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1 TIMOTHY IV. 8.
Bodily exercise profiteth little : but godliness is profitable
unto all things, having promise of the life that now is,
and of that which is to come. THE
great design of Christianity being to promote our future happiness, and qualify us for it, things are more or less valuable in its esteem, as they more or less conduce to this great and excellent end. And hence the apostle tells us, that of all the virtues Christianity obliges us to, charity is the greatest, 1 Cor. xiii. 13. that is, a sincere love of God, and an universal good-will to men. And the greatest it is upon this account, because of all virtues it is most congenial to the heavenly state; thạt being a state of endless love and pure friendship: and all other virtues are valued more or less proportionably, as they partake of this virtue of charity. To give worth to our faith, it is necessary it should work by love, Gal. v. 6. To make our knowledge acceptable, it is necessary it should run into love, 1 Cor. viii. 2, 3. Yea, without charity, the gift of miracles, almsgiving, and martyrdom itself, are things of no value in the accounts of Christianity, 1 Cor. xiii. 1, 2, 3. Nay, so much is this great virtue designed by the Christian religion, that the apostle tells us, that the end of the commandment is charity, 1 Tim. i. 5. that is, all the duties which the commandment enjoins are designed only as means to advance and perfect our love to God and men: and all means, you know, are more or less excellent, proportionably as they conduce to the ends they are designed for. Wherefore since our future happiness is the ultimate end of Christianity, and universal love our most necessary qualification for it, it necessarily follows, that the goodness of all religious means consists in their aptitude to abstract and purify our affections; to exalt and sublimate our love; and to propagate in us that godlike and heavenly temper, which is so necessary to qualify us for the enjoyment of God and heaven. But, alas ! how ordinary is it for men to mistake their means for their ends; and to value themselves upon doing those things, which, if they be not directed to a farther end, are altogether insignificant; accounting those things to be absolutely good, which are but relatively so; and which, unless they conduce to that which is good, are perfectly indifferent. Of which we have too many sad instances among ourselves. For how many are there, who, though they have nothing else to prize themselves for, but only of their keeping of fasts, and looking sourly on a Sunday, their hearing so many sermons, and numbering so many prayers, are yet bloated with as high conceits of their own sanctity and godliness, as if they had commenced saints, and were arrived to the highest degrees of perfection ? And though pride and malice, covetousness and ambition, are the only graces they are eminent in; yet you shall see these empty wretched things preached upon the pinnacle of selfconceit, and from thence looking down upon poor moral mortals, as if they were things of an inferior species, not worthy to be reckoned in the same class of beings with themselves. Such flaunting hypocrites, it seems, there have always been; and in these latter
times it is foretold they should abound: for the apostle tells us, 1 Tim. iy. 1. that the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter ages there should arise a sort of people, who, departing from the faith, should give heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils ; who should forbid marriage, and command abstinence from meats, ver. 3. that is, as I suppose, should place all their religion in outward and bodily severities, which at best are only means and instruments of religion; and that in these they should pride themselves, as if they were the only saints of the age: whereas, in truth, they would prove the rankest hypocrites that ever appeared in a religious vizard. And of these he exhorts Timothy carefully to forewarn his flock, and for his own part to reject their profane and ridiculous fables; and rather to exercise himself in true substantial godliness, than in such outward bodily rigours and severities : for which he subjoins this general reason; for bodily exercise profiteth little ; that is, mere outward bodily exercise in religion, abstracted from inward piety and godliness, is of very little avail in a religious account: for the bodily exercise here spoken of, it seems, was such as had some little profit attending it, and consequently was such as had some general tendency to good, and was improvable to some advantage, had it been wisely managed and directed. For após órázov, here translated little, is not so to be understood, as if it signified nothing ; because it is here opposed to something that is greater, viz. to apos návra: Bodily exercise profiteth little, but godliness is profitable for all things; and therefore this bodily exercise must profit something, though less than godliness, which is profitable for all things : as