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not thyself from thine own flesh? Then fhall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy falvation fhall Spring forth Speedily, and thy righteousness shall go before thee, and the glory of the Lord shall be thy rere-ward. Then thou shalt call, and the Lord fhall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall fay, here I am.
Inftituted religion not intended to undermine natural.
MATTH. ix. 13.
But go ye and learn what that meaneth; I will have mercy, and not facrifice.
NE of the moft fuccefsful attempts that have been made upon religion, by the Devil and his inftruments, hath been by fetting the laws of God at variance with themfelves, and by dafhing the feveral parts of religion, and the two tables of the law against one another, to break all in pieces; and under a pretence of advancing that part of religion which is inftituted and revealed, to undermine and destroy that which is natural, and of primary obligation.
To manifeft and lay open the mischievous confequences of this defign, I fhall at this time (by God's affiftance) endeavour to make out thefe two things:
First, That natural religion is the foundation of all inftituted and revealed religion.
Secondly, That no revealed or inftituted religion was ever defigned to take away the obligation of natural duties, but to confirm and establish them.
And to this purpofe, I have chofen these words of our Saviour for the foundation of my following difcourfe; but go ye and learn what that meaneth; I will have mercy, and not sacrifice. The occafion VOL. V.
of which words was briefly this; the Pharifees found fault with him for keeping company, and eating with publicans and finners. He owns the thing which they objected to him, and endeavours to vindicate himself from any crime or fault in fo doing; and that, these two ways:
1. By telling them, that it was allowed to a Phyfician, and proper for his office and profeffion, to converse with the fick, in order to their cure and recovery. He may abftain, if he pleafeth, from the converfation of others; but the fick have need of him, and are his proper care, and his business and employment lies among them; he faid unto them, they that be whole need not a physician, but they that are fick; I came not to call the righteous, but finners to repentance; they who were already good, needed not to be called upon to amend and reform their lives; and they that were fo conceited of their own righteousness, as the Pharifees were, and fo confident that they were found and whole, would not admit of a Phyfician, and thereby rendered themfelves incapable of cure; and therefore he did not apply himself to them; but to the publicans and finners, who were acknowledged on all hands, both by themselves and others, to be bad men; fo that it could not be denied to be the proper work of a fpiritual Physician to converse with fuch perfons.
2. By endeavouring to convince them of their ignorance of the true nature of religion, and of the rank and order of the feveral duties thereby required; but go ye and learn what that meaneth; I will have mercy and not facrifice; which faying is quoted by him out of the Prophet Hofea, chap. vi. 6. I defired mercy, and not facrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings; which text our Saviour cites and applies upon two feveral occafions; the confidering and comparing of which, will give full light to the true meaning of it.
The firft is here in the text, upon occafion of the Pharifees finding fault with him, for converfing with publicans and finners; the other is, Matth. xii. 7. where the Pharifees blaming the difciples of our Sa
viour for plucking the ears of corn on the fabbath day, our Saviour tells them, If ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy and not facrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless; that is, if they had understood the true nature of religion, and what duties of it are chiefly and in the first place to be regarded, they would not have been fo forward to cenfure this action of his difciples.
So that the plain meaning of this faying is this, that in comparing the parts of religion and the obligation of duties together, thofe duties which are of moral and natural obligation, are moft valued by God, and ought to take place of those which are pofitive and ritual. I will have mercy and not facrifice, that is, rather than facrifice, according to the true meaning of this Hebrew phrafe, which is to be understood in a comparative fenfe, as is evident from the text itself, in Hofea, I defired mercy and not facrifice; and the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings; if they cannot be obferved together, let facrifice be neglected, and the work of mercy be done.
