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[Almost every kind of plague, as war, famine, and pestilence, has been lately sent us by Godd; and what are we profited by them? What national sin has been put away? I might almost ask, What unregenerate man has laid to heart his transgressions, and turned to the Lord? Does not sin reign amongst us as much as ever? Are we not like the incorrigible Jews; or rather like King Ahaz, who had a brand of infamy set upon him on this very account, that “he trespassed yet more in his distressf?”- -]
What reason then have we to hope that our present troubles will be sanctified to our good ?
[From past experience we have reason to fear, that we shall still remain a perverse and rebellious people, and only “revolt more and more.” And, if God foresee that this will be the case, what can we expect, but that our present troubles should be sent, not for our correction, but for our utter destruction? What can we expect, but that he should execute upon us the vengeance he has threatened, and that “his wrath should now come upon us to the uttermost?"] ADVICE
1. Let us adore our God for the patience he has long exercised towards ush
2. Let us tremble at his judgments now impending
3. Let us take encouragement from his present dealings with us, to turn unto him
d This, of course, must be accommodated to existing circumstances. e Jer. v. 3-5. f 2 Chron. xxviii. 22. Ezek. xxiv. 13, 14. h 2 Pet. iii. 15. Rom. ii. 4.
i How soon may we find those threatenings fulfilled ! Lev, xxvi. 27, 28, 36, 37.
k See Jer. xviii. 7, 8. and Judg. x. 15, 16.
DCCCLVIII. THE SERVICE WHICH ALONE IS PLEASING TO GOD. Isai. i. 10–17. Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom;
give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrha : To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts, and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? 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. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth : they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes
from you : yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear : your hands are full of blood. Wash you, 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 oppressed ; judge the fatherless; plead for the widow.
THOUGH tenderness and compassion are essential requisites for a Christian minister, yet is fidelity also indispensable for a due discharge of his duties. If even a young minister, like Timothy, was to “reprove and rebuke with all authority,” it must become every servant of God, especially when dealing with hypocritical professors or hardened sinners, to “use great plainness of speech.” It is true, a minister in this day has not the same license as was given to the prophets of old : we should not altogether think him justified in calling his audience “ Rulers of Sodom, and people of Gomorrha :" but, when speaking in Jehovah's name, we must expostulate with all, even with the greatest of men, and declare to them, as the prophet does, the only way in which they can please and serve God. With this view the prophet used the language in our text; and in prosecution of the same end, we shall now declare, I. The inadequacy of ritual observances
The Jews were prone to rest in a compliance with the ceremonial law : and our text is, as it were by anticipation, an answer to their self-justifying remarks.
They are supposed to have said, “How can you justly complain of us? We have served God with the most commendable zeal: we have offered him sacrifices—yea many—and of the best kind-and in the appointed manner—and with great reverenceand we have abounded in spiritual services also, no less than in carnal rites. But, in answer to all this, God indignantly replies, that, instead of being pleased with these services, he lothed and abhorred
them; since, in the midst of all their boasted regard for him, they held fast their besetting sins --
The Jewish ritual being abolished, it may be thought that this address is inapplicable to any of the present day: but it may justly be applied, 1. To self-righteous formalists—
[There is still, as Solomon expresses it, “a generation that is pure in their own eyes, but are not washed from their filthiness.” There are many whose whole religion consists in a performance of outward duties. Among the Papists this is an acknowledged fact: but it is also true of us Protestants, though to a less extent than it was a century ago. A regular attendance on all the public ordinances; a strict observance of the fasts and feasts of our Church, particularly of the time of Lent; a daily reading of the Psalms and Lessons for the day, and a recital of certain prayers; a rigid adherence to some particular forms, with an uncharitable censuring of all who are not equally strict in their attention to them; these, and other similar habits, form the ground of their hopes, and of a selfcomplacent confidence towards God. But, with all these apparently religious habits, their views, desires, and pursuits are altogether earthly: their friends and associates are men of this world: and vital godliness, together with all who possess it, is regarded by them with suspicion and dislike.
Now, whatever such persons may think of themselves, they are by no means in a state acceptable to God. Instead of looking with humility and contrition to the Lord Jesus Christ for mercy, they are ready to claim heaven as the reward of their good deeds: and instead of loving, for the Redeemer's sake, every member of his mystical body, they are among the foremost to despise and persecute his believing people. Whilst therefore they, in effect, say, “Stand off, I am holier than thou," they are, as God declares, " a smoke in his nose b."]
