A GODLY MAN IS THOROUGHLY TRAINED IN PIETY

A GODLY MAN IS THOROUGHLY TRAINED IN PIETY

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He obeys every command of God: “I have found David a man after my own heart, for he will carry out all My will” (Acts 13:22). In the Greek it is “all my wills.” A godly man strives to walk according to the full breadth and latitude of God’s law. Every command has the same stamp of divine authority on it, and he who is godly will obey one command as well as another: “Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect to all your commandments” (Psalm 119:6). A godly man goes through all the body of piety–as the sun through all the signs of the Zodiac. Whoever is to play a ten-stringed instrument must strike every string or he will spoil all the music. The ten commandments may be compared to a ten-stringed instrument. We must obey every commandment, strike every string, or we cannot make any sweet music in piety.

True obedience is filial. It is fitting that the child should obey the parent in all just and sober commands. God’s laws are like the curtains of the tabernacle which were looped together. They are like a chain of gold where all the links are coupled. A godly man will not willingly break one link of this chain. If one command is violated, the whole chain is broken: “whoever shall keep the whole law—yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (Jas. 2:10). A voluntary breach of one of God’s laws involves a man in the guilt, and exposes him to the curse of the whole law. True obedience is entire and uniform. A good heart, like the needle, points the way in which the loadstone draws.

This is one great difference between a child of God and a hypocrite. The hypocrite picks and chooses in religion. He will perform some duties which are easier, and gratify his pride or interest—but other duties he takes no notice of: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:23). To sweat in some duties of religion, and freeze in others–is the symptom of a disordered Christian. Jehu was zealous in destroying the idolatry of Baal—but let the golden calves of Jeroboam stand (2 Kings 10:29). This shows that men are not good in truth–when they are good by halves. If your servant should do some of your work you command him, and leave the rest undone, how would you like that? The Lord says, “Walk before me, and be perfect” (Gen. 17:1). How are our hearts perfect with God–when we prevaricate with him? Some things we will do and other things we leave undone. He is godly who is godly universally. “Here I am, Father; command what you will” (Plautus).

There are ten duties that God calls for, which a godly man will conscientiously perform, and indeed these duties may serve as so many other characteristics and touchstones to test our godliness by:

A godly man will often be calling his heart to account

He takes the candle of the Word and searches his innermost being: “I commune with my own heart: and my spirit made diligent search” (Psalm 77:6). A gracious soul searches whether there is any duty omitted–or any sin cherished. He examines his evidences for heaven. As he will not take his gold on trust, so neither will he take his grace. He is a spiritual merchant; he casts up the estate of his soul to see what he is worth. He “sets his house in order.” Frequent reckonings keep God and conscience friends. A carnal person cannot abide this heart-work; he is ignorant how the affairs go in his soul. He is like a man who is well acquainted with foreign countries, but a stranger in his own country.

A godly man is much in private prayer

He keeps his hours for private devotion. Jacob, when he was left alone, wrestled with God (Gen. 32:24). So when a gracious heart is alone, it wrestles in prayer and will not leave God until it has a blessing. A devout Christian exercises ‘eyes of faith’ and ‘knees of prayer’.

Hypocrites who have nothing of religion besides the frontispiece, love to be seen. Christ has characterized them: “they love to pray in the corners of the streets–that they may be seen” (Matt. 6:5). The hypocrite is devout in the temple. There everyone will gaze at him—but he is a stranger to secret communion with God. He is a saint in the church—but an atheist in private. A good Christian holds secret communication with heaven. Private prayer keeps up the trade of godliness. When private holiness is laid aside, a stab is given to the heart of piety.

A godly man is diligent in his calling

He takes care to provide for his family. The church must not exclude the shop. Mr. Perkins said: “Though a man is endued with excellent gifts, hears the Word with reverence and receives the sacrament—yet if he does not practice the duties of his calling–all is sheer hypocrisy.” Piety never did grant a patent for idleness: “We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.” (2 Thess. 3:11,12). The bread that tastes most sweet–is obtained with most sweat. A godly man would rather fast–than eat the bread of idleness. Vain professing Christians talk of living by faith—but do not live in a calling. They are like the lilies of the field: “they toil not, neither do they spin” (Matt. 6:28). An idle person is the devil’s tennis ball, which he bandies up and down with temptation until at last the ball goes out of play.

A godly man sets bounds to himself in things lawful

He is moderate in matters of recreation and  diet. He takes only so much as is needed for the restoration of health, and as may the better dispose him for God’s service. Jerome lived abstemiously; his diet was a few dried figs and cold water. And Augustine in his “Confessions” says: “Lord, you have taught me to go to my food–as to a medicine.” If the bridle of reason checks the appetite, much more should the curbing-bit of grace do so. The life of a sinner is brutish; the glutton feeds “without fear” (Jude 12), and the drunkard drinks without reason. Too much oil chokes the lamp, whereas a smaller quantity makes it burn more brightly. A godly man holds the golden bridle of temperance, and will not allow his table to be a snare.

A godly man is careful about moral righteousness

He makes conscience of equity as well as piety. The Scripture has linked both together: “that we might serve him in  holiness and righteousness” (Luke 1:74,75). Holiness: there is the first table of the law; righteousness: there is the second table of the law. Though a man may be morally righteous, and not godly—yet no one can be godly, unless he is morally righteous. This moral righteousness is seen in our dealings with men. A godly man observes that golden maxim, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matt. 7:12). There is a threefold injustice in business matters:

(1) Using false weights: “the balances of deceit are in his hand” (Hos. 12:7). Men, by making their weights lighter, make their sin heavier. “They make the ephah small” (Amos 8:5). The ephah was a measure they used in selling. They made the ephah small; they gave but scant measure. A godly man who takes the Bible in one hand, dare not use false weights in the other.

