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and mercy, how faintly do we do it, as if we were not much concerned whether it were granted or no! And when absolution is pronounced upon the truly penitent, by those whom the compassionate Jesus hath commissioned to do it, how little are we affected with that which should rejoice us above all things in the world! And when we beg for the greatest of blessings, the graces and assistances of the Holy Spirit, in order to our walking before God to all well-pleasing, we do it in such a heedless, careless manner, with so little warmth and importunity, as if we thought them scarce worth much entreaty; and not near so valuable as a considerable addition to our fortunes, which we solicit for when there is occasion, with much more life and spirit and earnestness than we say our prayers.
How frozen too (to our shame be it spoken) are our affections, when we pretend to return thanks to our great Benefactor for his constant, tender care over us, and the many wonderful expressions of his love, especially in the amazing instance of our redemption, by the death and sufferings of his eternal Son; which yet is of infinitely more value to us than a thousand worlds! And when we approach that holy table, where our dear Lord is sensibly set before us as crucified for us, and are made partakers of his most precious body and blood, and should be inflamed with the highest pitch of love and gratitude and praise at the remembrance of his bitter agonies for our sakes, and the happy consequence of them, and likewise full of shame and sorrow for our sins, and of firm resolutions of doing so wickedly no more for ever; even during the performance of this most solemn part of Christian worship and devotion, how
cold and lifeless are we! how hard do we find it to keep up the holy flame till the ministration is over; and how soon do we forget all the sacred obligations we then laid upon ourselves, and grow as vain and worldly, and it may be as vicious, as ever!
And as our prayers are thus heartless, and void of true devotion, so is our attention to the word of God more in appearance than reality. We seldom consider it as the great rule and measure of our actions, and make it our chief study, as that which will make us wise to salvation, and according to which we shall be judged at the great day of recompense; but out of custom or curiosity we sometimes spend an hour that way, and pass our judgment with freedom enough upon what the preacher has said, and make it a matter of a little talk; and there is an end. And if at any time we are touched and awakened with a warm, affectionate persuasive to good life, and for a while lay it to heart, and purpose to do accordingly, how soon does business or pleasure drive all out again, and leave us very much the same we were before!
So that without more words upon a thing so evident, it is plain that both our faith and our obedience, our worship and our devotion, have too often more of appearance than reality: and though we make a fair show in all these instances, and with the man's son in the parable give good words, and profess and promise much, yet very little is done that will effectually recommend us to our heavenly Father's favour and acceptance.
Indeed, the best men are not without their infirmities, and cannot be always alike warm and vi
gorous and attentive in God's service; and sometimes bodily indispositions and distempers may cause great numbness and confusion, wanderings and unsteadiness in the religious exercises of a very sincere Christian. But then, this is not frequent, nor is it suffered to continue long; much less are they easy and unconcerned at their coolness and remissness in their duty, but rather heartily bewail and lament, and pray and strive against it, and endeavour to make up with double diligence and fervour for the future what has formerly been wanting. Still there is such a principle of sincere religion within, as gets ground of every thing that hinders and opposes it; though it be slowly and not without difficulty, and a constant circumspection.
But he whose religion is made up of formality, glozing, and fawning upon God with words and gestures of the highest veneration, and that promise an entire obedience, when yet those theatrical nothings are his all, and he concerns himself no further; this is the pharisaical Christian whom our Lord in this parable condemns.
II. The next thing to be done is to shew how highly displeasing to God such a religion must needs be as we have now described, and how miserably we shall deceive ourselves, if we think fine shows and fair promises will be accepted of him, without entire obedience to his will, proceeding from integrity of heart.
For besides that this is rank hypocrisy and dissimulation, than which nothing is more abominable to the God of truth, and which our Lord has more sharply inveighed against, and more severely threat
ened than any thing besides, and for which there can be nothing offered in excuse; besides this, it implies the most base and unworthy apprehensions of God, as if he were apt to be pleased and won upon by the outward ceremonies of adoration and worship, and loved to see his vassals cringe and prostrate themselves before him, and give him glorious titles, and compliment him highly; and if this were but done regularly and constantly, and with much of show and ostentation, he would dispense with the want of inward purity of heart, and that which is true holiness of life.
And what does this imply, but that we do not take him to hate iniquity with so perfect an hatred as he says he does; or else that we think he is so shortsighted as not to be able to discover the iniquity through the counterfeit veil of religion that we throw over it; or else that he is so fondly taken up with the pageantry of our outward services, as not to be at leisure to look into the recesses of our hearts? Or if we believe that he can and does see to the bottom of our pretences, and discovers the cheat, (as most certainly he does,) we must, if we dare still to go on in it, either believe that he is impotent, and cannot punish it, or else (with Epicurus) that he is a God wholly employed in enjoying the happiness of his own heaven, and utterly regardless of the affairs of this lower world. And what can be more hateful and provoking than a religion that implies and proceeds upon such notions of God as these!
And though perhaps we may not actually think in this vile manner of him, yet it will be all one in his sight as if we did. For he hath all along ex
pressly declared so in both Testaments, and that nothing will be acceptable to him, but rather his utter aversion, without sincerity and purity of mind, and an honest endeavour to regulate all our actions according to the rule that he hath set us.
Thus to begin with what is said to this purpose in the 50th Psalm, ver. 8, &c. ; where God is brought in thus speaking to the people of Israel: I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burnt offerings, because they were not continually before me.— Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? No; offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most high.-But unto the wicked saith God, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, and that thou shouldest take my covenant into thy mouth? Seeing thou hatest to be reformed, and hast cast my words behind thee.-Whoso offereth me thanks and praise, he honoureth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God. And in the next Psalm, ver. 16, 17, after David had bewailed his wickedness in the matter of Uriah, he tells God, Thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it thee: thou delightest not in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
And the words of the evangelical prophet are very remarkable to this purpose: Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah; i. e. that are like those accursed cities in your wicked practices. To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord. I am full, or cloyed, or nauseated, with the burnt