« PreviousContinue »
the days of our life on earth. We should not, then, content ourselves with a design to be religious hereafter, but resolve to be so now.
3. Consider, how gracious, how affectionate and compassionate are the calls and invitations of God to sinful men. Says Wisdom: "How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge! Turn ye at my reproof. Behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you,' Prov. i. 22, 23. And says God himself by his prophets: "Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways. For why will ye die, O house of Israel!" Ezek. xxxiii. 11. And our Lord in his preaching: “Come unto me all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Matt. xi. 28-30. And in his state of exaltation: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me," Rev. iii. 20. How moving, how affecting is this concern for us! And shall any of us resist, and grieve the good Spirit of God, and sin against our own souls?
4. Consider therefore, farther, that by an early dedication of yourselves to God, and serious piety from the beginning, you will prevent a great deal of sin, which you might otherwise be guilty of, and a great deal of sorrow and vexation, which that would occasion here, or hereafter, in this world or another.
5. If you begin to be religious in the early part of life, you will probably be useful in the world, and be the cause of much good, both temporal and spiritual, to many persons. You will promote the happiness of men by kind offices. You may strengthen, encourage, and edify some good men: and may reclaim some sinners by your counsel and example.
6. Early and constant, and persevering piety is very honourable. It is to the advantage of Mnason, that he is called "an old disciple," Acts xxii. 16. St. Paul speaks honourably of some who were in Christ before him," Rom. xvi. 7. He humbles and abases himself when he says: "And last of all he was seen of me, as one born out of due time," 1 Cor. xv. 8. And the "first fruits" of any place "unto Christ, Rom. xvi. 5; 1 Cor. xvi. 15, 16, they and theirs, are sometimes particularly mentioned by him in his epistles, and affectionately recommended to the special regard of others.
7. The coming to a full determination in this point, and turning our feet without delay to God's commandments, will contribute to the comfort and peace of our minds. For we are then fitted for life, and for death; and prepared for all the events of this variable and inconstant state of things. It must be a great advantage to know, and consider this: to be able to view death, and all the evils of life, without terror, or much discomposure of mind.
8. Lastly, they who give themselves up to God in their youth, and serve him faithfully all their days, may hope for some distinguishing honour in the great day of recompense. Indeed some, who set out late, may outgo others that began more early. They excel, it may be, in personal abilities and attainments: by which they are peculiarly qualified for important services in the cause of God and religion. But usually they who begin early, and persevere to the end, will have the advantage.
And may these things be seriously attended to, and considered by all of us! Are we not. grieved that some things have been so long deferred? Let us not defer any longer. Let not this present exhortation be slighted, lest we should not have another. Felix and Drusilla once desired to hear Paul of Christ's doctrine, and Felix trembled. But he deferred for that season. And we do not know that he trembled again : or ever gave Paul another opportunity of entering again upon the like argument, Acts xxiv. 24-26.
Let us then beg of God, " to incline our hearts to his testimonies:" and to "teach us his statutes, that we may keep them unto the end."
THE SEVERAL BRANCHES OF MORAL RIGHTEOUSNESS.
He has shewed thee, O man, what is good. And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?-Mich. vi. 8.
In the preceding verses a very important question is proposed: "Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the most high God?" It is answered in the words of the text. What God chiefly requires of men is, that they " do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with him."
This is the immediate occasion of the words. But I presume it may be useful to take a more extensive and distinct view of the preceding context.
The chapter begins with these words: "Hear ye now, what the Lord saith. Arise, contend thou before the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice. Hear ye, O mountains, the Lord's controversy, and ye strong foundations of the earth: for the Lord hath a controversy with his people, and he will plead with Israel," Micah vi. 1, 2.
It is not unusual for God to bespeak the attention of inanimate creatures, and appeal to them for the justice of his proceedings, more emphatically to represent the stupidity and thoughtlessness of men. So by Moses of old: "I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day. Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak: hear, O earth, the words of my mouth," Deut. iv. 26; xxxii. 1. So also by later prophets: "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth. For the Lord has spoken: I have nourished up children, and they have rebelled against me," Is. i. 2; see also Ezek. vi. 2, 3.
It follows in the third verse of this chapter: "O my people, what have I done unto thee? And wherein have I wearied thee? Testify against me." God condescends God condescends by the prophet, to expostulate with the people of Israel. And he gives them leave to come and make their complaints against him, if they had any: and shew their reasons, if they could assign any, why they had forsaken him, neglected his laws, and gone after strange gods.
In Jeremiah are some appeals to the Jewish people very much resembling this: “Thus saith the Lord: What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain ?" Jer. ii. 5. Again, "Have I been a wilderness unto Israel, a land of darkness ?" ver. 31.
Ver. 4. "For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the house of servants, and I sent before thee Moses, and Aaron, and Miriam."
They had no injuries, or neglects, to complain of. And farther, God reminds them of the benefits he had bestowed upon them, particularly their remarkable deliverance from the bondage of Egypt: when they were brought out thence, and were formed into a distinct nation, and made a great people.
