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S E R M O N CIL
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Of the great duties of natural religion, withs the ways and means of knowing them.
. -' MlCAH V1. 6, 7, g. Wherewith shall I come before the Lord', and lo-ar myself before the high God? jhall I come beforehim with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year eld?
Will the" Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? /hall I give my first-born for my transgrejston, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to lovt mercy, and to walk humbly witb>
- thy God?
IN the beginning of this chapter, the Prophet tells the people of Israel, that the Lord had a controversy with them; and that he might direct then* how to take up this quarrel, he brings in one making this enquiry in- the name of the people; Wherewith' shall t come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high. God? That is, by what kind of worshipor devotion may I address myself to him. in the most acceptable manner? by what means may I hope to appease his displeasure > To- satisfy- this enquiry, he first instanceth in the chief kinds of sacrifices and expiations that were in use among the Jews and Heathens: Shall' I come before- him with burntofferings?- the constant sacrifice that was offered t* 6od by way of acknowledgment of his dbminior* over the creatures: with calves of a< year old'? which; was the sin-offering which the high-priest offered for himself. Ofc will he rather accept of those greatand costly sacrifices which were ottered upon solemn - . ' . T j' and: and publick occasions, such as that was which Solomon offered at the dedication of the Temple? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Or if none of these will do, shall I try to atone him aster the manner of the Heathen, by the dearest thing in the world, the first-born of my children? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the fin os my soul i If God was to be appeased at all, surely they thought it must be by some of these ways, for beyond these 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 these terms that there are other things which are much better and more pleasing to him than any of these sacrifices. For some of them were exprelly forbidden by God, as the offering up of our children; and for the rest, they were not good in themselves, but merely by virtue of their institution, and because they were commanded. But the things which he would recommend to them are fitch as are good in their own nature, and required of us by God upon that account. He hath (hewed 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 Cod? .:
So that in these words you have,
First, An enquiry which is the best way to appease God when he is offended > Wherewith pall 1 come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God?
Secondly, The way that men are apt to take in this case; and that is by some external piece of religion and devotion ; such as sacrifice was both among Jews and Heathens, Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,Scc. Bv which questions the Prophet intimates that men are very apt to pitch upon this course.
Thirdly, The course which God himself directs to, and which will effectually pacify him. Be hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the lord thy God require of thee, Sec.
The first being a mete question, there needs no . more> more to be sa!d os it, only that it is a question of great importance; what is the most effectual way to appease God when we have offended him? For who can bear his indignation, and who can stand before him, when once ne is angry} Let us consider then, in the
Second place, the way that men are apt to take to pacify God; and that is by some external piece of religion and devotion, such as were sacrifices among the Jews and Heathens. Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings? This is the way which m.en are most apt to choose. The Jews, you fee, pitched upon the external parts of their religion, those which were most pompous and solemn.the richest and most costly sacrifices; so they might but keep their sins, they were well enough content to offer up any thing else to God; they thought nothing too good for him, provided he would not oblige them to become better.
And thus it is among ourselves, when we apprehend God is displeased 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 submit to any kind of external devotion and humiliation, to fast, and prayi to afflict ourselves, and to cry mightily unto God; things, some of them good in themselves, but the least part of that which God requires of us.. . . .
And as for the church of Rome, in case of publick judgments and calamities, they are the most inquisitive and (as they pretend) the most skilful people in the world to pacify God; and they have a thousand solemn devices to this purpose. I do not wrong them, by representing them enquiring aster 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 bold'* ness -and arrogancy to- make immediate addresses "always to him; to which of the Saints or Aa,c gels shall I go to mediate for me, and intes"cede on my behalf* Will the Lord be pleased JI with thousands Qc Pater-nosiers, or with ten thqfc
51 sends. "sands of Ave-Marys? Shall the Host travel in pro* "cession, or myself undertake a tedious Pilgrimages *' Or shall I list myself a soldier i for the holy war, *' or for the extirpation of hereticks? Shall I give "half my estate to a convent for my transgression^ "or chastise and punish my body for the sin of my "soul i" Thus men deceive themselves, and- wilt submit to all the extravagant severities, that the petulancy and folly of men can devise and impose upon them. And indeed it is not to be imagined, when, men are once under the power of superstition, how ridiculous they may be, and yet think themselves religious j how prodigioufly they may play the fool, and yet believe they please God; what cruel and barbarous things they may do to themselves and others, and yet be verily ferjuaded they do Gad 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 reason, they will be content to do any thing, rather than be put to the trouble of mending themselves; every thing is easy in comparison of this task, and God may have any terms of them,. so he will let them be quiet in their sins, 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 coarse which God himself directs to, and which will effectually pacify him. tie hath shewed 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 shall, - ..
. First, Consider those several 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 discovered these duties to.us, and the goodness of them; he hath shewed' thte+'Q. man, what is good, Sec.
I.. We will briefly consider the several duties which €ad 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 usual among the Jews to reduce all the duties of religion to these three heads, justice, mercy, and piety; under the first two, comprehending the duties which we owe to one another; and under the third, the duties which we owe to God.
1. Justice. And I was going to tell you what it is, but I considered that every man knows it, as well as any definition can explain it to him. I shall only put you in mind of some of the. principal instances of it, and the several virtues comprehended under it. And,
First, Justice is concerned in the making of laws, that they be such as are equal and reasonable, useful and beneficial, for the honour of God and religion, and for the publick good of human society; this is a great trust, in the discharge of which, if men be biassed* by favour or interest, and drawn aside from the consideration and regard of the publick good, it is afar greater crime, and of worse consequence, than any private ait of injustice between man and man. .•'. .-...>..;
And then justice is also concerned in the due execution of laws; which are the guard of private property, the security of publick peace, and of religion and good manners. And,
Lastly, In the observance of laws and obedience to them; which is a debt that every man owes to human society. . . - ::->
But more especially justice is concerned in the observance of those laws, whether of God or man, which respect the rights of men, and their mutual commerce and intercourse with one another. That we use honesty and integrity in all our dealings, in opposition to fraud and deceit; truth and fidelity, in opposition to falshood and breach of trust; equity and good conscience, in opposition to all kind of oppression and exaction. These are the principal branches and instances of this great and comprehensive duty of justice; the violation whereof is so much