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The Root Of Godliness

A Sermon Preached By Joseph Hatton At Smallfields, November 13th, 1881.

“And this is His commandment, that we should believe on the Name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as He gave us commandment. And he that keepeth His commandments dwelleth in Him, and He in him. And hereby we know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit which He hath given us.”—1 John 3:23,24

We read in another portion of God’s Word that man believeth with the heart, and with the mouth makes confession of salvation. All real religion springs from an internal principle of holiness. There is a root, which Job calls “the root of the matter.” The offspring of that root may suffer a variety of evils and changes; but the root itself remains the same. That root is the love of God, the source of all real godliness in the heart and life. It is always the same, though we do not always perceive it in the same degree. That which springs from it, its desires, warmth, strength, and influence over the understanding, may differ in degree, while the substance is unaltered. This is clear; because a momentary glance from the Lord would draw water from that fountain, showing it is not dry; a momentary sensation of the Holy Spirit upon the soul would draw out love to God in action; and there would be the entrance of quietude and rest. So the fountain is never empty, nor the root dry.

To discover real godliness, therefore, we want to get at the root; we want to find the internal cause of the soul’s moving after God. Ah! external appearances are often not correct. We read of some who, the Lord says, appear beautiful without, but the inside is not washed; it is not fit to look at. Very often the Lord’s people try themselves by such a Scripture, fearing their inside corresponds exactly with what is said of the Pharisees. They feel themselves full of all manner of corruption, as dead men’s bones, &c. But there is a difference. The Pharisees were not only unclean inside; but their outside was hypocritical. It was something put on; the inside belied the outside. But as the child of God is led to discover the inside, and it appears to correspond with the description of the Pharisees, he mourns over it, confesses and exposes it before the Lord, and detests himself on account of it. The Pharisees did not do so; they cloaked it.

There is something within the Lord’s people that desires to love Him perfectly, to serve Him completely. They would do it so that no fault could be found, no complaint made by the Lord, none by the conscience. A quickened conscience quickly finds fault with itself and its services. It will not pass by anything that does not seem complete.

Consequently it is needful for the Lord Jesus Christ to purge that conscience frequently with His blood. It could not be satisfied without; it could not be contented with its prayers and services; everything comes short. There is a continual necessity that it should be purged by the blood of Jesus Christ; and that purging is the thing to which the child of God looks forward, that he may look the Lord in the face and feel His smile. Then there is something inside him that is better than the outside. The man’s desire is better than his performance. For instance, the apostle says, “I would do good.” That is the inside; and it is inside every child of God; but the outside is not equal to it. He would do the service of God, so that his conscience could find no fault according to the Word of God. There may be no complaint from a fellow-man; none may be privy to what is wrong. But the soul is privy to it all; and though the desire inside is clean, the outside is not so clean as he would have it.

I am speaking of godliness itself. The Lord’s people have an internal religion; the cause of their profession is internal. They believe in the Lord Jesus Christ with the heart before they make confession with the mouth. The external effect changes frequently; the internal cause does not. It is spoken of under the figure of a fountain. The Lord said to the woman by the well, “The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water, springing up into everlasting life.” (Jn 4:14) Now the running over or springing up may be sometimes very great and sometimes very small; or the fountain may be just to the brim. To come to a judgment of our religion, we want to get at the root rather than the external appearance. We cannot dive into the depths of one another’s hearts, it is true; and therefore in another the root is to be known by the fruit. But for ourselves, we want to dive into our own hearts, that we may know we have the root abiding through all our changes.

First, let us, then, consider what is the internal part of religion.

The love of God in the heart, or godliness itself, is a keeping of the commandment, “that we should believe on the Name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another.” For “love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Rom 13:8,10; Gal 5:14) That is the internal part, and it will be manifested outwardly. Where this internal root is in the soul, there is an indwelling in God; for “he that keepeth His commandments dwelleth in Him, and He in him.”

