« Prev Sermon CI. Of the Great Duties of Natural… Next »



Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, 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 first-born 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 doth the Lord require of thee, but, to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?Micah vi. 6, 7, 8.

IN the beginning of this chapter, the prophet tells the people of Israel, that the Lord had a controversy with them; and, that he might direct them how to take up this quarrel, he brings in one making this inquiry in the name of the people: “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and how myself before the high God: That is, by what kind of worship or devotion may I address myself to him in the most acceptable manner? by what means may I hope to appease his displeasure? To satisfy this inquiry, he first instanceth in the chief kinds of sacrifices and expiations that were in use among the Jews and heathens: “Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings?” 274the constant sacrifice that was offered to God by way of acknowledgment of his dominion over the creatures; “with calves of a year old?” which was the sin-offering which the high-priest offered for himself. Or, will he rather accept of those great and costly sacrifices which were offered upon solemn and public occasions, such as that was which Solomon offered at the dedication of the temple? “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil?” Or, if none of these will do, shall I try to atone him, after the manner of the heathen, by the dearest thing in the world, the first-born of my children? “Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” If God was to be appeased at all, surely, they thought, it must be by some of these ways; for, beyond these, they could imagine nothing of greater value and efficacy.

But the prophet tells them, that they were quite out of the way in thinking to pacify God upon these terms? that there are other things which are much better and more pleasing to him than any of these sacrifices. For some of them were expressly for bidden by God, as “the offering up of our children;” and, for the rest, they were not good in themselves, but merely by virtue of their institution, and because they were commanded. But the things which he would recommend to them are such as are good in their own nature, and required of us by God upon that account. “He hath 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?”

So that in these words you have,

First, An inquiry which is the best way to appease 275God when he is offended? “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God?”

Secondly, The way that men are apt to take in this case; and that is, by some external piece of religion and devotion; such as were sacrifices both among Jews and heathens. “Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,” &c. By which question the prophet intimates, that men are very apt to pitch upon this course.

Thirdly, The course which God himself directs to, and which will effectually pacify him. “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord thy God require of thee,” &c.

The first being a mere question, there needs no more to be said of it; only, that it is a question of great importance: what is the most effectual way to appease God when we have offended him? For who can bear his indignation; and who can stand before him when once he is angry? Let us consider, then, in the

Second place, The way that men are apt to take to pacify God; and that is, by some external piece of religion and devotion; such as were sacrifices among the Jews and heathens. “Shall I come before him with burnt-offering?” This is the way which men are most apt to choose. The Jews, you see, pitched upon the external parts of their religion; those which were most pompous and solemn; the richest and most costly sacrifices; so they might but keep their sins they were well enough content to offer up any thing else to God; they thought nothing too good for him, provided he would not oblige them to become better.

And thus it is among ourselves, when we apprehend 276God is displeased with us, and his judgments are abroad in the earth, we are content to do any thing but to learn righteousness; we are willing to submit to any kind of external devotion and humiliation, to fast and pray, to afflict ourselves and to cry mightily unto God; things some of them good in themselves, but the least part of that which God requires of us.

And as for the church of Rome, in case of public judgments and calamities, they are the most inquisitive and (as they pretend) the most skilful people in the world to pacify God; and they have a thousand solemn devices to this purpose. I do not wrong them by representing them inquiring after this manner: “Shall I go before a crucifix, and bow myself to it, as to the high God? And because the Lord is a great King, and it is, perhaps, too much boldness and arrogancy to make immediate addresses always to him; to which of the saints or angels shall I go to mediate for me, and intercede on my behalf? Will the Lord be pleased with thou sands of paternosters, or with ten thousands of Ave-Marias? Shall the host travel in procession, or my self undertake a tedious pilgrimage? Or shall I list myself a soldier for the holy war, or for the extirpation of heretics? Shall I give half my estate to a convent for my transgression, or chastise and punish my body for the sin of my soul?” Thus men deceive themselves, and will submit to all the extravagant severities that the petulancy and folly of men can devise and impose upon them. And, indeed, it is not to be imagined, when men are once under the power of superstition, how ridiculous they may be, and yet think themselves religious! how prodigiously they may play the fool, and yet believe they 277please God; what cruel and barbarous things they may do to themselves and others, and yet be verily persuaded they do God good service.

