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The Old Time Gospel:     "Having the Form, But Denying the Power"   by B. H. Carroll

B. H. Carroll

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Having the Form, But Denying the Power
by B. H. Carroll

"Having a form of Godliness but denying the power thereof: from such turn away." II Timothy 3:5

I wish to read two passages of Scripture. The first is from the first and second chapters of the letter to Titus: "Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. They profess that they know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate. But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine."

Here is what he calls sound doctrine:

"That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded, exhort servants to be obedient unto their masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again; not purloining, but showing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things. For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and Godly in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour, Jesus Christ."

The second Scripture which I wish to read is part of the third chapter of the Second Letter to Timothy:

"This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God; having a form of Godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away."

The text which I have selected is the fifth verse of the third chapter of the Second Letter to Timothy: "Having a form of Godliness, but denying the power thereof." Everything in this world takes on a form, and the form serves an excellent purpose; it is by no means to be despised, but the form by itself is nothing. You may understand the two thoughts by selecting from a tree a ripe hickory nut, fully ripe. Now, there is a form around it; that form is for its protection; first, the form of the hull, and then of the shell, but sometimes you find one that has an external seeming, yet it feels very light and there is nothing in it; now, there is a mere form, an empty shell.

The apostle here declares that in the last days there shall be a class of Christians who have the form of Godliness, but who deny its power, or, as he expresses it in the first Scripture read, they profess that they know God, but in works they deny it, and that there may be no misunderstanding about this class, he describes their characteristics. They are selfish people; they love themselves; they love silver; covetous, that is what the word in the original means, lovers of silver-they are proud, heady, unthankful people; they receive favors and are not grateful for them.

They have no respect for the relations of life; as children, they are disobedient to their parents; as wives, they are disobedient to their husbands; as those who have entered into a covenant, they break the agreements that they have made with other people'; nothing binding; no sort of an agreement that is made with them will hold. They consider not that they are bound by obligations into which they enter with other men; they are treacherous; they are blasphemers; they love pleasure more than they love God. Now, those are some of the characteristics of these people.

He says that when that class prevail it makes perilous times, hazardous, dangerous times; when those who claim to be Christians are only shells, empty shells; when they have the form of Godliness and deny its power; when they profess to be Christians and in their lives go directly contrary to the teachings of Christianity.

If he is an old man and a Christian, he will be sober, grave, temperate, sound in the faith; if she is an old woman, she, too, will be sober and grave, and a thoughtful teacher of younger women, and if she be a young woman and a Christian, she will be chaste and discreet, and love her husband, and love her children, and will regard it as a religious obligation to take due care of her home; if it is a servant and a Christian, that servant will be impelled by his Christianity to do faithful, honest service for the wages that are paid; not answering back to his employer, not stealing little things, purloining; not one who serves as under the eye of another, an eye servant, but one who, whether the master is present and looking on or not, for conscience's sake renders a faithful amount of work for the compensation which is paid.

Now, it does seem to me that there is an opportunity at this time in the world for the highest and holiest demonstration of Christianity ever known in the case of employees. There is a vast deal of unhealthy sentimentalism prevalent, that kind of sentimentalism which encourages a man to think that an employer is necessarily a tyrant; that an employer is necessarily an oppressor of the poor.

Oh! What a revolution it would work, if throughout the length and breadth of this land today all employees who claim to be Christians would for Christ's sake do genuine honest work when they are paid to do the work; that they would give fair service, and that they would not rely upon this unhealthy sentimentalism that leads men to think that a contract does not mean anything; that a man's obligation amounts to nothing; that a question of honor is nothing.

I do not hesitate to say today that if I were not a preacher, and I knew how to perform such service, I would like to be for a short time a cook, just to show what honest, faithful service ought to be in that department, in order to adorn the principles of the Christian religion.

There is a state of demagogism prevalent which arises from the dominion of politics that is absolutely sapping the vitals of a sturdy, rigorous manhood.