2. To many who make a profession of vital godliness
[Many there are whose views of the Gospel are correct, but who are far from experiencing all that it is designed to teach them. Their zeal for the Gospel is great and ardent: they will go miles to hear it faithfully proclaimed: they will lose no opportunity of attending their favourite minister: their very life seems to be spent as it were in hearing sermons. They will subscribe largely for building places of Worship, especially
ver. 10–15. The particular expressions throughout this whole passage are very emphatical, and worthy of attentive observation.
Compare Isai. lxv. 5. with Luke xviii. 9, 14.
for the use of those who are of their own sect and party. They are fond of prayer-meetings, and religious societies; and perhaps of shewing forth their own talents too in exposition or prayer. But, instead of using these things as means to a farther advancement in holiness, they regard them only as sources of present gratification, and as evidences of a pious mind; while at the same time they are destitute of all those tempers and dispositions, which are the chief ornament of religion, and the surest evidences of its existence in the soul. We read of Ezekiel's hearers, that they attended his ministrations with great delight, and listened to him as persons fond of music would to a great proficient in that science; and laid claim to superior piety on that account: but, “ though they heard his words, they would not do them; for their heart went after their covetousness.” Now this is an exact description of the persons we refer to: they are conceited of their own knowledge and attainments, uncharitable towards those who differ from them, contemptuous towards those who are less instructed than themselves, regardless of the prejudices of others, and indifferent about the effect of their conduct upon them: they often make religion a cloak for idleness in their respective callings: they are headstrong and untractable, and insolent towards their superiors: they often cannot be depended on, even for truth in their words, or honesty in their dealings. What shall we say of such professors as these? Are they in a state pleasing unto God? No verily: they are an offence both to God and man; and their very best sacrifices are no better than " the cutting off of a dog's neck, or the offering of swine's blood d.”]
Whilst our text thus forcibly declares the insufficiency of outward duties to please God, it sets forth in the strongest terms, II. The necessity of moral attainments—
In relation to these, two things are required; 1. A renunciation of accustomed sins
[Every person has some sins which more easily beset him, and which he is in a more especial manner called to mortify. We will not speak of gross open sins, as swearing and drunkenness, and such like: for no man who reflects at all, can suppose it possible to please God, whilst he is guilty of such flagrant abominations. But one man is naturally addicted to anger and passion; another to discontent and envy; another to lewdness and impurity; another to sloth and idleness; another to covetousness: one is filled with conceit and vanity; another with scepticism and infidelity; another with unbelieving fears: in a
• Ezek. xxxii. 31, 32. See also Isai. lviii. 2. d Isai. Ixvi. 2, 3.
word, however the conduct of men may differ as to the immediate line which they pursue, they all, in their natural state, affect pleasure, or riches, or honour, and feel abundantly more satisfaction in the things of time and sense, than they do in the service of their God. Now every man is concerned to find out what his besetting sin is: for if we must all without exception become “ new creatures in Christ Jesus,” if “old things must pass away, and all things must become new," then is it necessary that we all should experience this change, and have an evidence of it in our own souls.
Earnestly would we press this thought upon the minds of those who have been externally blameless in their conduct: for it is common for persons of this description to be satisfied with a change in their sentiments, when they have never experienced any change in their hearts and lives. We all have, though certainly in different degrees, a need of that exhortation, “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes.". It is possible that very little change can be needed by us that is visible to man; but there is no natural man under heaven, who does not need to be greatly changed in the sight of God: and to him it is that we must approve ourselves, if ever we would be accepted in his sight.] 2. A performance of neglected duties
[True piety will not consist with any allowed sin, whether of commission or of omission. But if we look back to our unregenerate state, how many duties are there, both to God and man, that we have neglected! By nature we are satisfied with doing acts of kindness when they come in our way: but to live for God, and our fellow-creatures, we know not: we do not search out occasions for the exercise of our benevolence, nor do we redeem our time in order to effect the greatest good within our reach. But, if we would please and honour God, we must imitate him who “went about doing good:” our time, our talents, our influence must all be put forth for the relief of the needy, the comfort of the afflicted, the succouring of the oppressed, and for the spiritual, as well as temporal, benefit of all. We must also cultivate every kind of grace: not only putting off what is evil, but putting on what is good. In particular, as the elect of God, we should put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another and forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven use." These are the things which God prefers to all the sacrifices that can be offered'; and without these, all that we can possess is in his estimation lighter than vanity itself."] e Col. iii. 8, 12–14. ? Ps. 1. 8–14. Mic. vi. 7, 8.
& 1 Cor. xiii. 1-3.