And what is the mystery of all this, but that men are loath to do that, without which nothing else that we do is acceptable to God? They hate to be reformed; and for this reason they will be content to do any thing rather than be put to the trouble of mending themselves: every thing is easy in comparison of this task, and God may have any terms of them, so he will let them be quiet in their sins, and excuse them from the real virtues of a good life. And this brings me to the

Third thing which I principally intended to speak to: The course which God himself directs to, and which will effectually pacify him. “He hath 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?” In the handling of which I shall

First, Consider those several duties which God here requires of us, and upon the performance of which he will be pacified towards us.

Secondly, By what ways and means God hath discovered these duties to us, and the goodness of them: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good,” &c.

I. We will briefly consider the several duties which God here requires of us, and upon the performance of which he will be pacified towards us. “What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

It was usual among the Jews to reduce all the duties of religion to these three heads: justice, 278mercy, and piety; under the first two, comprehending the duties which we owe to one another; and, under the third, the duties which we owe to God.

1. Justice. And I was going to tell you what it is, but I considered that every man knows it as well as any definition can explain it to him. I shall only put you in mind of some of the principal instances of it, and the several virtues comprehended under it. And,

First, Justice is concerned in the making of laws, that they be such as are equal and reasonable, useful and beneficial, for the honour of God and religion, and for the public good of human society; this is a great trust, in the discharge of which, if men be biassed by favour or interest, and drawn aside from the consideration and regard of the public good, it is a far greater crime, and of worse consequence, than any private act of injustice between man and man.

And, then, justice is also concerned in the due execution of laws; which are the guard of private property, the security of public peace and of religion and good manners. And,

Lastly, In the observance of laws and obedience to them; which is a debt that every man owes to human society.

But more especially, justice is concerned in the observance of those laws, whether of God or man, which respect the rights of men, and their mutual commerce and intercourse with one another. That we use honesty and integrity in all our dealings, in opposition to fraud and deceit; truth and fidelity, in opposition to falsehood and breach of trust; equity and good conscience, in opposition to all kind of oppression and exaction. These are the 279principal branches and instances of this great and comprehensive duty of justice; the violation whereof is so much the greater sin, because this virtue is the firmest bond of human society, upon the observation whereof the peace and happiness of mankind does so much depend.

2. Mercy, which does not only signify the in ward affection of pity and compassion towards those that are in misery and necessity, but the effects of it, in the actual relief of those whose condition calls for our charitable help and assistance; by feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked, and visiting the sick, and vindicating the oppressed, and comforting the afflicted, and ministering ease and relief to them if it be in our power. And this is a very lovely virtue, and argues more goodness in men than mere justice doth. For justice is a strict debt; but mercy is favour and kindness. And this, perhaps, may be the reason of the different expressions in the text, that when God barely commands us to do justly, he requires we should love mercy; that is, take a particular pleasure and delight in the exercise of this virtue, which is so proper and agreeable to mankind, that we commonly call it humanity; giving it its name from our very nature. In short, it is so excellent a virtue that I should be very sorry that any religion should be able to pretend to the practice of it more than our own.

3. Piety; “To walk humbly with thy God.” “To walk humbly in the fear of the Lord;” so the Chaldee paraphrase renders these words. And (his phrase may comprehend all those acts of religion which refer immediately to God; a firm belief of his being and perfections; an awful sense of him as the dread Sovereign and righteous Judge of the world; 280a due regard to his service, and a reverent behaviour of ourselves towards him in all acts of worship and religion, in opposition to atheism and a profane neglect and contempt of God and religion; a new and monstrous kind of impiety! which of late years hath broke in upon us, and got head among us, not only contrary to the example of former ages, but in despite of the very genius and temper of the nation, which is naturally devout and zealous in religion.