Ver. 5. "Remember now what Balak king of Moab consulted, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him from Shittim unto Gilgal, that ye may know the righteousness of the Lord." Remember also the consultations and designs of Balak against you, and how Balaam 'was constrained to bless, instead of pronouncing a curse upon you: and that though you were then brought into a heinous transgression, you were not utterly cut off and destroyed; but I bore with you, and preserved you, until I had brought you into the land of Canaan, and given you rest there. Recollect these things, that you may be convinced of my righteousness and equity, my mercy and compassion, my fidelity and veracity, in fulfilling the promises I had made, and that I have not failed to do you good. You will then perceive, that you have no 'just ground of complaint against me: and that if some desirable blessings are withheld, it cannot be owing to want of goodness in me, but it must be rather owing to some failure of
duty in you: which is the cause of the evils you suffer, and the ground of the controversy be
Since the deliverance from the designs of Balak is here so particularly mentioned, as a very remarkable, and eminent proof of the divine regard, it may be worth while to observe, that elsewhere it is also mentioned in a very special manner among other mercies vouchsafed this people in the wilderness. They hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor, of Pethor, in Mesopotamia, to curse thee. Nevertheless the Lord thy God would not hearken unto Balaam : but the Lord thy God turned the curse into a blessing unto thee, because the Lord thy God loved thee," Deut. xxiii. 4, 5. And in another place:" Then Balak the son of Zippor king of Moab arose and warred against Israel: and sent, and called Balaam the son of Beor, to curse you. But I would not hearken unto Balaam. Therefore he blessed you still. So I delivered you out of his hand," Josh. xxiv. 9, 10.1
Then, at the sixth verse of this chapter we have these words: "Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the most high God."
After the foregoing pathetic expostulation with the Jewish people, and the reproof of their ingratitude, they are introduced by the prophet, as anxiously inquisitive, how they might appease the divine displeasure, avert his judgments, and obtain favour and acceptance. If it were requisite, they would bring the most numerous, and the most costly offerings.
"Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?" Will God accept now of the ordinary sacrifices, such as we offer upon other occasions, and are required in his 'law.'
Ver. 7. "Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil ?" Or does he expect a more costly offering, such as our kings have sometimes made upon extraordinary occasions? We are ready, if that will be accepted, to offer up thousands of rams, and to add in proportion meat-offerings, prepared with oil, though it would amount to a very great quantity.'
"Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul ?" Or shall we offer up our own children, as some do to appease their deities? We are ⚫ not averse even to this, though the first-born should be demanded.'
The answer is in the text: " He has shewed thee, O man, what is good. And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" This is the most acceptable service to God. This is preferable to all the sacrifices ⚫ before-mentioned. Let but these things be resolved upon and performed, and the controversy
is removed: the difference, is reconciled and made up: the wrath of God is appeased, and he • will shew you favour, and bless and prosper you.'
This matter is also farther illustrated in the remaining part of the chapter. "Are there yet the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the scant measure that is aboinminable? Shall I count them pure with the wicked balances, and the bag of deceitful weights?" ver. 10, 11. It is in vain to think I should be reconciled to those who continue to practise fraud and injustice: or that I should approve of and bless those who persist in their idolatrous worship.' And thus the chapter concludes: "For the statutes of Omri are kept, and all the works of the house of Ahab. And ye walk in their counsels, that I should make thee a desolation, and the inhabitants thereof a reproach," ver. 16. That is, the ordinances and practices of Omri and Ahab, two of the most wicked of their kings, were still observed and followed. And it is plainly declared, that if they persisted therein, their ruin was inevitable.
Such is the context: and in this way, I think, the coherence appears clear and easy.
I now proceed to explain the words of the text. After which I shall add a reflection or two by way of application, and conclude.
I. I begin with a distinct explication of the several particulars in the text.
"He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good." This some understand, as if the prophet said: "I will shew you," or "God will now shew you by me," giving the following answer to your inquiry.
Others understand the original expression exactly as here rendered in our translation: "He hath shewed thee, O man." Whoever amongst you make this inquiry, if you think and consider, may perceive, that God has already taught you what are the services he requires, and what things are the most acceptable to him. He teaches you by your own reason, if you will
use it. He has also shewed you this in his word, in the law, and in all the revelations he has made unto you.
So in the law of Moses: "And now, Israel, what does the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul: to keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statutes, which I command thee this day, for thy good?" Deut. x. 12, 13. Again: "For this commandment, which I command thee this day it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up to heaven for us, and bring it to us?But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it. See I have set before thee life and death," ch. xxx. 11, 12.
And the particulars, here insisted on, are but the sum and substance of the ten laws, or precepts, delivered with so much solemnity at mount Sinai.
And many of the prophets speak in perfect agreement the same with what is here said in Micah. So in Isaiah: "Wash ye, make you clean: put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do well. Seek judgment, relieve the oppressedCome now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow: though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool," Is. i. 16, 17. And in Hosea: "I desired mercy, and not sacrifice and the knowledge of the Lord more than burnt-offerings," Hos. vi. 6.
Therefore what is here said had been before, and often taught, and shewn to this people by reason, and by other prophets and messengers. But God now reminds them of it, and shews it them again by this prophet.