Christianity does teach a man to be honest; it does teach that he shall give fair service for a fair compensation; it does teach that men as they get older should become riper for salvation; it does teach that in the home its graces should be illustrated; it does teach that in matters of obligation and word we should be faithful; and this is true, sound doctrine, the doctrine preached by the apostle, and who, while himself poor and a laborer, took that high moral ground that if a man would not labor he should not eat; that he was not entitled to it, and I do believe that if we would, for Christ's sake, frown down upon beggary as coming from strong men, that kind of sponging on others when there is strength in the right arm, when there is ability to render good service; I believe if we would, for Christ's sake, frown down upon it, that we would have a more vigorous, sturdy manhood among our people.

Now, do not misunderstand me. While I have not, as a Christian, one atom of respect for the demagogy that is debauching the morals of the masses of the people, not an atom, neither have I for that power of wealth, for that power of monopoly that would, under the guise of contract, grind a man to powder and crush his very soul out of him. What I mean to say is, that it is a practical teaching of Christianity and one that is too much ignored, that for Christ's sake we ought to be faithful men and women in every department of life. It is contrary to the life of Jesus Christ and His precepts to make religion a cloak for idleness in any direction, or for a trifling character.

I thought it right,I thought the times called for the pressing of this primal thought of the text, that a man who professes to be a Christian and has a form of Godliness is under obligation to recognize the power of that Christianity in the little things of life, and in the business of life, and in our homes, and in all of our social interchanges. Unquestionably that is the teaching of Jesus Christ and all His apostles and we can be faithful to Jesus by attending to the smallest details of household affairs.

We can recognize the light of the authority of Jesus Christ by being careful concerning the most insignificant duty of this life, and it is by the massing together of these little things that a great character is ever formed. A great character is never formed by an exceptional act; it is never brought about by some sensational surrounding; it is the development, it is the outgrowth of habit, and by attention to everything that is right in the sight of God, making His teachings the rule of our life in the most infinitesimal affairs.

Now, I want to present the second thought that is in this text: "Having a form of Godliness, but denying its power" "Lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God." I would like to press a question here-it doesn't make any difference about your age or your sex, if you are a devotee of pleasure more than you are a devotee of God, then it is the teaching of this text that you have denied the power of God. You are presented as an empty shell, a blasted nut. You stand before men as a hypocrite, having an external seeming that does not rightly represent the heart within, if you are a lover of pleasure more than of God.

I want to apply this to three things. I will take first baptism. That is a form, and that is a form of Godliness, and what is that form? In the first place, it is a profession that you acknowledge Jesus Christ to be your Captain, your Leader, your Ruler, your King; it is equivalent to taking the oath of allegiance; it is equivalent to the putting on of a uniform; it is a form of subordinating yourself to the chieftainship and sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, having that form, do you deny its power? Is He your King? Is He your Leader? It seems to me that there would be a little anxiety here this morning in answering this question. Has my baptism, in which I professed subjection to the Lord Jesus Christ as my Leader, as my King, as my Teacher, has it been an empty shell? Do I, in my life, deny what that form expressed publicly when I came out and united myself with God's people? Well, there is a very easy way to test it, and the test is this: When a commandment of Jesus Christ contravenes a desire of your heart, which is pushed aside for the other? Which yields? Who is King?

Take it in another form. Baptism is a form of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead; that is exactly what it testifies to as a witness: First, that Christ was actually raised from the dead. It is a false witness if that is not true. Then it is a pledge of your own resurrection, else, what shall they do, when baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all, and what do you mean when you confess Jesus as Lord, and state that from your heart you believe that God raised Him from the dead?