Or else this phrase of “walking humbly with God,” may refer more particularly to the posture and condition of the people of Israel at that time, who were fallen under the heavy displeasure of God for their sins. And then the duty required is, that being sensible how highly God hath been offended by us, by the general corruption and viciousness of the age, which, like a leprosy, hath spread itself almost over the whole body of the nation, and by that open lewdness and those insolent impieties which are daily committed amongst us; I say, that, being deeply sensible of this, we do, with all humility, acknowledge our sins to God, and repent of them, and implore his mercy and forgiveness, and resolve by his grace to turn every one from the evil of our ways, and from the wickedness that is in our hands; which God grant we may every one do this day22   This Sermon was preached upon occasion of a public fast. according to the pious design and intention of it. And, if we be sincere in this resolution, “who can tell but God will turn and repent, and turn away his anger from us, that we perish not.” Nay, we have great reason to believe, that he will be pacified towards us. So he hath declared: (Isa. i. 10.) “Wash ye, make you clean, put away 281the 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: come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” But if we continue unreformed, God will say to us, as he does there to the people of Israel, “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? your 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; when ye make many prayers, I will not hear.” To which, let me add that excellent saying of the son of Sirach to this purpose: (Ecclus. xxxiv. 25, 26.) “He that washeth himself after the touching of a dead body, if he touch it again, what availeth his washing? So is it with a man that fasteth for his sins, and goeth again and doth the same things. Who will hear his prayer, or what doth his humbling profit him?”

II. Let us consider by what ways and means God hath made known those duties to us, and the goodness and the obligation of them. “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee?” I shall mention five ways whereby God hath discovered this to us.

1. By a kind of natural instinct.

2. By natural reason.

3. By the general vote and consent of mankind.

4. By external revelation.

5. By the inward dictates and motions of God’s Spirit upon the minds of men.

First, By a kind of natural instinct, by which I 282mean a secret impression upon the minds of men, whereby they are naturally carried to approve some things as good and fit, and to dislike other things, as having a native evil and deformity in them. And this I call a natural instinct, because it does not seem to proceed so much from the exercise of our reason, as from a natural propension and inclination, like those instincts which are in brute creatures of natural affection and care toward their young ones. And that these inclinations are precedent to all reason and discourse about them, evidently appears by this, that they do put forth themselves every whit as vigorously in young persons as in those of riper reason; in the rude and ignorant sort of people, as in those who are more polished and refined. For we see plainly that the young and ignorant have as strong impressions of piety and devotion, as true a sense of gratitude and justice and pity, as the wiser and more knowing part of mankind. A plain indication that the reason of mankind is prevented by a kind of natural instinct and anticipation concerning the good or evil, the comeliness or deformity of these things. And though this do not equally extend to all the instances of our duty, yet as to the great lines and essential parts of it, mankind hardly need to consult any other oracle than the mere propensions and inclinations of their nature: as, whether we ought to reverence the Divine nature, to be grateful to those who have conferred benefits upon us, to speak the truth, to be faithful to our promise, to restore that which is committed to us in trust, to pity and relieve those that are in misery, and in all things to do to others as we would have them do to us. And this will further appear, if we consider these two things:


1. That men are naturally innocent or guilty to themselves, according to what they do in these things. So the apostle tells us: (Rom. ii. 14, 15.) “When the gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these having not the law, are a law unto themselves, and do shew the effect of the law written in their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts, by turns, (that is, according as they do well or ill) accusing or excusing them.” There is a secret comfort in innocence, and a strange pleasure and satisfaction in being acquitted by our own minds for what we do. But, on the contrary, when we contradict these natural dictates, what uneasiness do we find in our own breasts? Nay, even before the fact is committed, our conscience is strangely disquieted at the thoughts of it. When a man does but design to do a bad thing, he is as guilty to himself as if he had committed it. Of this we have a considerable instance, in the first violence that was offered to nature: (Gen. iv. 6.) “The Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth, and why is thy countenance fallen?” The very thought of that wickedness which he did but then design, did disorder his mind, and make a change in his very countenance. Guilt is the natural concomitant of heinous crimes; which so soon as ever a man commits, his spirit receives a secret wound, which causeth a great deal of smart and anguish. For guilt is restless, and puts the mind of man into an unnatural working and fermentation, never to be settled again but by repentance. “The wicked are like the troubled sea when it cannot rest;” which plainly shews that the mind of man hath a kind of natural sense of good and evil; because, whenever 284we offend against nature, our consciences are touched to the quick, and we receive a sting into our soul, which shoots and pains us, whenever we reflect upon what we have done. I appeal to that witness, which every man carries in his breast, whether this be not true.