Remove the root, and down comes the tree. Without a foundation, all the faith is in the letter, and the show of love is not real. God dwells in His people; there is His habitation. His presence creates a vital union in the soul to the Lord Jesus Christ, and a dwelling in Father, Son, and Spirit. From the indwelling of God in us spring all our love to the brethren and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In our text we have also a rule given to us whereby we may gather some idea, under the enlightening of the Spirit of the Lord, whether He dwells in us and we in Him: “Hereby know we that we dwell in Him and He in us, because He hath given us of His Spirit.” If the Holy Ghost is given us, Christ dwells in us and we in Him; and we have the belief in the Lord Jesus Christ and the love to the brethren. These things being in the heart, they produce an open testimony before God and man that God is with us. “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

What do we confess? The mouth must declare something that is conformable to the substance in the heart. But in looking at this, we must not mistake the joy of faith for faith. Frequently the Lord’s people misjudge themselves. The joy of your faith may be lost, but the faith remains intact; and if it were proved sufficiently, you would find it in its entirety in the darkest moment of your life. Your heart is still firmly fixed in the truth; yet you say, “I have no interest in it. I am afraid it does not belong to me.” The joy and confidence of your faith is so undermined that it is as if a knife came between what you believe and your interest in it. But if God will grant you the joy of your faith, you will rejoice in Him, and find that in believing there is joy unspeakable and full of glory. Doubts and fears very much affect the children of God. Satan has a way of casting a doubt on the reality of our enjoyment of the truth, or on our possessing it rightly ourselves. He comes in as a flood of unbelief, and brings us into a flood of infidelity for a time, and tries to carry away our faith. Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure; the foundation itself he cannot remove. (2 Tim 2:19)

Secondly, we will notice, as we are enabled, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ in its effects on the life. Where should I find a believer? Some may say, “Where would you find one that is not?” It is easy enough to do so. True belief does not consist in believing there is a Son of God, and that Jesus Christ did come. To believe in God affects the man, his character and actions. Naturally, if one denies the existence of God and believes there is no God, that belief marks his character, and is seen in his actions and conversation. So again, if a man believes he has power to go to heaven or not as he pleases, his faith affects his character, and rules him accordingly. Whatever you believe affects your actions, walk, and life. The Jews in the days of the Lord Jesus did not believe on the Son of God; they hated Him in their hearts. Therefore they showed enmity against Him, rejected Him and His gospel, and walked contrary to Him. But if with a little power any poor sinners believed on Him, it altered their characters and conduct.

You remember, when the Lord was preaching, there was a great crowd around Him, and there was a man who had a palsy brought to Him, borne of four. They let the man down through the roof into the midst; and it is said Jesus saw their faith. Their faith was shown in presenting that man before the Lord. They believed He was able to cure him; so they brought him. And the Lord owned their faith, blessed the man first with the remission of his sins, and then sent him away with a perfect cure.

There was a woman who came to the feet of the Lord, and wept there. She was a notorious sinner; and she felt it, and grieved over it. Now her faith brought her there ; because she believed that Person could pardon, and she was a sinner. It was for no cure of body, but from a sense of guilt she came; and the Lord pardoned her: “Go in peace.” This faith affected her character; it made her a suppliant at His feet.

So with the thief upon the cross. God suddenly wrought that faith in him whereby he saw his own perishing condition and that the Lord had a kingdom, and believed it. And as he believed that Jesus was a King, and beheld the dignity of His Person, he believed He was able to save, and prayed, “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” There was the faith in his heart; and he made confession of his faith, and the Lord replied to it. In the same way we are brought to find access to Him. It was not because the man was a thief that he prayed, but because there was faith in his heart. We must bear in mind that the union to the Lord had taken place, and the action followed; he believed, then prayed. There was no such faith in the other thief, and no such consequence arose.