He hath shewed thee what is good," or right: what is in itself reasonable and excellent, useful and profitable.
"He hath shewed thee, O man," whosoever thou art, that makest this inquiry, and art desirous of satisfaction, "what is good." "And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God ?”
These particulars need not to be much enlarged upon. You have often heard them discoursed of. A brief explication therefore of these words, reminding you of what you know already, will suffice.
The several branches of our duty are sometimes reduced in scripture to the "love of God, and our neighbour." At other times they are ranged under three general heads. St. Paul says: "The grace of God has appeared to all men, teaching us, that we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world,” Tit. ii. 12.
The order, likewise, in which these general branches are mentioned, is varied. Our Lord says, that the love of God is the "first and great commandment." And in the law of Moses, written on two tables, the duties immediately respecting God are first placed. But in this text it is first said, we should "do justly, and love mercy:" then, "walk humbly with God." And in the place just cited from Paul, "living godly" is mentioned last.
But the order is of little moment. For these several branches of duty can never be separated. And our Saviour having said, that "to love the Lord our God with all the heart and with all the soul is the first and great commandment," presently adds: " and the second is like unto it thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," Matt. xxii. 37-39. And St. John says: "He that loveth not his brother, whom he hath seen; how can he love God, whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him: that he who loveth God, love his brother also," 1 John iv. 20, 21.
The duty of sobriety is not particularly mentioned in this text of Micah: it is also omitted. elsewhere, when our duty is summarily comprehended in the love of God and our neighbour. But it is always supposed or implied, though not expressly mentioned. For without it we cannot perform any part of worship and service to God in a reasonable and acceptable manner. And divers instances of intemperance are social, and directly injurious to our neighbour and others lead to unrighteousness. A prevailing love of this world, an inordinate affection for earthly things, covetousness, and ambition, are inconsistent both with the love of God, and our neighbour.
"What does the Lord require of thee, but to do justly?" This comprehends every thing
that is fair and equal between man and man, according to the relations they bear, or the obligations they are under to each other.
In this chapter, presently after the text, God by his prophet reproves divers things contrary to this branch of duty: without amending of which unrighteous conduct, they could never hope to be accepted of him. "Are there yet the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the scant measure that is abominable? Shall I count them pure with the wicked balances, and the bag of deceitful weights? For the rich men thereof are full of violence, and the inhabitants thereof have spoken lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth."
We are to be just in our dealings with men, without imposing on their ignorance or credulity by unfair artifices or falsehood.
As in our common traffic with men we are to observe truth in our words, so upon all other occasions are we to regard the truth of things: not saying any thing falsely to the disparagement of our neighbour, which would be as manifest an injustice as the most injurious action.
We are also sincerely to purpose and design what we promise: and should to the utmost of our power endeavour to be as good as our word.
We are to be faithful in all the trusts reposed in us, according to the tenour of them, and the will and intention of those who confide in us.
We should likewise diligently and prudently provide for those who are under our care, and depend upon us as we ought cheerfully and honestly to yield subjection, and obedience, and all fidelity to our superiors and governors, who afford us maintenance, or protection and security.
It follows next, "and to love mercy," or goodness, and beneficence. When the duty owing to our neighbour is summarily described by loving him, then both justice and mercy are summarily included in that one word. Here they are mentioned separately, and distinctly: and in like manner elsewhere: "Therefore turn thee to thy God. Keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually," Hos. xii. 6. Our Lord pronounceth a woe on the pharisees who had omitted judgment, mercy, faith, or fidelity.
Indeed, shewing mercy is doing no more to others, than what we in like circumstances would that others should do unto us.
However, it takes in several things, which do not immediately appear to be binding in point of strict justice: as providing for, or relieving not only our own relatives, or friends, or such as have laid us under obligations, but strangers likewise, if we have power to do it.
Herein is included not only doing what men can strictly claim of us, but something more than that some acts of kindness and beneficence: foregoing and quitting our right and not exacting rigorously our whole due.
It includes the guiding and counselling such as are unexperienced, and setting out in the world: accommodating them out of our substance, that they may enlarge their dealings, and better secure a comfortable maintenance for themselves and their families, and live with credit, and be useful in the world: giving time to those who are indebted to us: speaking favourably of other men, and not aggravating every instance of imprudence, or misbehaviour, into an act of heinous, wilful and premeditated wickedness: pitying and helping those who are in straits, according to the best of our power: though their straits are not entirely owing to unforeseen accidents, or to the violence or unrighteousness of others, but partly to their own indiscretion, or negligence, or even extravagance.
It is also a part of mercy to extend our views of usefulness, and to plead the cause of the injured and oppressed and endeavour to deliver them out of the hands of such as are mightier than they, who have greater power and influence, or more art and management, than most of their neighbours.
These, and many other instances of mercy there are, which we may be called to. And to neglect, or omit them, when they are in our power, and we have an opportunity of being serviceable to the injured, is very unkind: it is unmerciful, it is not doing as we would be done
When Job vindicates himself from the charges brought against him, he insists not only upon his innocence, but alledges likewise instances of generosity and usefulness to others. delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him. I was