry, they cry out for it with the greater vehemence. When Stephen had reproved the Jews for their cruelty, they were cut to the heart, and “gnashed upon him with their teeth.” When Ahaz was hampered in affliction, like a mad dog he bites at his chain, and sinned yet more in his distress against the Lord. When the sinner’s tide of nature is thwarted and crossed by the winds of reproof, or some judgment, what a storm is presently raised! how does he, like the sea, presently discover and foam out his own shame! Though God command, entreat, persuade, threaten, promise, yet all this physic does often but move and stir, not remove, nor purge away their ill-humors. Oh! how deadly is that disease which no physic can cure! and how tough is that wood that no wedge can cleave! The bird will beware of the pitfall in which she has been caught, and the beast of the snare in which he has been taken; but brutish man, more foolish than beasts, will not be parted from sin, though he has been sharply punished for it.
But possibly you may say: There are many that make godliness their business; they abound in every country, congregation and family. All are Christians and make the worship of God their main work.
I must answer as he did when he saw the vast army of Antiochus: “There are many men, but few soldiers; many mouths, but few hands.” There are many nominal Christians, many that flourish like fencers, beating only the air, but few that fight in earnest the good fight of faith.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the Lord search the heart” (Jer 17:9, 10).
The heart is the great workship where all sin is wrought before it is exposed to open view. It is the mint where evil thoughts are coined, before they are current in our words and actions: “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts” (Matt 15:19). That is the nest in which those hornets breed. The heart is the source of sinful words as well as sinful thoughts. They were in the heart before ever they were on the tongue. Every sinner conceives at the heart what he brings forth at the mouth: the heart is the vessel of poisonous liquor, the tongue is but the tap to broach it: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” The heart is the forge also where all our evil works, as well as words, are hammered out: “Out of the heart proceed murders, thefts, and adulteries, and fornications.” You will say that murders and thefts are hand sins, and that adulteries and fornication belong to the eye and outward parts of the body, but alas! the heart is the womb wherein they are conceived and bred. The outward parts are but the midwives to deliver the mother of those monsters, and to bring them into the world; “An evil man, out of the evil treasure in his heart, bringeth forth evil things.” There is no sin but it is dressed in the drawing-room of the heart, before it appear on the stage of the life. It is vain to go about a holy life till the heart be made holy. The pulse of the hand beats well or ill, according to the state of the heart and the inward vital parts. Our earthly members can never be mortified, unless the body of sin and death be destroyed. Therefore the Holy Ghost calls on men to take away the cause, if they would have the effect to cease. “O Jerusalem, wash thy heart from wickedness” (Jer 4:14). And in James 4:8 “Cleanse your hearts, ye sinners, and purify your hands, ye double minded;” first the heart cleansed, then the hands.
There are several things which may help to make the life fair in the eyes of men, but nothing will make it amiable in the eyes of God, unless the heart be changed and renewed. Indeed, all the medicines that can be applied, without the sanctifying work of the Spirit, though they may cover, they can never cure the corruptions and diseases of the soul. Some insects lie in a deep sleep all the winter, stir not, make no noise, that one would think them dead; but when the weather alters, and the sun shines, they revive and show themselves; so though lusts may seem dead in an unregenerate man, they are only laid asleep, and when opportunity comes will reveal. Shame may hide sin, but it will not heal sin; corruption often lies secret in the heart, when shame hinders it from breaking out in scabs and blotches in the life.
Fear may do somewhat to curb a corrupt nature, but it cannot cure it. The bear dares hardly touch his desired honey for fear of the stinging of the bees; the dog forbears the meat on the table, not because he does not like it, but because he is afraid of the cudgel. Many leave some sin in their outward actions, as Jacob parted with Benjamin, for fear they should starve if they kept it, who are as fond of their sin as the patriarch of his child. This inward love of sin is indeed its life and that which is most dangerous and deadly to the soul. Sin, only reigning in the heart, is oftentimes more hurtful than when it rages in the life. Such civil persons go to hell without much disturbance, being asleep in sin, yet not snoring to the disquieting of others; they are so far from being awaked that they are many times praised and commended.
Example, custom, and education, may also help a man to make a fair show in the flesh, but not to walk after the Spirit. They may prune and lop sin, but never stub it up by the roots. All that these can do, is to make a man like a grave, green and flourishing on the surface and outside, when within there is nothing but noisomeness and corruption. It has often appeared that those means which the great moralists have used to bridle their lusts and passions, have rather raised them than recovered them. Indeed, if the chief fault were not in the vital parts, then outward applications might be effectual. When the fault is in the foundation of a house, it cannot be mended by plastering or painting. A leopard may be flayed, but he is spotted still because the spots are not only in the skin, but in the flesh and bones and sinews. When a person loses his sight on account of a disease, by smallpox or the like, there the physic of morality may be advantageous, but when a person was born blind, there physic will do no good — a miracle alone must restore such a one to sight.
An unconverted person may do something, some small matter for the sake of religion, from common gifts of illumination, etc., but the most that he does is for his own sake, for the credit or profit which he expects thereby.
Friends, make sure of this inward change; otherwise, though your conversation may be specious, it can never be gracious, nor your profession durable. If the house be built on sand, it will never stand long. When the principles are variable and uncertain, so will the practices be. I wonder not that many professors disown the Lord Jesus, when they were ignorant why they at any time owned him. Christ tells us, some which heard the word, though for a season they rejoiced in it, when tribulation came because of the word, were offended at it, because they had no root. He that follows Christ, he knows not why, will forsake him, he knows not how. But not so he, unto whom his misery without Christ was revealed, who had a discovery of the absolute necessity of Christ, who by the eye of faith saw the excellencies in Christ, what love, and peace, and endless bliss, God offers with his Son, who, knowing what Christ expects from all that will be married to him, even the denial of themselves, the taking up of their cross, the contempt of father, mother, wife, children, estate, life, and all for him, yet being drawn with the cords of love, gives himself up to Christ, resolved to be faithful unto death, and to own the Lord Jesus Christ, whatever it may cost him.
And now, my friends, do you worship God? Do you exercise yourself unto godliness?
Let me address myself to those of you whose hearts have not been renewed. I would bespeak you, or rather God himself, “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Turn ye unto me, saith the Lords of hosts, and I will turn unto thee, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zech 1:3) After all your neglect and contempt of God and his Word, after all your wandering and wickedness, you have his call to turn and live. He calls you to turn unto him for your good, that you might be happy in his favor.
To those of you whose hearts have been renewed, in whose hearts saving faith has been implanted, I say: “Exercise thyself unto godliness.”
If you would exercise yourself to godliness, set God always before your eyes. Let your eye be ever on him whose eye is ever on you. If the eyes of men make even the vilest to forbear their beloved lusts for a while, how powerful will the eye and presence of God be with those that fear him, and know the sweetness of his favor! The thoughts of his omnipresence will quicken you to holiness. — There is a story told of Bishop Latimer, that he having in a sermon at court much displeased the king, was commanded to preach again the next Lord’s day, and to recant his former sermon. According to the appointment he came up, and prefaced his sermon in this manner: Hugh Latimer, do you know this day to whom you are to speak? even to the high and mighty monarch, the king’s most excellent majesty, who can take away your life if you offend; therefore take heed how you speak a word which may displease; — but (as if recalling himself, he proceeded) Hugh, Hugh, do you know from whom you come, upon whose message you are sent, and who it is that is present with you, and beholds all your ways? even that almighty God who can cast body and soul into hell forever; therefore look about you, and be sure that you deliver your message faithfully. And so he went on to his text, and confirmed what he had spoken before, and urged it with more vehemency than ordinary.
If you would exercise your self to godliness, walk humbly with your God. He leaves the high hills barren, but makes the valleys to abound in corn, that you should remember: “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.”
Discuss this article and other topics in our Discussion Board