A man may have a high PROFESSION of religion

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Blueridge Believer

Puritan Board Professor
Section III. A man may have a high PROFESSION of religion, be much in EXTERNAL DUTIES of religion—and yet be but almost a Christian. Mark what our Lord tells them, "Not everyone who says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven." That is, not everyone who makes a profession of Christ, shall therefore be owned for a true disciple of Christ. "Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel;" nor are all Christians, who make a profession of religion. What a good profession Judas had! He followed Christ, left all for Christ, he preached the gospel of Christ, he cast out devils in the name of Christ, he ate and drank at the table of Christ—and yet Judas was but a hypocrite.

Most professors are like lilies, fair in show—but foul in scent; or like pepper, hot in the mouth—but cold in the stomach. The finest lace may be upon the coarsest cloth. It is a great deceit to measure the reality of our religion—by the bulk of our profession—and to judge of the strength of our graces by the length of our duties.

The Scriptures speak of some who having "a form of godliness, yet deny the power thereof." Deny the power; that is, they do not live in the practice of those graces to which they pretend to profess. He who pretends to godliness by a specious profession—and yet does not practice godliness by a holy life, "he has a form—but denies the power." Grotius compares such to the ostrich, which has great wings—but yet does not fly. Many have the wings of a fair profession—but yet use them not to mount upward in spiritual affections—and a heavenly life.

But to clear the truth of this, that a man may make a high profession of religion—and yet be but almost a Christian, take a fourfold evidence.

1. If a man may profess religion—and yet never have his heart changed, nor his state bettered; then he may be a great professor—and yet be but almost a Christian. But a man may profess religion—and yet never have his heart changed, nor his state renewed. He may be a constant hearer of the word—and yet be an unconverted sinner still; he may come often to the Lord's table—and yet go away as foul a sinner as he came! We must not think that duties can confer grace. Many a soul has been converted by Christ in an ordinance—but never was any soul converted by an ordinance without Christ. And does Christ convert all who sit under the ordinances? Surely not; for to some, "the Word is a savor of death unto death." And if so, then it is plain, that a man may profess religion—and yet be but almost a Christian.

2. A man may profess religion—and live in a form of godliness in hypocrisy. "Listen to this, O house of Jacob, you who are called by the name of Israel and come from the line of Judah, you who take oaths in the name of the Lord and make mention of the God of Israel—but not in truth, nor in righteousness." What do you think of these people? "They make mention of the name of the Lord," there is their profession; "but not in truth; nor in righteousness," there is their dissimulation. And indeed there could be no hypocrisy in a religious sense, were it not for a profession of religion; for he who is wicked and carnal, and vile inwardly, and appears to be so outwardly, he is no hypocrite—but is what he appears, and appears what he is. But he who is one thing really, and another thing seemingly—he who is carnal and unholy, and yet seems to be good and holy—he is a hypocrite.

Thus they define hypocrisy to be a counterfeiting of holiness; and this fits exactly with the Greek word, which is, to counterfeit. And to this purpose, the Hebrews have two words for hypocrites; one which signifies faces; and another which signifies counterfeits. So that he is a hypocrite who counterfeits piety, and wears the face of holiness—and yet is without the grace of holiness. He appears to be in semblance, what he is not in substance. He wears a form of godliness without, only as a cover of a profane heart within. He has a profession that he may not be thought wicked; but it is but a profession, and therefore he is wicked. He is the religious hypocrite; religious, because he pretends to it; and yet a hypocrite, because he does but pretend to it. He is like many men in a consumption, who have fresh looks—and yet rotten lungs; or like an apple that has a fair skin—but a rotten core. Many appear righteous, who are only righteous in appearance. And if so, then a man may profess religion—and yet be but almost a Christian.

