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THE UPRIGHT ALONE ACCEPTABLE TO GOD.
Prov. xv. 8. The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination unto
the Lord: but the prayer of the upright is his delight.
THE language of Scripture is often extraordinarily emphatic. This not unfrequently arises from the strength of the metaphors that are used to express the mind of the writer: and frequently from his speaking of God in terms, which, in their strict sense, are applicable only to men. Of course, we are not to conceive of God as possessing either parts or passions; and when either the one or the other are ascribed to him, we must regard it only as a condescension to our weakness, which is incapable of comprehending any thing respecting God, except by a sort of comparison of him with man. Of all his natural perfections, such as immensity and eternity, we know nothing at all: that is to say, our knowledge is merely negative. And respecting his moral perfections, as justice, mercy, truth, we know as little, except as we transfer to him the notions which we have formed of such perfections as exist in the human mind. We associate very distinct ideas with those attributes as applied to man: and by the help of those terms we express what we conceive to regulate the actions of God in the moral government of the universe. In like manner, when we speak of any thing being “ an abomination” or “a delight” to God, we mean only, that he will act in reference to that thing as we should towards any thing which excited such feelings in our minds. This is clearly understood by all. No man needs to be informed, that God is not susceptible of such feelings, or capable of those emotions which such feelings import: we therefore, in conformity with Scripture, shall proceed to speak of God in the same figurative language: and we pray God that your minds may be suitably impressed by it, whilst we consider, I. The truths here asserted
1. “ The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord"
[Where so strong an assertion is used in reference to any character, it is obvious, that we ought to understand, very clearly and distinctly, who they are that are designated by that character. For instance, suppose that under this general term, “the wicked,” we were to comprehend those only who are grossly and openly immoral, we should release all others from any participation in the feelings which the assertion respecting them is intended to create. But this we cannot do: for Solomon himself has accurately defined the character which he is here speaking of; and after defining it, has annexed to that very definition the same declaration as occurs in my text: “ He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination a." You will observe then, that the wicked is one who is inattentive to the commands of God in his word, and averse to comply with the requisitions of his Law and of his Gospelb
Now such an one, even though he be guilty of no flagrant sins, is an abomination to the Lord. The rebellious state of his mind is most offensive to God: and therefore every thing that he does is hateful to him: "A high look, and a proud heart, and even the ploughing of the wicked, is sin c." No act can be more innocent than that of ploughing : but the most innocent acts of such a person participate in the guilt of his general state and habit of mind.
His most religious acts too are hateful to God: his very “sacrifices” are an abomination. In the first chapter of Isaiah's prophecies, the Jews are represented as bringing the offerings appointed by the Law, as bringing the best too, and in great number, and at the seasons ordained by God himself; and as accompanying those sacrifices with fervent prayer; and yet as being, at the same time, objects of God's utter abhorrence, because their conduct was altogether at variance with their professions. In another chapter he speaks of them as “taking delight in approaching to God,” and as abounding in the self-denying exercises of fasting and prayer ; and yet as altogether hateful in his sight. The prophet Amos speaks strongly to the same effect f. To what an extent the services of such persons are abhorred, God himself has told us: “He that killeth an ox, is as if he slew a man : he that sacrificeth a
a Prov. xxviii. 9.
• This distinction should be more fully opened, in order that all may know how deeply they are interested in what follows. c Prov. xxi. 4. d Isai. i. 11-13. e Isai. lviii. 2.
Amos. v. 21–23. This and the two preceding quotations should be recited at full length, and with the emphasis due to them.
lamb, as if he cut off a dog's neck: he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine's blood : he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol.” I pray you, Brethren, to mark these expressions, and to apply them to yourselves whilst living in an unhumbled and unconverted state: for, “whilst you regard any iniquity in your heart, the Lord will not hear you 8:" your very prayers are turned into sin.] 2. “But the prayer of the upright is God's delight”—
[": The upright” is he who truly and unfeignedly gives himself up to God, to be saved in his appointed way, and to serve him with a pure heart and mind
Of such an one God approves: and both his person and his services are accepted of him: “The prayer of such an one is God's delight." In itself it may be no more than a few broken accents, or a desire expressed only in sighs and groans: but it enters into the ears of the Lord of Hosts, and shall be answered by him to the full extent of its import. It is, in reality, the voice of his own Spirit in the suppliant: and as “he knows the mind of the Spirit,” so he cannot but delight in every petition that is dictated by him”. Besides, in the prayer of the upright there are dispositions exercised, which are “in the sight of God of great price i” The suppliant himself perhaps is mourning as though he could never hope for acceptance: but God listens to him with unspeakable delight: he loves “the prayer that goeth not out of feigned lips k." above all, he delights in the prayer of the upright, because it gives scope for the exercise of love and mercy towards the poor suppliant, and for a rich communication of all spiritual blessings to his soul. God "will be inquired of by his people?,” before he will impart to them his promised blessings : and the moment they do pray to him, he is like a mother that hears the cry of her beloved infant, whom she instantly presses to her bosom, and in administering to whose necessities she finds relief, as it were, to her own soul. See this exemplified in his dealings with repenting Ephraim: “Surely I have heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus: Thou hast chastised and I chastised
as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: turn thou me and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God.” “ Is not Ephraim my dear son? is he not a pleasant child? for since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still: yea, my bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lordm.” Here we see a true picture of what every upright soul shall experience. Let us only be " Israelites indeed, and without guile, and our blessed Saviour will see us under the fig