But let us come to ourselves. What makes you go and pray to the Lord? If you have a knowledge of yourself, you know you have no claim upon Him. Yet you ask Him for a variety of things ; for protection of body, mind, and soul; for salvation; for infinite mercies to be manifested to you; for God to allow His goodness to pass before you; and finally, that He would bring you to eternal bliss, to live with Him for ever and ever. What right have you to receive those blessings? It is not possible to have a right in yourself. The only right we have is to execution; and that execution has taken place,—the law has condemned and slain us. Yet you plead at His feet for these heavenly things, and you have been made to see that the Lord is able to answer those prayers. Then there must have been a radical change wrought in you. Let us come to heart faith. Do you believe in your heart that the Lord is able? Probably some poor sinner may say, “I don’t doubt that; but I am afraid He will not save me.” But let us look at the root. You believe He is able. “Well,” say you, “sometimes I feel I have really sinned beyond the reach of mercy; that I am too great a sinner to be saved.” If that is where you stagger, I must tell you there is nothing in God’s Word that would give the least shadow of that idea. There is nothing in the character of God or in His works that would lay a foundation for such a thought. If you have a persuasion that you have sinned beyond the reach of His mercy, that is a falsehood from Satan. Mercy is infinite; mercy is what God is Himself. All sin is the act of a creature; mercy is the act of God ; there can be no parallel between the two. It is not possible to do anything beyond the reach of God’s power and mercy, and leave God in the rear.

“With the heart man believeth unto righteousness.” So far you have come; that you really have a firm persuasion in the heart of the power of Jesus to save and a knowledge of your sins. You feel that nothing short of His blood can cleanse you; nothing short of His righteousness can justify you; nothing short of His almighty arm can take you to heaven. The consequence of this belief is that you trust in the Lord alone; and your faith decides your character, and influences your actions. What could you do for yourself? The best cleansing you could put upon your corrupt mind would be corrupt; the best water you could bring would be filthy; for how can a clean thing come out of an unclean? It is the blood of Jesus Christ alone that can cleanse a sinner from his sins. On that foundation I am brought to rely with praise and thanksgiving. To believe in the Son of God is to believe He is the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness, and there is no other. “Without shedding of blood is no remission.” Here is God’s revealed truth. No going on pilgrimage, nor starving your bodies, nor any deed you may perform will do; it must be the blood of Jesus Christ. That is what we believe in our hearts, we who do believe; and our faith forms our characters, and cleanses us from all those external things. It clears the soul in its walk towards God, cleanses it from idolatry, and purges out the old leaven.

From faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, therefore, all good works or fruits arise. The Lord calls His people “trees of righteousness;” and says, “They shall still bring forth fruit in old age;” for their fruit springs from the righteousness of Jesus Christ, never from themselves. I will try to distinguish between what springs from Jesus Christ and what comes from themselves. Sometimes you may feel you are not exactly what you would like to be; you are dark, dry, barren, and unfit. You do not feel love enough in your heart; you are dissatisfied with yourself, and perhaps secretly vow to say certain prayers; and how do you succeed? Does it not fail? You have an idea that you want to pray heaven into your heart, and make yourself more fruitful; and do you not discover that you leave off prayer more bitter in spirit and disappointed than when you began, and if you had a little feeling in your heart, you have lost it? Do you not think it is hard that the enemy is allowed to get into your soul, and so you are filled with self-pity; and self-pity helps you to go on a little further? You are cleared, and God’ is blamed; you pass judgment upon God and yourself, and decide you are hardly dealt with. Then you feel rebellion, and the rebellious enter into a dry land. All is confusion and a wilderness to your soul.