2. Men are naturally full of hopes and fears, according as they follow or go against these natural dictates. A good conscience is apt to fill men with confidence and good hopes. It does not only give ease, but security to the mind of man, against the dread of invisible powers, and the fearful apprehensions of a future judgment. Whereas guilt fills men with dismal apprehensions of danger, and continual misgivings concerning their own safety. Thus it was with Cain, after he had slain his brother: “It shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.” Nay, when a man hath done a secret fault, which none can accuse him of, yet then is he haunted with the terrors of his own mind, and cannot be secure in his own apprehensions: which plainly shews, that men are conscious to themselves, when they do well, and when they do amiss; and that the same natural instinct which prompts men to their duty, fills them with good hopes when they have done it, and with secret fears and apprehensions of danger when they have done contrary to it.

Secondly, God shews man what is good, by natural reason; and that two ways: by the convenience of things to our nature; and by their tendency to our happiness and interest.

First, Reason shews us the convenience of things to our nature; and whatever is agreeable to the primitive design and intention of nature, that we call 285good; whatever is contrary thereto, we call evil. For example, to honour and love God. It is natural to honour great power and perfection, and to love goodness wherever it is. So, likewise, gratitude is natural, to acknowledge benefits received, and to be ready to requite them; and the contrary is monstrous, and universally abhorred; and there is no greater sign that any thing is contrary to nature, than if it be detested by the whole kind. It is agreeable also to nature to be just, and to do to others as we would have them to do to us; for this is to make our own natural inclinations and desires the rule of our dealing with others, and to be merciful; for no man that hath not divested himself of humanity, ran be cruel and hard-hearted to others, without feeling a pain in himself.

Secondly, Reason shews us the tendency of these things to our happiness and interest. And, indeed, the notion of good and evil does commonly refer to the consequences of things; and we call that good, which will bring some benefit and advantage to us, and that evil which is likely to produce some mischief and inconvenience j and by this rule reason discovers to us that these duties are good.

To begin with piety towards God. Nothing can more evidently tend to our interest, than to make him our friend, upon whose favour our happiness depends. So likewise for gratitude: it is a virtue, to which, if nature did not prompt us, our intent would direct us; for every man is ready to place benefits there where he may hope for a thankful return. Temperance does apparently conduce to our health, which, next to a good conscience, is the most pleasant and valuable thing in the world; whereas the intemperate man is an open enemy to 286himself, and continually making assaults upon his own life. Mercy and pity are not more welcome to others, than they are delightful and beneficial to ourselves; for we do not only gratify our own nature and bowels, by relieving those who are in misery, but we provoke mankind by our example to the like tenderness, and do prudently bespeak the commiseration of others towards us, when it shall be our turn to stand in need of it. And, if we be wise enough, our reason will likewise direct us to be just, as the surest art of thriving in this world; it gives a man a reputation, which is a powerful advantage in all the affairs of this world; it is the shortest and easiest way of dispatching business, the plainest, and least entangled; and though it be not so sudden a way of growing rich, as fraud and oppression, yet it is much surer and more lasting, and not liable to those terrible back-blows and after-reckonings, to which estates got by injustice are.

And natural reason does not only shew us that these things are good, but that the Lord requires them of us; that is, that they have the force and obligation of laws: for there needs nothing more to make any thing a law, than a sufficient declaration that it is the will of God; and this God hath sufficiently signified to mankind by the very frame of our natures, and of those principles and faculties which he hath endued us withal; so that, whenever we act contrary to these, we plainly disobey the will of him that made us, and violate those laws which he hath enacted in our natures, and written upon our hearts.

And this is all the law that the greatest part of mankind were under, before the revelation of the 287gospel. From Adam to Moses, the world was al most solely governed by the natural law; which seems to be the meaning of that hard text, (Rom. v. 13.) “For until the law sin was in the world;” that is, before the law of Moses was given, men were capable of offending against some other law, for otherwise sin could not have been imputed to them; for “sin is not imputed where there is no law.” And then it follows: “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression;” that is, during that space from Adam to Moses, men sinned against the natural law, and were liable to death upon that account, though they had not offended against an express revelation from God, as Adam had done; for that the apostle seems to mean, by sinning after the similitude of Adam’s transgression.

