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mt thyself from thine own fiesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy salvation [hall 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 shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, here 1 am.
Instituted religion not intended to undermine natural.
Matt H. ix. 15. But go ye and learn what that tneaneth; I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.
ONE of the most: successful attempts that have been made upon religion, by the Devil and his instruments, hath been by setting the laws of God at variance with themselves, and by dashing the several 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 instituted and revealed, to undermine and destroy that which is natural, and of primary obligation.
To manifest and lay open the mischievous consequences of this design, 1 shall at this time (by God's assistance) endeavour to make out these two things: First, That natural religion is the foundation of all instituted and revealed religion.
Secondly, That no revealed or instituted religion was ever designed to take away the obligation of natural duties, but to confirm and establish them.
And to this purpose, I have chosen these words of our Saviour for the foundation of my following discourse ; but go ye and learn what that meaneth; I will have mercy, and not sacrifice. The occasion Vol. V. X of of which words was briefly this; the Pharisees found fault with him for keeping company, and eating with publicans and sinners. He owns the thing which they objected to him, and endeavours to vindicate himself from any crime or fault in so doing ; and that, these two ways:
1. By telling them, that it was allowed to a Physician, and proper for his office and profession, to converse With the sick, in order to their cure and recovery. He may abstain, if he pleaseth, from the conversation of others ; but the sick have need of him, and are his proper care, and his business and employment lies among them ; he said'unto them, they that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but finners 10 repentance ; they who were already good, needed not to be called upon to amend and reform their lives ; and they that were so conceited of their own righteousness, as the Pharisees were, and so confident that they were sound and whole, would not admit of a Physician, and thereby rendered themselves incapable of cure ; and therefore he did not apply himself to them ; but to the publicans and sinners, who were acknowledged on all hands, both by themselves and others, to be bad men ; so that it could not be denied to be the proper work of a spiritual Physician to converse with such persons.
X. By endeavouring to convince them of their ignorance of the true nature of religion, and of the rank and order of the several duties thereby required; but go ye and learn what that meaneth; I will have mercy and not sacrifice; which saying is quoted by him out of the Prophet Hosea, chap. vi. 6. / desiredmercy, and not sacrifice ; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings ; which text our Saviour cites and applies upon two several occasions ; the considering and comparing of which, will give full light to the true meaning of it.
The first is here in the text, upon occasion of the Pharisees finding fault with him, for conversing with publicans and sinners ; the other is, Matrh. xii. 7. where the Pharisees blaming the disciples of our Sa
viour for plucking the ears of corn on the sabbath day, our Saviour tells them, If ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice, 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 so forward to censure this action of his disciples.
So that the plain meaning of this faying is this, that in comparing the parts of religion and the obligation of duties together, those duties which are of moral and natural obligation, are most valued by God, and ought to take place of those which are positive and ritual. I will have mercy and not sacrifice, that is, rather than sacrifice, according to the true meaning of this Hebrew phrase, which is to be understood in a comparative fense, as is evident from the text itself, in Hosea, / defired mercy and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings; if they cannot be observed together, let sacrifice be neglected, and the work of mercy be done.
Anthhe reason of this seems very plain ; because shewing mercy, or doing good in any kind is a prime instance of those moral duties, which do naturally and perpetually oblige ; but sacrifice is an instance of positive and ritual observances, and one of the chief of the kind : so that when moral duties, and ritual observances come in competition, and do clash with one another, the observation of a rite, or positive institution, is to give way to a moral duty i and it is no sin in that case to neglect the observation of such a rite, yea though it were commanded and appointed by God himself. And though this may seem to be a breach of the letter of the law 5yet it is according to the true mind and meaning of the law ; it being a tacit condition implied in all laws of a ritual and positive nature, provided the observance of them be not to the hindrance and prejudice of any duty, which is of a higher and better nature; in that case the obligation of it does for that time give way, and is luspended.
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And this will appear to be the true meaning of this rule, by comparing more particularly the instances to which our Saviour applies it. His disciples passing through the corn on the sabbath day, and being hungry, pluckt the ears and did eat; this our Saviour does justify to be no breach of the law of the sabbath; because in that case, an4 in such circumstances, it did not oblige: for the disciples being called to attend upon our Saviour, to be instructed 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 necessary provisions against the sabbath, they, in obedience to their master, being intent upon a better work; but that they might not starve, the necessities of nature must be provided for; and therefore it was fit, that the law of the sabbath, which was but positive and ritual, should give way to an act of mercy and self-prefer- . vation; If ye had known what this mtaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.
And the reason is the fame as to any instrumental part of religion, by which I mean any thing which may be 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 likewise applies this rule) compares with moral duties. To avoid the company of vicious and wicked persons, isa good means to preserve men from the contagion of their vices, and was always esteemed a duty among prudent men, both Jews and Heathens, and is no wife disallowed by our Saviour: but yet not so a duty, as to hinder a greater duty, nor so strictly and perversely to be insisted upon, as if one ought not to con. verle with bad men in any case, or upon any account, no, not for so great and good an end as to reclaim them from their vices. In this cafe we ought to consider, that our first 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 shew mercy and pity to those that are in misery; and the greatest good that one man can do to another, is to be instrumental to re-claim him from the evil and error of his way; because this is to save his foul from death; and we cannot imagine that God ever intended, by any rule of prudence, or positive constitution os the Jewish law, so to forbid their accompanying with bad and scandalous men, that it should be unlawful to converse' with them, in order to their recovery and amendment, Go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have: mercy, and not sacrifice.
And St. Paul was of the fame mind in the precepts he gives concerning avoiding the company of scandalous Christians, 2 Thess. 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, lest Christians should mistake it, and fall into the Jewish extreme, not to converse with those whom they esteemed scandalous and wicked, upon any account whatsoever, no, not in order to their amend-' ment 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'strong as ever. It is one thing to discountenance bad men, to bring them to shame, and a sense of their fault i and quite another thing to abandon them to rtiih;and even in case of notorious heresy or wickedness of life, it is one thing to cut them off from' the society and communion of Christians; and quite another, to cut them oft from human society, to cut their throats, and to extirpate them out of theworld.:
And yet the matterwas carried thus-far by the furious zeal of the Jews, when Christianity first appeared in theworld; they thought that no mercy insuch1 cases was the best service that could be done, and the best sacrifice that could be offered to Almighty" God;and this pattern hath been' since; not only closely sol-lowed, but outdone by. the doctrines and practicesX- 3> - 0§