But this is contrary to what springs from faith. If you believe the Son of God is your Righteousness, and that it is from Him your fruit is to come, the moment this faith is in exercise, it will turn you to look away from yourself. The righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ is this,—His holy life, both active and passive, which He lived as a Man upon earth, enduring all the treatment He received from sinners and all that God righteously imposed upon Him, and bringing forth fruit to His honour and glory. His obedience is the root of all the obedience of His children; and it is from Him that all virtue must flow. Their love to God, their serving Him in heart, and their external deportment according to His Word must come from His grace alone. Now if I believe that with all my heart, I seek righteousness nowhere else. I say, “Lord, I know there is not a falling tear of real sorrow for sin that can come from my heart, unless Jesus Christ produces it.” I might squeeze one out that was not sincere; and that is all. I know not a breath of spiritual prayer can ever escape my heart, unless first put in by Jesus Christ. There, is not the slightest godliness within or without, unless it first flows from Him. The effect of believing this is to lift up my soul thus: “Lord, grant me Thy grace.”

I am conscious when I fail it is because I have not grace enough. If I had sufficient grace, nothing would be too much for me. I could be quiet under every cross and loss, which is not the case now. But believing as I do that the Lord is the Righteousness of God for a sensible sinner, it is to Him I look for every breath of prayer, a good desire, a little contrition. Whatever is set forth as a gospel grace, I look to Him for it; and the effect of this faith is to confess that the honour and glory of every good thing is His. To believe that without Him we can do nothing is to put the crown on the head of Jesus Christ. We can heartily and fully crown Him Lord of all, and it is pleasing to us to do so, because we believe in our hearts the crown belongs to Him.

The Lord Jesus Christ is God’s gift to His people; and with Him He has blessed them with all spiritual blessings. In Him God has secured all the infinite blessings He designs them to enjoy on earth and those they are to enjoy hereafter. To whom, then, are we directed to look but to Him? “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.” God puts faith in His Son into our hearts; and the belief of the heart lifts the eye to the place whence mercy and help can come. Faith is fixed in the Son of God, in His work and Person, in all He is. But I must not attempt to go into this fully; it is an endless subject. Faith rests in His Deity, His Almightiness. He is the Head of His people, and all the elect are His members, united to Him; and the Lord has sworn that they shall never perish.

Believing this, I am compelled to acknowledge that all the personal success of God’s people is of Him from beginning to end. He asks no assistance from man, and will take none; but He uses men as He will. The disposition and ability to serve Him must come from Him. The man that disposes his own heart He will not accept. It could not be disposed properly; and such a man would want a share in the glory of the work he was performing. This is natural to us. Whatever we engage in, we are necessarily, by nature, looking out for a little reward. You never prayed a prayer in your life, that you thought was a little tolerable, but you expected the Lord to reward you for it. If you could probe to the bottom of your heart, you would find it is so. I dare say you have a great many troubles because the Lord does not accept your prayers, and give you something for them. But He never pays in that coin; He never answers a prayer as a reward for praying. The answer comes out of His own unbounded goodness. His own arm and end must be seen in the answer; or none will appear.

The faith of God’s elect is of a purifying nature, and brings the soul away from every false hope to cleave to the Lord. If we believe that Christ is the Righteousness of God, we do not stumble at our own righteousness; we do not want part of the glory; we can then come as sinners, with, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” This faith unites us to God, to love Him, and so marks our character, profession, and external deportment before men. Our conduct will be different from that of the rest of mankind. It must be so. The dying thief was immediately distinguished by divine grace from all that surrounded him.

Further. We are exhorted in our text to love one another. True faith brings the soul to Jesus Christ, and unites it in love to Him and also to His people. There are external things in the children of God that are not loveable; there are diversities in their dispositions. Some carry about with them certain things that no one can very well love; yet often if you can get at the heart of their religion, they have some redeeming qualities. Let them speak of the way the Lord has dealt with them, while they are talking of Jesus Christ and the wonders of His grace, most probably your heart will be greatly united to them, and you will wish you could agree with them more in other things.

This is where, then, we must look for the point of union,—in the image of God, the renewed nature, His grace in the heart. If you meet with a stranger, and find there is something like truth in his heart, how you will open your ears! I have been in com- pany, and a word or two has been dropped, having a certain sound different from any other. I have put a question or two, and so have found we are completely acquainted on spiritual things. We associate together directly; the great point of love is there.