Thirdly, God hath shewn us what is good by the general vote and consent of mankind. Not that all mankind do agree concerning virtue and vice; but that as to the greater duties of piety, justice, mercy, and the like, the exceptions are but few in comparison, and not enough to infringe a general consent. And of this I shall offer to you this threefold evidence.

1. That these virtues are generally praised and held in esteem by mankind, and the contrary vices generally reproved and evil spoken of. Now to praise any thing, is to give testimony to the goodness of it; and to censure any thing, is to declare that we believe it to be evil. And if we consult the history of all ages, we shall find, that the things which are generally praised in the lives of men, and recommended to the imitation of posterity, are piety 288and devotion, gratitude and justice, humanity and charity; and that the contrary to these are marked with ignominy and reproach: the former are commended even in enemies, and the latter are branded even by those who had a kindness for the persons that were guilty of them. So constant hath mankind always been in the commendation of virtue, and in the censure of vice. Nay, we find not only those who are virtuous themselves giving their testimony and applause to virtue, but even those who are vicious; not out of love to goodness, but from the conviction of their own minds, and from a secret reverence they bear to the common consent and opinion of mankind. And this is a great testimony, because it is the testimony of an enemy extorted by the mere light and force of truth.

And, on the contrary, nothing is more ordinary than for vice to reprove sin, and to hear men condemn the like, or the same things in others, which they allow in themselves. And this is a clear evidence, that vice is generally condemned by mankind, that many men condemn it in themselves; and those who are so kind as to spare themselves, are very quick-sighted to spy a fault in any body else, and will censure a bad action done by another with as much freedom and impartiality as the most virtuous man in the world.

As to this consent of mankind about virtue and vice, the Scripture frequently appeals. As when it commands us “to provide things honest in the sight of all men; and by well-doing to put to silence the ignorance of foolish men;” intimating, that there are some things so confessedly good, and owned to be such by so general a vote of mankind, that the worst of men have not the face to open their mouths 289against them. And it is made the character of a virtuous action, if it be lovely and commendable, and “of good report: (Phil. iv. 8.) Whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise,” make account of these things; intimating to us, that mankind do generally concur in the praise and commendation of what is virtuous.

2. Men do generally glory and stand upon their innocency, when they do virtuously; but are ashamed, and out of countenance, when they do the contrary. Now glory and shame are nothing else but an appeal to the judgment of others, concerning the good or evil of our actions. There are, indeed, some such monsters as are impudent in their impieties, but these are but few in comparison. Generally mankind is modest; the greatest part of those who do evil are apt to blush at their own faults, and to confess them in their countenance, which is an acknowledgment that they are not only guilty to themselves that they have done amiss, but that they are apprehensive that others think so. For guilt is a passion respecting ourselves, but shame regards others. Now it is a sign of shame, that men love to conceal their faults from others, and commit them secretly, in the dark, and without witnesses, and are afraid even of a child or a fool: or, if they be discovered in them, they are solicitous to excuse and extenuate them, and ready to lay the fault upon any body else, or to transfer their guilt, or as much of it as they can, upon others. All which are certain tokens that men are not only naturally guilty to themselves, when they commit a fault, but that they are sensible also what opinions others have of these things.


And, on the contrary, men are apt to stand upon their justification, and to glory when they have done well. The conscience of a man’s own virtue and integrity lifts up his head, and gives him confidence before others, because he is satisfied they have a good opinion of his actions. What a good face does a man naturally set upon a good deed! And how does he sneak when he hath done wickedly, being sensible that he is condemned by others, as well as by himself! No man is afraid of being upbraided for having dealt honestly or kindly with others, nor does account it any calumny or reproach to have it reported of him that he is a sober and chaste man. No man blusheth when he meets a man with whom he hath kept his word and discharged his trust: but every man is apt to do so, when he meets one with whom he has dealt dishonestly, or who knows some notorious crime by him.

