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neighbour accounts all this as folly: but the time is coming, and very shortly too, when it will be made to appear which of the two was really wise ---] 2. Of what immense importance is the Gospel !
[It is the Gospel only that changes the hearts of men. Doubtless God may use any means, or accomplish the conversion of a soul without means: but his appointed means are the Gospel, with which, in all ages, he has turned men from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God." My dear Brethren, I do hope that some at least of bear testimony to the truth of what I say. Once you were as blind as others: but now you see.
had no more concern about your souls than others; and lived, like others, for this world only: but now, through the grace of God, you are brought to tread in the steps of Christ and his holy Apostles, and to value nothing in comparison of the favour of your God. And what is it that has made this difference between your present and your former selves? It is the Spirit of Christ that has quickened you, and the love of Christ that yet daily constrains you: and by this change you are assimilated to the glorified saints and angels, yea, and to the image of God himself. Bear testimony, then, to the truth and efficacy of the Gospel; and commend that to others which you have found so effectual for your own souls.]
DLXXXIV. SPIRITUAL OBEDIENCE PREFERRED BEFORE SACRIFICE. Ps. 1. 7—15. Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel,
and I will testify against thee; I am God, even thy God. I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices, or thy burnt-offerings, to have been continually before me.
I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he-goats out of thy folds ; for every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains ; and the wild beasts of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof. Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Offer unto God thanksgiving, and pay thy vows unto the Most High: and call upon me in the day of trouble ; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.
IN the psalm before us we have one of those sublime addresses which Jehovah occasionally makes to the whole creation, to hear and judge between him and his offending people. The images are taken from his appearance on Mount Sinai, which was with terrible majesty, insomuch that “Moses himself said, I exceedingly fear and quakeb.” The scene is “Mount Zion, the perfection of beauty,” even that Zion from whence the Gospel has proceeded, and from whence Jehovah speaks to us as our Covenant-God: and this circumstance adds ten-fold weight to his accusations against us.' The persons whom he arraigns before his tribunal are of two descriptions; those who rested in mere ceremonial observances for the obtaining of God's favour; and those who, pretending to higher principles, dishonoured by their conduct their high and holy profession; or in other words, formalists and hypocrites. It is the former of these two characters whom he reproves in our text: and the testimony which he bears against them sets forth in very striking terms, I. The worthlessness of merely formal religion
a Isai. i. 2, 3. Mic. vi. 2.
Men are apt to imagine, that by their observance of external duties they lay God under obligation to them
[God had appointed many rites and ceremonies; and he required the observance of them on the pain of deatho: but he enjoined them for the people's good, and not for any benefit that could accrue to himself. What pleasure could he take in the blood of bulls and goats? or, if he did, what need had he to be indebted to his people for such offerings, when the whole world was his, and all the cattle on a thousand hills were at his command ? It was absurd therefore, and impious, in his people to think that they conferred any obligation upon him by their offerings and oblations.
But the very same error obtains amongst us at this day. If we comply with the external commands of God in an observance of the sabbath, an attendance on ordinances, and a performance of certain duties in the family and the closet, we think that we have a just claim on God, and that he must of necessity feel as much complacency in us, as we do in ourselves. We adduce these services as a clear evidence of the goodness of our hearts, and as an indisputable title to the diyine favour --]
But external services are of no value in the sight
b Exod. xix. 16–18. with Heb. xii. 18-21.
c Numb. xv. 30.
of God, any farther than they are accompanied by vital piety
[On many occasions God declared his contempt for outward observances, in comparison of spiritual obedience: “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice:” “ Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice; and to hearken, than the fat of rams.” By the Prophet Isaiah, God replies to those who boasted of « the multitude of their sacrifices;" and tells them, that the whole course of their services, unaccompanied as they were by real piety, were an utter abomination in his sights Even whilst bringing his people through the wilderness, he had explicitly declared to them, by Balaam, that it was “not by offering thousands of rams, or rivers of oil, or by giving their first-born for their transgression, the fruit of their body for the sin of their soul, that they were to please him, but by doing justly, and loving mercy, and walking humbly with their Gode." In like manner we are told by our blessed Lord, that it is “ to no purpose that we pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, if we neglect the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and truth?;" and that to draw nigh to God with our lips, whilst our heart is far from him, is nothing but vile hypocrisy &. Indeed a moment's consideration may convince us, that outward services, of whatever kind, cannot be of any value in the sight of God, except as expressions or vehicles of inward piety: for they may be performed without any good principle in the soul; yea, they may proceed from extremely vile and corrupt principles, such as pride, and ostentation, and selfrighteousness ; and they may most abound, not only where all manner of iniquity is harboured, but as a cloak and cover to that iniquityh. In a word, “a form of godliness, where the power of it is denied," is the consummation of all ungodliness'.)