8 Ps. lxvi. 18.
h Rom. viii. 26, 27.
i 1 Pet. iii. 4.
tree," or in our most secret retirements, and visit us in due season with the most endearing expressions of his love."]
Such are the truths asserted in our text. We now proceed to suggest, II. Some obvious deductions from them
From these truths it is evident,
1. That God's views of sin are widely different from those of men
[Men, if free from gross sin, imagine, that they have little cause for self-reproach. They see no evil in the general course of this world: the pleasures, the gaieties, the amusements of it, are all accounted innocent; and if a man perform respectably the different offices of social life, they think he has nothing to apprehend in the eternal world. But "God's thoughts are widely different from theirs." We will suppose, for argument sake, that there is nothing flagrantly sinful in conviviality, and a round of pleasurable amusements; yet inasmuch as such a state argues a departure of the soul from God, and strengthens its habit of rebellion against him, it is highly sinful; and should be so esteemed by all who would not deceive their own souls. For, if the very best actions of such persons are hateful to God, if the very sacrifices with which they attempt to honour him are an abomination in his sight, what must those actions be which have no respect to him, but which tend to banish him from their thoughts, and from the world? I tell you, Brethren, that “to walk according to the course of this world, is to walk according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience." You cannot be of the world and of Jesus Christ at the same time P: “ you cannot serve God and Mammon too q." You may as well imagine light can have communion with darkness, and Christ with Belial, as that a person truly “upright” and believing, can find pleasure in the society of "the wicked” and unbelieving". “Î'he friendship of the world is” essentially, as well as constructively, a state of enmity against God." Whatever therefore may be pleaded in extenuation of those habits in which the more respectable part of the world are living, they are all, whether social or personal, civil or religious, one continued act of sin, as long as the soul continues alienated from God, and not altogether devoted to his fear: and the man who thinks himself safe because he is in a path frequented by the great mass of his fellow-creatures,
n John i. 47-51.
• Eph. ii. 2. p John xvii. 14, 16.
will find himself fearfully mistaken the moment he comes to the termination of it.]
2. That the provisions of the Gospel are admirably suited to our necessities—
[Here is “a wicked man:" he offers “ a sacrifice" to his offended God: that
very sacrifice is “ an abomination to the Lord. Must the man then be left to perish? No: the Gospel reveals to him a sacrifice which is pleasing and acceptable to God, and which shall avail for the salvation of all who trust in it, even the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, who “presented himself an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savouru.” Again; Man, though originally made upright, has fallen”, and become utterly averse to God and his lawy. As for creating himself anew, he can no more do it than he could create himself at first. Shall he then perish? No: the Gospel proclaims to him a promise from almighty God, that “ he will give him a new heart, and renew a right spirit within him ?;" so that, as the most guilty may be forgiven through the atonement that has been offered for him, so the most polluted may be “ transformed into the very image of his God in righteousness and true holiness a." Thus
those who were odious as the fallen angels, become as accepted and as happy as the angels that have never sinned. O! Brethren, when will you study this blessed Gospel ? when will you search into it, to find a remedy for your diseases, and a supply for your wants ? Behold it is “a fountain opened," and ever flowing for the relief of sinful man: and every sinner in the universe is invited to “ come and drink of it without money and without price b." I would that you should no longer be " an abomination” to your God! I would that he should look upon you with “ delight,” yea, that he should “ rejoice over you with joy, and rest in his love, and joy over you with singing C!"]
3. That by the heart, and not by the mere acts, will God form his estimate of us in the last day
I know that our actions will be brought into judgment, and be adduced as evidences of our state before God, and as grounds of the sentence that shall be passed upon us. But it is not merely as acts that they will be either rewarded or punished; but as evidences of the real state of our souls. Even in human judicatories the object inquired into is, the intent of the mind. It is malice prepense that constitutes murder: where that did not exist, the act of killing is not accounted murder: but where that manifestly did exist, there the attempt t Matt. vii. 13, 14. u Eph. v. 2.
* Eccl. vii. 29. y Rom. viii. 7. 2 Ezek. xxxvi. 26, 27. a Eph. iv. 24. b Isai. lv. 1-3. John vii. 37-39.
Zeph. iii. 17.