3. Vice is generally forbidden and punished by human laws; but against the contrary virtues there never was any law. Some vices are so manifestly evil in themselves, or so mischievous to human society, that the laws of most nations have taken care to discountenance them by severe penalties. Scarce any nation was ever so barbarous as not to maintain and vindicate the honour of their gods and religion by public laws. Murder and adultery, rebellion and sedition, perjury and breach of trust, fraud and oppression, are vices severely prohibited by the laws of most nations: a clear indication what opinion the generality of mankind, and the wisdom of nations, have always had of these things.

But now against the contrary virtues there never was any law. No man was ever impeached for living “soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present 291world:” a plain acknowledgment, that mankind always thought them good, and never were sensible of the inconvenience of them; for had they been so, they would have provided against them by laws. This St. Paul takes notice of as a great commendation of the Christian virtues: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, kindness, fidelity, meekness, temperance; against such there is no law:” the greatest evidence that could be given that these things are unquestionably good in the esteem of mankind—“against such there is no law.” As if he had said, turn over the law of Moses, search those of Athens, and Sparta, and the twelve tables of the Romans, and those innumerable laws that have been added since, and you shall not, in any of them, find any of those virtues that I have mentioned condemned and forbid den: a clear evidence that mankind never took any exception against them, but are generally agreed about the goodness of them.

Fourthly, God hath shewn us what is good by external revelation. In former ages of the world, God revealed his will to particular persons in an extraordinary manner, and more especially to the nation of the Jews; the rest of the world being, in a great measure, left to the conduct of natural light, lint, in these latter ages, he hath made public revelation of his will by his Son: and this, as to the matter of our duty, is the same in substance with the law of nature; for our Saviour comprehends all under these two general heads—the love of God and of our neighbour. The apostle reduceth all to three; sobriety, justice, and piety: “The grace of God, that brings salvation, hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and 292worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” So that, if we believe the apostle, the gospel teacheth us the very same things which nature dictated to men before; only it hath made a more perfect discovery of them. So that, whatever was doubtful and obscure before is now certain and plain; the duties are still the same, only it offers us more powerful arguments, and a greater assistance to the performance of those duties; so that we may now much better say, than the prophet could in his days, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what it is that the Lord requires of thee.”

Fifthly and lastly, God shews us what is good by the motions of his Spirit upon the minds of men. This the Scripture assures us of, and good men have experience more especially of it; though it be hard to give an account of it, and to say what motions are from the Spirit of God, and what from our own minds; for “as the wind blows where it listeth, and we hear the sound of it, but know not whence it comes, nor whither it goes;” so are the operations of the Spirit of God upon the minds of men secret and imperceptible.

And thus I have done with the three things I propounded to speak to. All that now remains is to make some inferences from what hath been said, by way of application.

First, Seeing God hath so abundantly provided that we should know our duty, we are altogether inexcusable if we do not do it. Because “he hath shewed thee, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of thee;” therefore, “thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art,” who livest in a contradiction to this light. God hath acquainted 293us with our duty by such ways as may most effectually both direct and engage us to the practice of it; we are prompted to it by a kind of natural instinct, and strong impressions upon our minds of the difference of good and evil; we are led to the knowledge, and urged to the practice of it, by our nature, and by our reason, and by our interest, and by that which is commonly very prevalent among men, the general voice and consent of mankind; and by the most powerful and governing passions in human nature, by hope, and by fear, and by shame; by the prospect of advantage, by the apprehension of danger, and by the sense of honour; and, to take away all possible excuse of ignorance from us, by an express revelation from God, the clearest and most perfect that ever was made to the world. So that, whenever we do contrary to our duty, in any of these great instances, we offend against all these, and do, in the highest degree, fall under the heavy sentence of our Saviour: “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light.”

Secondly, You see hence what are the great duties of religion, which God mainly requires of us, and how reasonable they are; piety towards God, and justice and charity towards men; the knowledge whereof is planted in our nature, and grows up with our reason. And these are things which are unquestionably good, and against which we can have no exception; things that were never reproved nor found fault with by mankind, neither our nature nor our reason riseth up against them, or dictates any thing to the contrary. We have all the obligation, and we have all the encouragement to them, and are secure on all hands in the practice 294of them. In the doing of these things, there is no danger to us from the laws of men, no fear of displeasure from God, no offence or sting from our own minds.