(2) Debasing a commodity: “they sell the refuse of the wheat” (Amos 8:6). They would pick out the best grains of the wheat and sell the worst at the same price as they did the best. “Your wine is mixed  with water” (Isaiah 1:22). They adulterated their wine—yet made their customers believe it came from the pure grape.

(3) Taking a great deal more than the commodity is worth. “If you sell anything unto your neighbor . . . you shall not oppress one another” (Lev. 25:14). A godly man deals exactly but not exactingly. He will sell so as to help himself—but not to harm another. His motto is, “a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men” (Acts 24:16).

The hypocrite separates these two which God has joined together—righteousness and holiness. He pretends to be pure but is not just. It brings piety into contempt, when men hang out Christ’s colors—yet will use fraudulent circumvention and, under a mask of piety, neglect morality. A godly man makes conscience of the second table of the law, as well as the first.

A godly man will forgive those who have wronged him

Revenge is sweet to nature. A gracious spirit passes by affronts, forgets injuries and counts it a greater victory to conquer an enemy by patience–than by power. It is truly heroic “to overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Though I would not trust an enemy—yet I would endeavor to love him. I would exclude him from my creed—but not from my prayer (Matt. 5:44).

Question: But does every godly man succeed in forgiving, yes, loving his enemies?

Answer: He does so in a gospel sense. That is:

(a) In so far as there is assent. He subscribes to it in his judgment as a thing which ought to be done: “with my mind I serve the law of God” (Romans 7:25).

(b) In so far as there is grief. A godly man mourns that he can love his enemies no more: “O wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:24). “Oh, this base cankered heart of mine, that has received so much mercy and can show so little! I have had millions forgiven me—yet I can hardly forgive pence!”

(c) In so far as there is prayer. A godly man prays that God will give him a heart to love his enemies. “Lord, pluck this root of bitterness out of me, perfume my soul with love, make me a dove without gall.”

(d) In so far as there is effort. A godly man resolves and strives in the strength of Christ against all rancor and virulence of spirit. This is in a gospel sense to love our enemies. A wicked man cannot do this; his malice boils up to revenge.

A godly man lays to heart the miseries of the church

“We wept, when we remembered Zion” (Psalm 137:1). I have read of certain trees whose leaves, if cut or touched, the other leaves begin to contract and shrink, and for a time hang down their heads. Such a spiritual sympathy exists among Christians. When other parts of God’s church suffer, they feel it themselves, as it were. Ambrose reports that when Theodosius was terminally ill, he was more troubled about the church of God than about his own sickness.

When the Lord strikes others, a godly heart is deeply affected: “my affections shall sound like an harp” (Isaiah 16:11). Though things go well with a child of God in his own private life, and he lives in a house of cedar–he still grieves to see things go badly with the public. Queen Esther enjoyed the king’s favor and all the delights of the court—yet when a warrant portending bloodshed was signed for the death of the Jews–she mourns and fasts, and ventures her own life to save theirs.

A godly man is content with his present condition

If provisions get low, his heart is tempered to his condition. A godly man puts a kind interpretation upon providence. When God brews him a bitter cup, he says, “This is my medicine cup–it is to purge me and do my soul good.” Therefore he is most content (Phil. 4:11). 

A godly man is fruitful in good works (Titus 2:7)

The Hebrew word for godly (chasid) signifies “merciful”, implying that to be godly and charitable are of equal force–one and the same. A good man feeds the hungry, clothes the naked. “He is ever merciful” (Psalm 37:26). The more devout sort of the Jews to this day distribute the tenth part of their estate to the poor and they have a proverb among them, “Give the tenth, and you will grow rich.” The hypocrite is all for faith, nothing for works; like the laurel which makes fine leaves–but bears no fruit.

A godly man will suffer persecution

He will be married to Christ, though he settles no other estate on him, than the cross. He suffers out of choice and with a spirit of gallantry (Heb. 11:35). Argerius wrote a letter to his friend, headed: “From the pleasant gardens of the Leonine prison.” The blessed martyrs who put on the whole armor of God, blunted the edge of persecution by their courage. The juniper tree makes the coolest shadow–and the hottest coal. So persecution makes the coal of love hotter–and the shadow of death cooler.

Thus a godly man goes round the whole circle of pious duties and obeys God in whatever he commands.

Objection: But it is impossible for anyone to walk according to the full breadth of God’s law, and to follow God  fully!

Answer: There is a twofold obeying of God’s law. The first is perfect, when all is done, which the law requires. This we cannot arrive at in this life. Secondly, there is an incomplete obedience which is accepted in Christ. This consists in four things:

(1) An approving of all God’s commands: “the commandment is holy and just and good . . . I consent unto the law that it is good” (Romans 7:12, 16). There is both assent and consent.

(2) A sweet delight in God’s commands: “I will delight myself in your commandments, which I have loved” (Psalm 119:47).

(3) A cordial desire to walk in all God’s commands: “O that my ways were directed to keep your statutes” (Psalm 119:5).

(4) A real endeavor to tread in every path of the command: “I turned my feet unto your testimonies” (Psalm 119:59).

This, God esteems perfect obedience–and is pleased to take it in good part. Zacharias had his failings; he hesitated through unbelief, for which he was struck dumb. Yet it is said that he “walked in all the commands of the Lord blameless” (Luke 1:6), because he cordially endeavored to obey God in all things. Evangelical obedience is true in its essence, though not perfect in its degree; and where it comes short, Christ puts his merits into the scales–and then there is full weight.

 

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