This is an offensive truth indeed, but it is indispensably necessary to be received
[How offensive a truth this is, may be seen, by the way in which the hearers of the first martyr, Stephen, resented it, even before it was actually declared, and when they discovered it only as the ultimate scope of his argument. Stephen had given a summary view of God's dealings with his people from the very beginning: and the scope of his argument was, that as God had a people before the Mosaic dispensation commenced, so he would after its termination; as had been intimated by the Prophet Isaiah, who represents God, as pouring contempt even upon the temple itself, in comparison of a broken and contrite heart. This passage having been cited by Stephen, the whole audience were filled with indignation, which was visibly manifested in all their countenances, and which gave occasion to that exceedingly abrupt change in Stephen's address to them; “Ye stiff-necked, and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do yek." Similar offence is given at this day, when we declare the worthlessness of all external duties as detached from the feelings of the heart. But the very circumstance of God calling heaven and earth to hear his testimony against his people, sufficiently shews, that his accusations, against whomsoever brought, involve in them the deepest criminality, and subject the accused to the heaviest condemnation.]
d Isai. i. 11-15. e Mic. vi. 6-8. f Matt. xxiii. 23. 8 Matt. xv. 8.
h Matt. xxiii. 14. i 2 Tim. ii. 1-5.
Contrasted with mere ritual observances, we behold in our text, II. The religion which alone is pleasing and accept
able to GodReligion consists not so much in actions, as in the habit of the mind towards God. Holy actions of every kind spring from it; but they are only as the fruit, which originates in, and bears testimony to, the vital energy of the root. Wherever religion exists in the soul, it will have respect to God in all things, and will induce in us a habit towards him, 1. Of lively gratitude
[He is our Creator, our Benefactor, our Redeemer :' and the very first motions of religion will lead us to view him under these relations, and with feelings suited to the obligations he has conferred upon us. Can we reflect on the faculties with which he has endowed us, so far superior to all the brute creation, and not adore and magnify his name? Can we contemplate the innumerable benefits with which we are loaded by him from day to day, and not feel how greatly we are indebted to him? Above all, can we survey the wonders of redeeming love, and not have our whole souls penetrated with an overwhelming sense of gratitude ? ---So infinitely does this love surpass all human comprehension or conception, that if our minds were filled with it as they ought to be, we should scarcely be able to think or speak of any thing else Such, we are sure, is the religion of heaven; for there “ they rest not day nor night” in ascribing all possible praises to their redeeming God': and such, according to the measure of grace given to us, will be the dispositions and habits of all who are truly alive to God
k Compare Isai. lxvi. 1, 2. with Acts vii. 47–51, 1 Rev. iv. 8—11. and v. 11-13.
" We shall offer him the sacrifice of praise continually m,” and “render to him the calves of our lips "."] 2. Of willing service
[The Jews were, by the very covenant they had entered into at their circumcision, bound to consider themselves as "a holy people, a kingdom of priests :” and we also, by virtue of our baptismal vows, are "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people.” The vows then made, it will be our labour, and our delight, to perform. As the holy angels are " doing God's will, hearkening to the voice of his word,” so we shall be studying to know his will, and be standing ready to execute it to the utmost of our power. It is astonishing what an alteration a principle of religion makes in the soul in this particular! The natural man lives only to himself: the spiritual man lives, or at least endeavours to live, wholly to the Lord; to have no will, no way, no desire, no thought, but what will be pleasing and acceptable in his sight. That which was the first expression of piety in Paul, is the first of every converted soul; “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” A view of him as our Master and our Father will ensure this p: and in proportion as religion increases in the soul, will be our endeavour to “glorify God with our bodies and our spirits, which are hisq."] 3. Of humble dependence
[Religion leads us to realize in our minds the thought of God's superintending care and effectual agency in our behalf
. It does not bring us only to a sense of our obligations to him, but, if we may so speak, to a sense of his obligations to us: for, if " we be his people, he also is our God: and he, by virtue of his covenant and oath, is as much bound to employ all his glorious perfections for us, as we are to improve all our faculties and powers for him. What a blessed thought is this ! In what an exalted view does it place religion, which, if it calls us to duties, invests us also with the most glorious privileges ! It teaches us to “call upon him in every time of trouble," persuaded that “ he will hear us,” and give us ever increasing occasion to “glorify his name.' This realizing sense of his presence, this assurance of his effectual interposition in every time of need, is the crown and summit of religion : it most of all glorifies God, and ensures beyond a doubt the richest testimonies of his approbation.] Let us LEARN then from hence,
1. How to estimate aright our own characterm Heb. xiii. 15. n Hos. xiv. 2. 0 1 Pet. ii. 9. p Mal. i. 6.
9 Rom. xii. 1. 1 Cor. vi. 20.