3. Custom and fashion may make a man a professor. As you have many who wear this or that garb, not because it keeps them warmer, or has any excellency in it more than another—but merely for fashion. Many must have powdered hair, painted faces, feathers in their caps, etc. for no other end—but because they would be fools in fashion. So, many profess Christianity—not because the means of grace warm the heart, or who they see any excellencies in the ways of God above the world—but merely to follow the fashion! Because religion has been uppermost, therefore many have professed it. Religion in fashion makes many professors—but few proselytes; but when religion suffers, then its confessors are no more than its converts; for custom makes the former—but conscience the latter. He who is a professor of religion merely for custom sake, when it prospers, will never be a martyr for Christ's sake, when religion suffers.

They say, that when a house is decaying or falling, all the rats and mice will forsake it. While the house is firm, and they may shelter in the roof, they will stay—but no longer; lest, in the decay, the fall should be upon them, and those who lived at top should die at bottom. My brethren, may I not say, we have many who are the vermin, the rats and mice of religion, who would live under the roof of it, while they might have shelter in it; but when it suffers, they forsake it, lest it should fall, and the fall should be upon them!

I am persuaded this is not the least reason why God has brought persecution; namely to rid it of the vermin. He shakes the foundations of the house, that these rats and mice may leave it—to rid them of it; as the farmer fans the wheat, that he may get rid of the chaff. The halcyon days of the gospel provoke hypocrisy—but the sufferings for religion prove sincerity. Now, then, if custom and fashion make many men professors, then a man may profess religion—and yet be but almost a Christian.

4. If many may perish under a profession of godliness, then a man may profess religion and yet be but almost a Christian. Now, the Scripture is clear, that a man may perish under the highest profession of religion. Christ cursed the fig-tree, which had leaves and no fruit. It is said, that "the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness." Who were these—but those who were then the only people of God by profession—and yet these were cast out.

In Matthew's gospel, you read of some who came and made boast of their profession to Christ, hoping that might save them. "Lord," say they, "have we not prophesied in your name, cast out devils in your name, done many wonderful works in your name?" Now what says our Lord Christ to this? "Then I will profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me!" Mark, here are those who prophesy in his name—and yet perish in his wrath! In his name cast out devils—and then are cast out themselves! In his name do many wonderful works—and yet perish as workers of iniquity. The profession of religion will no more keep a man from perishing—than calling a ship the Safe-guard, or the Good-speed, will keep it from sinking. As many go to heaven with the fear of hell in their hearts—so many go to hell with the name of Christ in their mouths.

Now then, if many may perish under a profession of godliness, then may a man be a high professor of religion—and yet be but almost a Christian.

Objection. But is it not said by the Lord Christ himself, "He who confesses me before men, him will I confess before my Father in heaven?" Now, for Christ to say, he will confess us before the Father, is equivalent to a promise of eternal life: for if Jesus Christ confesses us, God the Father will never disown us. True, those who confess Christ, shall be confessed by him; and it is as true, that this confession is equivalent to a promise of salvation. But you must know, that professing Christ, is not confessing him: for to profess Christ is one thing—to confess Christ is another. Confession is a living testimony for Christ, in a time when religion suffers. Profession may be only a lifeless formality, in a time when religion prospers. To confess Christ, is to choose his ways, and own them. To profess Christ, is to plead for his ways—and yet not live in them. Profession may be from a feigned love to the ways of Christ; but confession is from a rooted love to the person of Christ. To profess Christ, is to own him when none deny him; to confess Christ, is to plead for him, and suffer for him, when others oppose him. Hypocrites may be professors; but the martyrs are the true confessors. Profession is a swimming down the stream. Confession is a swimming against the stream. Now many may swim with the stream, like the dead fish—which cannot swim against the stream, with the living fish. Many may profess Christ, who cannot confess Christ; and so, notwithstanding their profession, yet are but almost Christians.



Puritan Board Senior
I liked his analogy of 'lillies stinking' as I so hate their aroma!
This morning though I was reading in 2 Cor., of our being either an aroma of death or the sweet fragrance of Christ to others in the world! What a vast difference, whether we identify with the ways of the world or dare to be different and give off the aroma of Christ, knowing we will be hated for it! Soli deo gloria!


Puritan Board Doctor
Thanks for that, James. And very glad to see you posting these things again. We sure missed 'em. Hope all is well with you, brother. You have been missed, and in our prayers.
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