Now, that being the form, have you in your life, in your thoughts denied the power of that doctrine? If so, the cold and chilling influence of infidelity has already bitten and wilted the flowers of hope in your heart. When you look upon the resting places of the dead, have you not inquired within yourself as to their resurrection from the dead? Will these sleepers awake? Will I ever see them again? Whenever you have allowed such thoughts as these to come into your heart, do you know against whom you have sinned? You have sinned against the Holy Ghost, for it was the Holy Ghost that quickened the body of the Lord Jesus Christ; it is the Holy Ghost that shall quicken our dead bodies and raise them up again, and when we in our inmost thoughts deny or question or doubt the resurrection from the dead, our baptism is an empty form, from which the power has been taken by our rejection of the truth it symbolizes.

But you have mistaken my purpose if you think that I have presented this thought simply for the purpose of expressing a censure. Had it been only to censure, I never would have introduced it, but let me call attention to it with a feeling of intense sympathy, of deep pity, of compassion. I mean that I am so sorry that I could weep for anyone who really doubts the power of the Holy Ghost in raising the dead. I am sorry beyond any expression of words for the formal Christian.

His heart is a desert, bleak, barren, unblessed by laughing rills and brooks and rivers, unadorned with carpets of green, and backgrounds of trees; unblessed with the hum of bees gathering honey from the flowers, and of birds singing in the boughs, oh, the poverty of a heart that has only a form of religion and denies its power! The difference is as Sahara to the Garden of Eden. Behold the garden of the Lord! Behold the blazing sands of the desert three quarters not only the poverty of the case, but the wretchedness of it.

It is very difficult for me now, I once could, but it is very difficult for me now, to put myself back in the position of one who would lie down at night and toss to and fro without any settled belief, and who would get up in the morning with a questioning eye and mind, asking if there be any solid foundation, and wondering what to believe. I say, it is difficult for me to put myself in that position. I was once there. I know what it means, but it was a long time ago. I am sure many, many years have passed since my heart has felt any such restlessness; but this I do recollect, that it is the most miserable condition of mind to feel incertitude, to feel the dissatisfaction that comes from a lack of realizing that there is any firm foundation under your feet; to turn in despair to the path, and with dread of the future, and with blinded eyes, to grope out for something to which to cling.

Oh, unhappy soul, having the form but denying the power of the Christian religion! Why, if you could for just one moment taste the sweets of the living faith, the faith whose feet does not stand on quicksand, but on the everlasting rock, a path where the eye is not blurred when it looks to the future, but with an eager gaze discerns the coming of the Lord, and the glory and the world that is there, and the faith that rejoices in the hope of the glory of God. The Lord pity the one smitten with sorrow and wretched because he has only a form of religion-just a form.

Let us take the Lord's Supper. Now, the Lord's Supper is a form of Godliness. I remember once a member of the church saying to me, asking me confidentially this question: "Do you really enjoy the observance of the Lord's Supper?" I turned to him in astonishment; I said, "Why, certainly I do." "Well," he said, "I don't get anything out of it." "Well," I said, "I am very sorry for you; very sorry." It is a form, but there is a power in it, and when that power animates that form, it becomes a living witness for God, and the comforter of man. What is it? It is a form of this: That Jesus died for me; Jesus died for me. This bread represents the body of Jesus broken for me. This cup represents the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ poured out for me. I have felt in Communion season sensations thrill me through and through, waves of deep feeling come over me, when I look back to the death of Jesus for me.

I don't know how it is with you, but I tell you it is no empty doctrine for me. I know I was lost; I know I was under condemnation; I know that I justly merited the wrath of God; I know the feeling that came into my heart when I knew that all was lost, and then the sweet peace of having trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and His having died for me and when I look at that form it is not an empty casket. I do not see it like a shell picked up on the beach of an ocean, whose inmate has long since been dead, and in whose hollow chambers there is only the windy chaos of the sea that nursed it, but I think of its home in the coral beds, in the deeps of the ocean, and when life was in it and moved in it and glorified it.