We are not bound to associate with every one that is morally upright. We are forbidden to associate with erroneous men; because of the evil tendency of their doctrines. The grace of love is of a very cleansing nature; it is purely the love of the truth. It is clean in every respect; pure in its nature, pure in its tendencies, pure in all its fruits. It is pure, as the very nature of God; for “God is love,” and “he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” (1 Jn 4:16)

This love is an enduring substance. If I love a person who has the grace of God in his heart, for the sake of his religion, the grace of God is the connecting link between him and me; and that grace is the dividing bar between possessor and professor. A mere professor would listen to the same person speaking of the Lord’s goodness to him, and would hate him for it. But the Lord says of the world, “Ye know that it hated Me before it hated you.” A religion that has stamped upon it the image of Christ, integrity and uprightness between man and man, love to our fellow-men, with desires that a blessing may be given them; one that acknowledges all good is from God, and all evil belongs to man, is rejected of men universally in heart, if not in word and deed. So that if you love the grace and truth of Jesus Christ and His children, it will necessarily decide your character, and prove you to be not of the world. There will be an external development of the love, that is in your heart, and it will be manifest in your actions.

On this subject the Lord’s people are often mistaken. They look upon the external appearance of grace in the conduct as if it were the root; and not being always pleased with the children of God (and I am sure I am not), nor ready to show their love to them, they condemn themselves, and judge they have no love. Satan may try to persuade you that you do not like God’s religion; he can so transform it that you will think you hate it; and then he says, “You hate the religion of God.” Do not marvel at this; for he can transform himself into an angel of light, and the ministers of righteousness he can make to appear to the eye or ear as his ministers. No wonder, then, if he changes the grace of God, in appearance, into something you cannot bear, and asks you to look at it. Bunyan confesses he put his fingers in his ears to stop the sound of Satan’s voice; but he found it was sounding inside him, not outside. Yet if you come to what is in your heart, can you deliberately say, “I hate the things of God”? No; the mouth is closed to that; the hatred is not there, in those whom God has made alive. God has nailed it to the cross of His Son. Dive to the bottom; there is none to fetch up. Instead of enmity, if you are enabled to dive deeply enough, you will fetch up love, because it is there.

Wherever there is the root of the matter, the in- corruptible seed, nothing can bring up from the heart hatred to God and His people. This is the truth the apostle is speaking of when he says, “He that is born of God sinneth not.” He is there speaking of the sin of enmity, which was manifest in Cain, who slew his brother, “because his own works were evil and his brother’s righteous.” A quickened soul cannot hate God’s Word. Whatever fumes you may come into, at the bottom there is love, and some feeling of this sort, “Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil?” And by and by the Lord goes to the very bottom, and the good thing is found,— faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and love to one another.

It is the indwelling of God in His people that keeps all that is good in them in existence as well as in motion; for He is their life. “He that keepeth His commandments dwelleth in Him, and He in him. And hereby we know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit which He hath given us.”

Joseph Hatton (1821-1884) was a Strict and Particular Baptist preacher. He was appointed the Pastor of Smallfield, Surrey, where he served for thirty-five years. He also served as the Editor for the Gospel Standard Magazine between the years 1881 and 1884. A few months before his death, he wrote a New Year Address for the Magazine—

"With some of us it is certain that our days are growing few; and with every one of us, in the end, the course of life will be arrested; and we must pass away to be gathered to our fathers. But there is a solemn question left unanswered by vast numbers, which attaches itself to the action of exchanging worlds: 'But man dieth, and wasteth away; yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?' (Job 14:10). Yes, where is he? Where is it he has gone when he has entered eternity? Momentous question, both to our readers and ourselves; for ‘where the tree falleth, there it shall be' (Ecclesiastes 11:3).”

Joseph Hatton Sermons