And the reafon of this feems very plain; because fhewing mercy, or doing good in any kind is a prime inftance of thofe moral duties, which do naturally and perpetually oblige; but facrifice is an inftance of pofitive and ritual obfervances, and one of the chief of the kind : fo that when moral duties, and ritual obfervances come in competition, and do clash with one another, the observation of a rite, or pofitive inftitution, is to give way to a moral duty s and it is no fin in that cafe to neglect the obfervation of fuch a rite, yea though it were commanded and appointed by God himfelf. And though this may feem to be a breach of the letter of the law; yet it is according to the true mind and meaning of the law; it being a tacit condition implied in alf laws of a ritual and pofitive nature, provided the obfervance of them be not to the hindrance and prejudice of any duty, which is of a higher and better nature; in that cafe the obligation of it does for that time give way, and is fufpended.
And this will appear to be the true meaning of this rule, by comparing more particularly the inftances to which our Saviour applies it. His difciples paffing through the corn on the fabbath day, and being hungry, pluckt the ears and did eat; this our Saviour does justify to be no breach of the law of the fabbath; because in that cafe, and in fuch circumftances, it did not oblige: for the difciples being called to attend upon our Saviour, to be inftructed by him in the things which concerned the kingdom of God, that is, in the doctrine of the gospel, which they were to publish to the world, this attendance hindred them from making neceffary provifions against the fabbath, they, in obedience to their mafter, being intent upon a better work; but that they might not ftarve, the neceffities of nature must be provided for; and therefore it was fit, that the law of the fabbath, which was but pofitive and ritual, fhould give way to an act of mercy and felf-prefervation; If ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy and not facrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.
And the reafon is the fame as to any inftrumental part of religion, by which I mean any thing which a means to promote piety and goodness; as prayer, hearing the word of God, keeping good company, and avoiding bad; the duties of this kind, our Saviour here in the text (where he likewife applies this rule) compares with moral duties. To avoid the company of vicious and wicked perfons, is a good means to preferve men from the contagion of their vices, and was always efteemed a duty among pru dent men, both Jews and Heathens, and is no wife difallowed by our Saviour: but yet not fo a duty, as to hinder a greater duty, nor fo itrictly and perverse. ly to be infifted upon, as if one ought not to con verfe with bad men in any cafe, or upon any account, no, not for fo great and good an end as to reclaim them from their vices. In this cafe we ought to confider, that our firft and highest obligation is to moral duties, comprehended under the love of God and our neighbour; among which one of the chief is to do
good to men, and to fhew mercy and pity to those that are in mifery; and the greatest good that one man can do to another, is to be inftrumental to reclaim him from the evil and error of his way; becaufe this is to fave his foul from death; and we cannot imagine that God ever intended, by any rule of prudence, or pofitive conftitution of the Jewish law, fo to forbid their accompanying with bad and fcandalous men, that it fhould be unlawful to converfe with them, in order to their recovery and amendment, Go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not facrifice.
And St. Paul was of the fame mind in the precepts he gives concerning avoiding the company of fcandalous Chriftians, 2 Theff. iii. 14, 15. And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be afhamed; yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. St. Paul qualifies his precept,left Chriftians fhould miftake it, and fall into the Jewish extreme, not to converfe with thofe whom they esteemed fcandalous and wicked, upon any account whatsoever, no, not in order to their amendment and reformation. The bond of intimacy and friendship with bad men ought to be broken, and yet the bond of common humanity may be as ftrong as ever. It is one thing to difcountenance bad men, to bring them to fhame, and a fenfe of their fault and quite another thing to abandon them to ruin; and even in cafe of notorious herefy or wickednefs of life, it is one thing to cut them off from the fociety and communion of Chriftians; and quite another, to cut them off from human fociety, to cut their throats, and to extirpate them out of the world.
And yet the matter was carried thus far by the fu rious zeal of the Jews, when Chriftianity firft appeared in the world; they thought that no mercy in fuch cafes was the beft fervice that could be done, and the beft facrifice that could be offered to Almighty God;; and this pattern hath been fince; not only closely fol-lowed, but outdone by the doctrines and practices X-3