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THE VANITY OF A
FORMAL PROFESSION OF RELIGION.
IN EIGHT SERMONS
ON TITUS I. 16.
THEY PROFESS THAT THEY KNOW GOD; BUT IN WORKS THEY DENY HIM, BEING ABOMINABLE, AND DISOBEDIENT, AND UNTO EVERY GOOD WORK REPROBATE. TITUS i. 16.
SINCE it is too obvious, that many persons are apt to whether it be by natural light, or express superadded revesatisfy themselves with the mere profession of Christi- lation. And therefore we find this expression made use of anity; and to reckon that while they explicitly own the to signify religion among the Jews, while they were a petrue religion they are sound Christians and good protes- culiar people unto God. It is said, Hezekiah, a good king, tants, without considering whether that religion carries "spoke comfortably to the Levites," to their hearts, accorddue and suitable impressions on their hearts or not; I have ing to the Hebrew," who taught the good knowledge of therefore thought it might not be unuseful, to discourse a the Lord," 2 Chron. xxx. 22. That is, instructed the peoittle from this Scripture, and show the vanity and insig-ple in religion, according to the revelation of the mind nificance of an empty profession, a profession which re- and will of God, which was then afforded them. futes and contradicts itself. To make way for what I intend from this passage of Scripture, there are a few things that it will be necessary for me to recommend to your notice. First, That this phrase, the knowing of God, is a usual expression to signify religion in general; inasmuch as it is the primary, the most deep and fundamental, thing in all religion. It is, as I remember the moralist styles it, “The foundation of foundations." Hence, from so noted and principal a part, the denomination is put upon the whole. To know God, therefore, is to own him, to acknowledge him as our God; and thereupon to carry ourselves suitably towards him. In the first commandment, which establishes the relation betwixt God and us, it is intimated, that if we will have him to be our God, we must have no other gods before him, Exod. xx. 3. And again, one of the prophets expresses it by knowing no other god but Him. "I am the Lord thy God from the land of Egypt; and thou shalt know no other god but me, for there is no saviour beside me," Hos. xiii. 4. The import then of the expression, is to own him as God, in relation to ourselves; and consequently to love and fear him, to hope and delight in him, and the like. All which result from the relation betwixt him and us; according to that well known observation and rule among the Hebrews; that "words of knowledge import life and sense, as consequent; as words of life and sense suppose knowledge antecedent."
Thirdly, We find this phrase expressly used to signify the Christian religion in particular. And thus the same apostle uses it in another place. “Awake to righteousness and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God, I speak this to your shame," 1 Cor. xv. 34. As if he had said, "You do not know God, you do not demean and behave yourselves like those, who understand the principles of your own religion." And again, says the apostle, "After you have known God, why turn ye back to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye again desire to be in bondage?" Gal. iv. 9. That is, Why do you follow the gnostics in mixing judaical and pagan rites with the religion of Christ.
Secondly, This phrase imports not only natural religion, but also that which is revealed. Knowing God therefore is not to be taken so abstractedly, as though it meant no more than only to entertain the notion of the Deity, and the practice of those duties that we are led to by the light of nature; but more generally whatever duty he is pleased to enjoin also by revelation. We then know and acknowledge him as God, with respect to his sovereignty and dominion, when we are universally observant of his will; how or by what means soever it is made known to us; This Sermon is without date; but it is very probable it was preached on January 16, 1680.
Fourthly, We are therefore further to collect, that the apostle does here, in this place, particularly intend the Christian religion. "They profess that they know God;" that is, they profess to be Christians. For it is very evident he writes of such, as professed the only true religion. The teachers who seduced and corrupted them, it is evident, were professed Christians, though very corrupt and unsound ones; for they endeavoured to deprave others; not indeed as avowed adversaries to the Christian name, but as deceivers and gainsayers. It is true, the apostle said, they ought to be convinced; by which he implies that there were some common agreed principles among them, which might be the ground of such conviction. He calls them deceivers, who by cunning insinuations laboured to pervert the Christian doctrine, and to render it favourable to licentious and immoral practices. And therefore those, whom they had perverted, must be of the same stamp; not wholly of the Jewish religion, for that their teachers were not; but judaizing Christians. They who lived so remote from Judea, cannot be thought to have entertained the principles of the Jewish religion entirely; nor so generally, and in such numbers, as is here implied, for many whole houses were subverted," Tit. i. 11. Much