And these things, which are so agreeable to our nature, and our reason, and our interest, are the great things which our religion requires of us, more valuable in themselves, and more acceptable to God than “whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices,” more than “thousands of rams, and ten thousands of rivers of oil; “more than if we offered to him “all the beasts of the forest, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.” We are not to neglect any institution of God; but, above all, we are to secure the observance of those great duties to which we are directed by our very nature, and tied by the surest and most sacred of all other laws, those which God hath riveted in our souls, and written upon our hearts: and that mankind might have no pretence left to excuse them from these, the Christian religion hath set us free from those many positive and outward observances, that the Jewish religion was encumbered withal; that we might be wholly intent upon these great duties, and mind nothing in comparison of the real and substantial virtues of a good life.

Thirdly, You see, in the last place, what is the best way to appease the displeasure of God towards a sinful nation. God seems to have as great a controversy with us, as he had with the people of Israel, and his wrath is of late years most visibly gone out against us; and proportionably to the full measure of our sins, it hath been poured out upon us in full vials. How have the judgments of God followed us? And how close have they followed one another? What fearful calamities have our eyes seen? enough 295to make the ears of every one that hears them to tingle. What terrible and hazardous wars have we been engaged in? What a raging pestilence did God send among us, that swept away thousands and ten thousands in our streets? What a dreadful and fatal fire, that was not to be checked and resisted in its course, till it had laid in ashes one of the greatest and richest cities in the world? What unseasonable weather have we had of late? as if for the wickedness of men upon the earth, the very ordinances of Heaven were changed, and summer, and winter, seed time, and harvest, had forgotten their appointed seasons. And, which is more and sadder than all this, what dangerous attempts have been made upon our religion, by the restless adversaries of it?

And now, surely, after all this is come upon us for our sins, it is time for us to look up to him that smites us, and to think of taking up this quarrel. It is time to inquire as they do in the text: “Wherewithal shall we come before the Lord, and bow ourselves before the high God?” And we are apt to take the same course they did, to endeavour to appease God by some external devotion. We have now betaken ourselves to prayer and fasting, and it was very fit, nay necessary we should so do; but let us not think this is all God expects from us. These are but the means to a further cud, to oblige us for the future to the practice of a good life. The outward profession of religion is not lost amongst us, there appears still in men a great and commendable zeal for the reformed religion, and there hath been too much occasion for it; but that which God chiefly expects from us, is reformed lives. Piety and virtue are, in a great measure, gone from among us, the manners of men are strangely corrupted, the 296great and weighty things of the law are neglected, justice and mercy, temperance and chastity, truth and fidelity; so that we may take up David’s complaint, “Help, Lord! for the righteous man ceaseth, for the faithful fail from among the children of men.”

And till the nation be brought back to a sober sense of religion, from an airy and fantastical piety, to real and unaffected devotion, and from a factious contention about things indifferent, to the serious practice of what is necessary; from our violent heats and animosities, to a more peaceable temper; and by a mutual condescension, on all sides, to a nearer and stronger union among ourselves; till we recover in some measure our ancient virtue and integrity of manners, we have reason to fear that God will still have a controversy with us, notwithstanding all our noise and zeal about religion.

This is the true, this is the only course to appease the indignation of God, and to draw down his favour and blessing upon a poor distracted and gasping nation. “He hath 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?”

I have but one word more, and that is, to put you presently upon the practice of one of these duties that I have been persuading you to, and that is, mercy and alms to the poor. If what I have al ready said have had its effect upon you, I need not use any other arguments; if it have not, I have hardly the heart to use any. I shall only put you in mind again, that God values this above all our external devotion, “he will have mercy rather than sacrifice;” that this is the way to find mercy with God, and to have our prayers speed in heaven; and 297without this, all our fasting and humiliation signifies nothing. And to this purpose I will only read to you those plain and persuasive words of the prophet, which do so fully declare unto us the whole duty of this day, and particularly urge us to this of charity: (Isa. lviii. 5-9.) “Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? “Wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day unto the Lord? Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him, and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy salvation shall spring forth speedily, and thy righteousness shall go before thee, and the glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward. Then thou shall call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.”

« Prev Sermon CI. Of the Great Duties of Natural… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection