Eze_33:31-32. And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they healthy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant, voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not.
NONE can be religious without appearing so; because religion must of necessity regulate our outward conduct. But persons may appear religious, while they are wholly destitute of vital godliness. Such were they, who talked of [Note: “So the word “against” should be read in ver. 30. as the whole context evidently shews; and it is so rendered in the margin of the Bibles.] the prophet in their houses, and expressed so much solicitude to hear from him the word of the Lord—
We propose to consider,
The characters here described—
[If we look at their profession only, all is well: they unite themselves to the Lord’s people, and account themselves to be of their number. They pay great attention to the ordinances; they feel peculiar delight in the ministration of the word; they express a very high regard for those who labour in the word and doctrine; they are not offended even with the most searching discourses; nor are the sons and daughters of pleasure more gratified with musical entertainments, than they are with the fluent, fervent, eloquent harangues of a faithful minister.
But, alas! their practice ill accords with their profession: it is amusement rather than real edification that they seek. Their hearts are set upon the world, and riveted to their earthly possessions. In the pursuit of gain they will be guilty of falsehood or dishonesty; they will commend their goods, when they know them to be bad; they will impose on the ignorance or the necessities of those who deal with them; they will take advantage of the confidence reposed in them to overreach their neighbour; and will condescend to meannesses, of which an honest heathen would be ashamed. They may be generous where their own inclination is strongly concerned, or where a liberal donation will advance their reputation; hut at other times they will be as penurious and niggardly as the most unfeeling miser. It may be indeed that a principle of honour keeps them tolerably observant of truth and justice; but they give abundant evidence that their hearts are set upon things below rather than on things above, and shew, that they are more solicitous to be rich in this world, than to be rich towards God — — —
Such there have been in every age; nor are there wanting many such characters among the professors of the present day [Note: The characters of a proud and passionate professor, and of a censorious and uncharitable professor, might here be drawn, as being equally common, and equally hateful.]. They hear the duties of a Christian opened and enforced; but they remain as much under the dominion of their lusts as ever — — —]
The light in which they are viewed by God—
[In their own eyes they are as good as any. Whatever be their besetting sin, they have reasons enough to extenuate and excuse it. Their covetousness is nothing more than prudence and diligence; their fretfulness and fiery passions are the mere infirmities of nature, the trifling ebullitions of a warm and hasty temper, that are far more than counterbalanced by a proportionable zeal for what is good. When they hear the contrary dispositions recommended from the pulpit, they acknowledge the directions to be exceeding proper; but they scarcely ever feel their own conduct condemned by them. They are eagle-eyed in spying out the faults of others; but they are almost utter strangers to their own. Their zeal for the Gospel, and their attachment to those who preach or profess it, is to them a decisive evidence of their own conversion; and nothing that God or man can say to the contrary is suffered for one moment to shake their confidence.
In the estimation of the Church these persons often pass for eminent saints. Their faults are not generally known, and the best construction is put upon all they say or do. Godly men are afraid of judging harshly, and have learned to exercise the “love that hopeth all things,” and that “covereth a multitude of sins.” Hence they give the right hand of fellowship to those who shew a love to the Gospel; and, even when they fear that all is not right, they are content to “let the tares grow up with the wheat till the harvest, lest through their ignorance they should pluck up the wheat with the tares.”
But in the sight of God, who searcheth the heart, these men appear in their proper colours. Are they covetous? “he abhors them [Note: Psa_10:3.].” Are they proud, passionate, contentious? they are actuated by an infernal spirit [Note: Jam_3:14-15.]. Have they no government of their tongue? their religion is vain [Note: Jam_1:26.]. Are they hearers of the word, and not doers of it also? they only deceive their own souls [Note: Jam_1:22.]. Are they habitually and allowedly under the dominion of any sin whatever? they are children of the devil [Note: 1Jn_3:8.], and not of God [Note: 1Jn_3:9.]: not with standing all their profession, they have no part in the Gospel salvation [Note: 1Jn_3:6 and Rom_6:14.], no acceptance in their prayers [Note: Psa_66:18.], nor any portion but eternal misery in hell [Note: Mar_9:43-48.]. They may have a name to live; but they are really dead before God [Note: Rev_3:1.]]
How far must they be from a Christian state, who feel no delight in divine ordinances!
[It has already appeared that men may be extremely fond of the offices, the ministers, and the professors of religion, and yet perish for ever, for want of that conformity to the Divine will, which is essential to the Christian character. How much more then must they be destitute of religion, who have not even the outward appearance of sanctity, but live in an open contempt of God’s word and ordinances! Let not any one imagine that the naming the name of Christ is sufficient to constitute us Christians. The tree must be judged of by its fruits: and according to our works will be the sentence that shall be upon us in the last day.]
What need have the professors of religion to examine well their own hearts!
[Love to the word and people of God, if accompanied with an unreserved obedience to his commandments, is an excellent evidence of our conversion: but, if there be a reigning inconsistency in our conduct, our love to the one or to the other of these is mere hypocrisy [Note: Mat_15:7-8. Psa_78:34-37. Isa_58:2-3.]. Let us then inquire diligently, and beg of God to try us, whether there be any wickedness practised in our lives, or harboured in our bosoms [Note: Psa_139:23-24.]? Let us not be content to “honour God with our lips, while our hearts are far from him.” Let us rather entreat him to “put truth in our inward parts,” that, while we profess to be interested in the promises, we may “purify ourselves from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, and perfect holiness in the fear of God [Note: 1Co_7:1.].”]