That there is much speculative religion in the world there can be no doubt, and that there may be some that is not genuine among those who stand connected with the church of Christ is greatly to be feared. Every true and legitimate son and daughter of Zion, while in this earthly house of their pilgrimage, experience seasons when it is with them a matter of the greatest importance to know whether they are not of that character. It is not probable that hypocrites and mere nominal professors of christianity are troubled on the same ground, for he who designs to deceive cannot feel that suspense and conflict which doubting christians always feel when the light and comfort of the divine presence are withdrawn from their view. Much is said about vital godliness, and in order that we may know whether we are in possession of it, it is important that we understand what is meant by the terms. Vitality is life, and the word godliness in the scriptures signifies that action which spiritual life in the children of God is calculated to produce. Hence the terms are only properly applicable to those who are born of God, and led by the Spirit to walk in the way of holiness, in whom is developed the fruits of the spirit, which are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance; and all these being fruits of the Spirit are only found where spiritual life has been given. And as they are produced by the Spirit, they invariably give evidence of vital union to Christ, who is the life of His people. As the branch of a vine cannot bear fruit of itself except it abide in the vine, so neither can the people of God bring forth fruits which are unto holiness, the end of which is eternal life, except they abide in Christ, who is the true Vine, and of which the Father is the Husbandman. For without Him, we can do nothing. The Apostle suggests to us that persons may have a form of Godliness while they deny the power thereof-, but we conclude that where the power of Godliness is possessed, there will certainly be at least some of the form of Godliness manifested.
If what we have found to be the fruits of the spirit developed constitutes the form or any part of that form, does it not appear that men may possess a kind of love, joy, peace, and even faith that does not proceed from the spirit as the result of spiritual life implanted? Much that will pass currently for Christian love in the religious world is denounced by the Apostles as being spurious. He admonished his brethren that such loved not the Lord Jesus, but were enemies of the cross of Christ. They may affect a deceptive counterfeit, and may use soft words and fair speeches while they only flatter to beguile and allure to entrap. In evidence of their love they may show astonishing zeal and what the world calls benevolence; they may give their goods to feed the poor, their money to support missionaries, and their bodies to be burnt, and still be destitute of anything but the mere form of love. They may also cry, "Peace," when God has not spoken peace, and they may possess that complacency which the strange woman boasted of when she had paid her vows, (see Prov. 7), and yet only a form. Their joy and faith and all the imitations of Godliness that can possibly grow out of an unregenerated heart are lifeless and formal and, as far as we can trace such characters by the light of revelation, they invariably deny the power of vital godliness, and this they do in a variety of ways. The principle way, however, is by denying that the love, joy, peace, long-sufferings, goodness, gentleness, faith, etc., are truly the fruits of the Spirit, the gift of God, but claiming that they are produced by human power by the will and works of men. Their position is like this, "If the branch will bear fruit of itself as a condition, it may then be admitted into the Vine." But all who know experimentally the power of Godliness will acknowledge that the excellency of its power is of God, and not of the creature. The power is in the vine and not in the branch, only as the branch abides in and receives vigor and faithfulness from the living Vine. But there are times in which the branches which really abide in the vine seem to be barren, the branches are not always clothed with verdure, and abounding with clusters, but branches vitally abiding in the true and living Vine shall assuredly bring forth fruit in its appropriate season. The tree of life which John saw yielding its fruit every month, and all they who receive life and vigor from Christ will, in due time, present the Fruits of the Spirit.
Godliness, in the life and conversation of the children of the Kingdom, derives all its vitality from Him who is the Head of life and spirituality to His body, the church. All is dry, formal and vain in our deportment that springs not from this union to Him. He only hath immortality dwelling in the light, and therefore, from Him alone can we receive it only as we abide in Him as the fruitful branch abideth in the true vine, for the saints are members of Him, as the branches are members of the vine. And from Him the Head, all the members of the body, the church, have nourishment ministered and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God. The Apostle assures us that all are called in one hope of our calling-one Lord, one faith, and one baptism, one God and Father of all who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
But our design, was not only to define the terms, but to offer some remarks upon the subject of its development in the faith and general deportment of those who know and acknowledge its power. The grace of God which bringeth salvation hath appeared unto all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world. A life of godliness is necessarily a life of self-denial. No man can live godly in Christ Jesus without suffering persecution, nor can we deport ourselves as becometh godliness without denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, for these are the opposites of all that adorn the Christian character. But whatever of opposition, persecution, or self-denial may oppose the life and course of godliness, there is a power and virtue in it that will out-live all opposition, and bear its humble possessors above the din of warring elements and safely lodge them ultimately in that happy state where the wicked cease from troubling, and where the weary shall enjoy uninterrupted rest. If we, through grace abounding, possess the vital principle, and possess those things which pertain to life and godliness, we shall know experimentally that godliness with contentment is great gain, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. Then may our enemies exhaust all their stores of wrath upon us.
"We shall perceive their noise no more,
Than we can hear a shaking leaf,
When rattling thunders round us roar."
May the God of all comfort, who has called us by His grace and given us everlasting consolation through grace, enable us to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, and at last take us up out of all our afflictions and tribulations and cause us to bask in the fullness of the eternal fountain of life and godliness in the world that is without end.
"O glorious hour! 0 bless'd abode!
There to be near, and like my God,
And flesh and sin no more control,
The rising pleasures of my soul."