Jesus died for me; and then, not only that, but I see in that form a representation of another living thing. It is a form of spiritual food that, as a body, must be fed with bread, and as one who is ready to perish is stimulated by the wine, so the soul is really nourished by that bread of salvation, the doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ; and so in fading times, in time of weariness, the Holy Spirit fills the soul with an afflatus that is like the stimulus of wine, until the comparison can be truly made by "Be not drunk with wine wherein is excess, but be filled with the Spirit."

But it is not only a form in that; there is a power in it from another direction. I don't remember but once in my life of having partaken of the Communion without being transported as quick as lightning to the second coming of Jesus Christ, and whether I make up my mind to think about it or not, it comes anyhow. These words will enter my heart: "As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, ye show forth the Lord's death until He comes."

Now, these words, "until He comes," they rush into my mind like messengers from the eternal world; they come bringing a message; they come bringing the announcement of a glorious fact; they come having about them all of the air and atmosphere of heaven itself, and seem to fill every chamber of my heart with the perfume of the flowers of the Glory World three quarters "until He comes, until He comes,",and I catch myself saying back to that Scripture, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus, even so, come," and so this doctrine is not a form only, but a form that is animated by life; that has a power in it that gives it shape and makes it a living witness.

Finally, I will look at it in this form: The form of the church. While that is a form, joining the church, some people stop at the form.

They think it is salvation to belong to the church. They stop at the ordinances. Their names are on the church book, but to every good work they are reprobate. Their lives have no light in them; they do not illustrate the power of the truth of the Christian religion in their business, in their speech. They belong to the church-the form. Oh, that they felt the power! The church is the temple of the Holy Ghost. The church is the building whose walls are to be quickened by the indwelling life of the Spirit; the church is the witness whose mouth is to be made eloquent by the fire of the Spirit; the church is the lamp-stand whose light is to radiate into every outlying field of darkness by the burning oil of the Spirit.

"Having the form of Godliness, but denying the power thereof." I will make the application only to one thing: Joining the church; for what purpose, to what end? I open the Book and I find answers to every question of this kind: Lo, why the church? What is it here for? What does it mean? What is it to do? Surely God would not go around over the world building pyramids whose cavities should be filled with mummies; surely God would not go around building houses that were never to have an inhabitant. Why the church?

The church is to save the sinner through the power of the Gospel which it preaches, and I will look at this in only two aspects this morning: The sinner here and the sinner yonder. The sinner here is the sinner next to us, and I mean the sinner in Waco. The form of Godliness is this church, but it is without the power of Godliness the very moment it ceases to convict men of sin; it is without the power of Godliness when any sinner comes and knocks and says, "Sir, we would see Jesus." It is without the power of Godliness when no winged prayer goes up from a living, burning heart for the outpouring of that Spirit which shall bring sinners into the kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Of all the dreary, desolate, hollow things this world contains, it seems to me, it is an unoccupied house. You may ask any traveler, and he will tell you that he had rather any time lie out in the prairie, exposed to the weather; that he would rather take his chances in the thicket or under a tree or even in a cave, than to camp all night in a lonely, unoccupied house.

I get uneasy just as soon as I begin to feel that the members of the church are not praying for the conversion of sinners. I become distressed just as soon as the thought comes to my mind that the united example of this entire congregation is failing to constrain a single person to glorify God. Oh, for the power, the power of Godliness!

Why, you will hold your head up when you feel the power; there will be something in your very bearing when you meet men that will give you their respect, if you have the power of the Christian religion in your heart. If you feel it yourself, if your own soul is alight with the kindling of Divine love; if your own heart is warm; if you do, indeed, love Jesus Christ, love the work of Jesus, and feel that your mission is to lead sinners to Jesus, the residence of power in you will give you dignity that far surpasses any honor that man can confer upon you. Power, power, power! The power of Godliness! How hollow the shell sounds, how empty but for the indwelling! Ah, for some life in it! Oh, for fire! Oh, for power that shall give Godliness not a dead seeming, but a living reality before men!

