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offerings of rams, and fat of fed beasts ; I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.—Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with ; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting :-And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you : yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not heari. And what was the reason of all this? Not an absolute dislike of those rites themselves, for he had enjoined the people strictly to observe them; but it was because of their great wickedness; Your hands are filled with bloods, ye are guilty of murder, and, which is next door to it, cruel oppression of the widow and the fatherless, which were sins that cried aloud for vengeance, and turned all their outward shows of worship into an abomination. And therefore saith the prophet, in the name of God, Wash ye, make ye clean ; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil ; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widowl. Come now, after the performance of this, and we will reason together, saith the Lord: this is the only way to appease my anger, and if ye sincerely take this course, though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as woolm.
To which purpose too is that passage in the 66th of Isa. ver. 3: He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, is 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; and why? because they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations. But upon this man will I look graciously, even upon him that is of a poor and contrite spirit, and trembleth, or is inwardly and deeply affected, at my wordn.
i Isa. i. 10, &c. m Ver. 18.
k Ver. 15.
1 Ver. 16, 17.
And agreeably says the prophet Amos, ch. v. ver. 21, 22: I hate, I despise your feast days ;—though ye offer me burnt offerings I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts ;-but let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream. And Micah, very elegantly and pathetically, ch. vi. 6, 7, 8, Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, and with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil ? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good, and what of all things will be most acceptable to him; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
Thus we see God hath all along declared by his prophets, and that even during the old covenant, when rites and ceremonies were so much insisted on, so strictly enjoined, and so to a tittle to be observed; even then, when people looked no further than this, which was indeed but the shell and surface of religion, and took no care of the precepts of moral righteousness and purity of mind, we see
he plainly declares that all outward observances will be of no avail, but rather provoke him still more, unless attended with true holiness of life.
And nothing can be more plain and express in this matter than the New Testament is; which tells us, that the great design of our Lord's coming into the world was to introduce an internal, spiritual religion; and St. Paul says expressly, that he gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquityo. And our blessed Saviour, in all his discourses, presses the necessity of sincere inward holiness upon us, or, which is the same thing, purity of heart and life. This was the design of his whole sermon on the mount, and several of his parables, particularly this before us; and he never was so severe as in denouncing woes upon woes to the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees, men to all appearance of great strictness and sanctity and zeal; but yet within full of extortion and excess and all iniquity, and who did all their works out of pride and vainglory, to be seen and admired of men. With such wretches as these our meek Lord himself seems to have no patience, and breathes nothing towards them but damnation P, and that even greater than ordinary, in the sad portion of hypocrites, where is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth for
It is needless to shew how exactly the blessed apostles agree with their great Master in this matter, (and they would be no true apostles of his if they did not,) and all along in their writings urge upon us true, undissembled holiness, as we hope ever to see and enjoy our Lord in heaven 9. o Titus ii. 14. P Matt. xxiii.
9 Heb. xii. 14.
So that quite throughout the Bible it is very evident, that a hearty, sincere obedience to the eternal law of righteousness is that which God expects from us, if we would please him and recover his favour; that outward expressions of reverence for him, when void of inward piety and a good life, is the most hateful thing to him in the world, and no other than an impious piece of mockery, which he will most severely punish.
Let no man therefore think to put God off, as the idle son here in the parable did his father, with specious professions of duty, and fair promises of obedience, without performance; lest the publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of God before him, and after all his high pretences his dismal lot be in the portion of hypocrites.
Be not deceived ; God is not mocked : for whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap"; and according to the nature of men's religion, such shall their reward be at last. If it be only husk and shell and outside, it shall, like the field of the sluggard, bring forth nothing but thorns and nettless; the stinging upbraidings of a guilty conscience, great disquietude and perplexity of mind in this world, and ten thousand times worse hereafter. And it is only a real, substantial piety, that brings forth plenty of good works here, that shall, or indeed can, be recompensed with eternal glory above.
For can any man in his senses be so weak and besotted as to think that the saying a few words by heart, the repetition of a set number of going to church, and using such and such postures and gestures there, which a parrot and a monkey r Gal. vi. 7.
s Prov. xxiv. 31.
may be taught to say and do as orderly as he; can any man think that this alone will be a sufficient preparation for the pure joys of heaven? Will this alone make his soul of an angelical and godlike temper, or can he think that he can ever be happy even in heaven itself without it? Is there such an irresistible charm in the bare repetition of a penitential form, as immediately to change the soul throughout, and of vile and devilish to make it fit for the converse of saints and angels, and of God himself? Is there such strange force in the bare words of every prayer we say, as if we do but run them over, though at never so heedless a rate, they shall presently storm heaven, and infallibly bring down whatever graces and blessings were expressed by them, (I do not say desired, for that they too seldom are, or very coolly at best,) and without any more to do give the mock supplicants possession of them, and make them good and holy, whether they will or no? Strange delusion! that ever a rational creature should give credit to such impossibilities as these!
Wherefore, to shut up all in a word or two.
If what has been discoursed upon this parable be true, and any man's conscience smites him, and says, Thou art the man that mockest thy God, and deceivest thy own soul by a religion that has little or nothing in it but formality, and an empty appearance, which, how fair soever, will signify nothing at the day of judgment, unless it be to increase thy damnation; if thou art this wretched creature, and what has been said may justly be applied to thee; then it concerns thee to consider, and revolve it seriously in thy mind, heartily to bewail and lament