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Of the great duties of natural religion, with the ways and means of knowing them.
MICAH VI. 6, 7, 8.
Wherewith fhall I come before the Lord, and boar myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year
Will the Lord be pleafed with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my first-born for my tranfgreffion, the fruit of my body for the fin of my foul?
He hath fhewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
N the beginning of this chapter, the Prophet tells the people of Ifrael, that the Lord had
verfy with them; and that he might direct them how to take up this quarrel, he brings in one making. this enquiry in the name of the people; Wherewith Shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? That is, by what kind of worship or devotion may I addrefs myself to him in the moft acceptable manner? by what means may I hope to appeafe his difpleafure? To fatisfy this enquiry, he first inftanceth in the chief kinds of facrifi ces and expiations that were in ufe among the Jews and Heathens: Shall I come before him with burntofferings? the conftant facrifice that was offered to God by way of acknowledgment of his dominion over the creatures: with calves of a year old? which was the fin-offering which the high-priest offered for himself. Or will he rather accept of thofe great and softly facrifices which were offered upon folemn and
and publick occafions, fuch as that was which Solomon offered at the dedication of the Temple? Will the Lord be pleafed with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Or if none of thefe will do, fhall I try to atone him after the manner of the Heathen, by the dearest thing in the world, the first-born of my children? Shall I give my firft. born for my tranfgreffion, the fruit of my body for the fin of my foul? If God was to be appeafed at all, furely they thought it must be by fome of thefe ways, for beyond thefe they could imagine nothing of greater value and efficacy.
But the Prophet tells them, that they were quite out of the way, in thinking to pacify God upon thefe terms; that there are other things which are much better and more pleafing to him than any of thefe facrifices. For fome of them were exprefly forbidden by God, as the offering up of our children; and for the reft, they were not good in themselves, but merely by virtue of their inftitution, and because they were commanded. But the things which he would recommend to them are fuch as are good in their own nature, and required of us by God upon that account. He hath fhewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
So that in these words you have,
First, An enquiry which is the beft way to appease God when he is offended? Wherewith fhall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Secondly, The way that men are apt to take in this cafe, and that is by fome external piece of religion and devotion; fuch as facrifice was both among Jews and Heathens, Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,&c. By which questions the Prophet intimates that men are very apt to pitch upon this courfe.
Thirdly, The courfe which God himself directs to, and which will effectually pacify him. He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, &c.
The first being a mere question, there needs no
more to be faid of it, only that it is a question of great importance; what is the most effectual way to appeafe God when we have offended him? For who can bear his indignation, and who can ftand before him, when once he is angry? Let us confider then,
Second place, the way that men are apt to take to pacify God; and that is by fome external piece of religion and devotion, fuch as were facrifices among the Jews and Heathens. Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings? This is the way which men are moft apt to choofe. The Jews, you fee, pitched upon the external parts of their religion, thofe which were most pompous and folemn,the richest and most coftly facrifices; fo they might but keep their fins, they were well enough content to offer up any thing elfe to God; they thought nothing too good for him, provided he would not oblige them to become bet
And thus it is among ourfelves, when we apprehend God is difpleafed with us, and his judgments are abroad in the earth, we are content to do any thing but to learn righteousness; we are willing to fubmit to any kind of external devotion and humiliation, to faft, and pray, to afflict ourselves, and to cry mightily unto God; things, fome of them good in themfelves, but the least part of that which God requires of us.
And as for the church of Rome, in cafe of publick judgments and calamities, they are the most inquifitive and (as they pretend) the moft skilful people in the world to pacify God; and they have a thousand folemn devices to this purpofe. I do not wrong them, by reprefenting them enquiring after this manner.
Shall I go before a crucifix, and bow myself to "it, as to the high God? And because the Lord is a great king, and it is perhaps too much boldnefs and arrogancy to make immediate addresses always to him, to which of the Saints or An"gels fhall I go to mediate for me, and inter"cede on my behalf? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of Pater-nofters, or with ten thou"fands
"fands of Ave-Marys? Shall the Hoft travel in pro"ceffion, or myself undertake a tedious Pilgrimage? "Or fhall I lift myself a soldier for the holy war, "or for the extirpation of hereticks? Shall I give "half my eftate to a convent for my tranfgreffion, or chaftife and punish my body for the fin of my "foul" Thus men deceive themselves, and will fubmit to all the extravagant feverities, that the pe tulancy and folly of men can devife and impofe upon them. And indeed it is not to be imagined, when men are once under the power of fuperftition, how ridiculous they may be, and yet think themfelves religious; how prodigioufly they may play the fool, and yet believe they pleafe God; what cruel and barbarous things they may do to themselves and others, and yet be verily perfuaded they do. God good Service.
And what is the mystery of all this, but that men are loth to do that, without which nothing else that we do is acceptable to God? They hate to be reformed; and for this reafon, they will be content to do. any thing, rather than be put to the trouble of mending themselves; every thing is eafy in comparison of this task, and God may have any terms of them, fo he will let them be quiet in their fins, and excuse them from the real virtues of a good life. And this. brings me to the
Third thing which I principally intended to speak to. The course which God himself directs to, and which will effectually pacify him. He hath fhewed thee, O man, what is good, and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? In the handling of which, I fhall,
First, Confider thofe feveral duties which God here. requires of us, and upon the performance of which he will be pacified towards us..
Secondly, By what ways and means "God hath dif covered thefe duties to us, and the goodness of them; -be hath fhewed thee, O man, what is good; &c..
I. We will briefly confider the feveral duties which God here requires of us, and upon the performance
of which he will be pacified towards us. What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
It was ufual among the Jews to reduce all the duties of religion to thefe three heads, juftice, mercy, and piety; under the firft two, comprehending the duties which we owe to one another; and under the third, the duties which we owe to God.
1. Juftice. And I was going to tell you what it is, but I confidered that every man knows it, as well as any definition can explain it to him. I fhall only put you in mind of fome of the principal inftances of it, and the feveral virtues comprehended under it. And,
First, Juftice is concerned in the making of laws, that they be fuch as are equal and reasonable, ufeful and beneficial, for the honour of God and religion, and for the publick good of human fociety; this is a great truft, in the discharge of which, if men be biaffed by favour or intereft, and drawn afide from the confideration and regard of the publick good, it is a far greater crime, and of worfe confequence, than any private act of injustice between man and
And then justice is alfo concerned in the due execution of laws; which are the guard of private property, the fecurity of publick peace, and of religion and good manners. And,
Laftly, In the obfervance of laws and obedience to them; which is a debt that every man owes to human fociety.
But more efpecially juftice is concerned in the obfervance of thofe laws, whether of God or man, which refpect the rights of men, and their mutual commerce and intercourfe with one another. That we ufe honefty and integrity in all our dealings, in oppofition to fraud and deceit; truth and fidelity, in oppofition to falfhood and breach of truft; equity and good confcience, in oppofition to all kind of oppreffion and exaction. These are the principal branches and inftances of this great and comprehenfive duty of juftice; the violation whereof is fo much