Now, the sinner yonder. I can tell when my own heart is losing its power-when it is a matter of no actual concern to me about the conversion of the sinner yonder. When that does not disturb me, I know that the power goeth. When I let a week pass without praying for missions, even one week, I know that the power is leaving me. Oh, the sinner yonder, the thousands of them, the millions of them, without God, without hope in the world!

I have seen it tested. I was present when by actual count there were 487 Christians; and those were representative Christians, supposed to be the very pick of many churches, and they kneeled down and prayed for missions, and got up and took up a collection for missions. The collection amounted to nineteen dollars and thirty-five cents! I never felt in my life like I felt when I witnessed that three quarters the form of Godliness without the power.

Why, I would give nineteen dollars to accommodate a worthy desire of one of my children; I would give nineteen dollars to accommodate myself if I particularly wanted anything. I somehow manage to do it. I would give nineteen dollars to put a little piece of furniture into my house, in a little corner; and loving God, and 487 of them present, and stating that they loved the lost world, and giving nineteen dollars, and then talk about the power! There wasn't any; the spirit of it wasn't there. It was the shell, an empty and sounding shell. And do you know that we get just that way at times? I mean to say that even this church does, which, in my judgment, is nearer right in its principles than any church I ever knew, in its practical workings, but sometimes we leave out the power.

I will tell you what you have done; you have let your pledged word of twelve months ago go to protest. You said you loved foreign missions; you said that you would give so much to that work. The year is almost gone and none of you have given. Now, don't you know that if we were to talk of the power of religion, that this church would not stall on the sum of $900, if we were in earnest, if we say, and mean what we say, that we do love the cause of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, I will tell you why I want to bring this up to you today. Yesterday I got hold of a little money, and the first thing I thought three quarters what a selfish lot people are three quarters the first thing I thought about was: "Now, what a fine lot of Christmas things I will get; of course, something for me, and something for my wife, and something for the children." Of course, that was first, and then I got to thinking of the outstanding obligations of this church, of Christ's cause, and it was as if I heard a voice, and saw an out-held hand: "Help me, help me, help me, Christ's cause! A Christmas gift for Jesus! Jesus first, then think of yourself; Jesus first, and then of your family; first of the Lord Jesus Christ."

Now, it is only a form to say that you are a Missionary Baptist and let five years pass by and never give a nickel to missions. It is only a form, I say, without any power in it, and yet there is no question but that two-thirds of the Baptists of Texas never, under any circumstances, make a contribution to the cause of missions-never, under any circumstances, and I do know I am ashamed of it.

Now, look here, brethren, I don't feel like passing the Christmas time without blotting out that obligation, and it seems as if my pockets never were any more empty than they are now, and yet, let's pay that $900. Oh, for power! Oh, for faith in Jesus Christ, for unselfishness! Yonder is your Foreign Mission Board crushed with debt. Letter after letter and appeal after appeal come: "Help us; help us; help us if you can; help us," and here we have been letting a year pass by. Who loves Jesus? Who here today would stand on the Lord's side?

Now, if you think that I wish to put any pressure to this, the love of Christ constraineth me; I love Him; that is all. I love my Savior; I love His cause, and from love of the Lord Jesus Christ I do today, by the help of God, dedicate so much to the liquidation of that Foreign Mission obligation, and I am going to ask you to give a general expression.

I would like to dismiss you in five minutes, and that makes a very short sermon for me at 11 o'clock, but I want the Christian people who are here today and who love Jesus Christ to make a contribution. Now, you pay this to me any time by the first of January, what you pledge here today. The amount to be raised is $900. It is a large sum of money, and I don't want you to help at all three quarters not a nickel three quarters unless you want to do it; unless the love of Jesus Christ constrains you to do it; unless it is in your heart to do it. We will let anybody hold out that wants to. Now, what will you do?

Let us pray.

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"When to seek God has become life and to glorify God has become self, then you have truly found God."