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God. Perhaps there is no man who has not, at some period, felt the expostulations of God with his conscience, and experienced some alarm as to the welfare of his soul. It is indeed a blessing, when this alarm creates deep anxiety for repentance, and when the heart is sincere in the inquiry, “ What must I do to be saved?” Here, however, the erroneous views of former notions, and the suggestions of the pride and naughtiness of the human heart, often raise difficulties and doubts, which render abortive the feelings of conscience, or turn aside the inquirer from the paths of true wisdom, into the mazes of darkness
To a mind accustomed to the ritual of the Mosaic dispensation, the sacrifices of that ritual would naturally be first suggested, as the means of restoring the favour of God. The appointed offerings and expiations would be supposed effectual to cleanse the soul from those sins, under which it suffered the displeasure of the Almighty ; or if offences had been multiplied, might not an attempt to equal the number of sacrifices with the multitude of transgressions, be acceptable ? Or, as a last resource, would the sacrifice of a beloved child, as might have been perhaps vainly expected from the example of Abraham, be available in propitiating the wrath of God? With such ideas as these, a penitent Jew might imagine that he could atone for his transgressions, and thus escape the result of that controversy which God was about to institute against his people. And are not the suggestions of the human heart at the present day similar to these views? Is there not even now a tendency to rest satisfied with merely ceremonial observances, in order to recommend ourselves to the divine favour? Men are ready to submit to any penance, or mortification, or discipline, which they may be advised to adopt, as long as such observances do not interfere with their cherished lusts and passions. Any system of external services, any routine of charitable exertions, will be readily substituted, instead of a thorough change of heart, and a real conversion to God. But can we suppose that there is indeed any thing in external ceremonies, that can either avail to effect our reconciliation to God, or enable us to continue in a state of favour and acceptance with him ? Can outward penitence and ceremonial observances, which in themselves are of no real value, and which never can be effectual to change the heart, ever be accepted instead of deep contrition, humble faith, and unfeigned obedience? Mercifully then has God vouchsafed to guide us aright in our endeavours to seek his favour. Mercifully has he interposed to correct our erroneous estimate of the things which are acceptable in his sight. “ He hath showed thee, O man, what is good ;" he has declared the express
object and purpose of those sacrifices on which the Jew relied, and has fully explained the only view in which they were not liable to be abused, and thus to become “ statutes that were not good.” They were never intended to be substituted for obedience, or to be preferred before obedience; nor even for their own intrinsic value were they ordained : for Moses had long ago expressly told his people, “ And now, Israel, what doth the Lord require of thee but to fear the Lord thy God, and to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God, with all thine 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 ?” *
The answer then, in the text, is in accordance with these views of the inefficacy of mere external ceremonies, without their inward effect upon the heart. Our blessed Saviour probably had this
very text in view, when he rebuked the Pharisees for their substitution of ceremonial in the place of moral obedience : tha were strict and exact in the payment of t the most trifling herbs, and externa
in their prayers and their fasts; but th
ed the weightier mat mercy, and faith.
t is faith, extent, but the prin hich En
God, the humble and believing dependence upon his word and his truth?
These words, then, give us the sum and substance of practical religion. They describe that state of moral character to which we are expected to arrive by the due improvement of the means of grace which God had vouchsafed to us. They pourtray the full development of those christian graces, which God has expressly ordained for us to cultivate and cherish. “ He bath showed thee, O man, 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 ?”
First, then, we are to do justly. Justice is one of the most prominent attributes of God's holy and divine character. “ Just and true are all thy ways,
O Lord God of hosts." The simple consideration of this grand attribute of Deity will convince any one, that, as nothing but that which is in correspondence with his character can possibly please him ; so it is in vain to hope for his favour, unless truth and justice be also the guiding principles of our hearts and lives. Our words and actions must be regulated by truth and integrity; any allowed deviation from either one or other of these duties, is as completely at variance ith the Christian character, as the known indul.
f any more open and flagrant sin. “ Herercise myself,” said the apostle,
MICAH vi. 8.
He hath showed thee, O man, 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?
The chapter before us opens with a solemn expostulation of God with his chosen people, for their ingratitude towards him, after his great and abundant mercies towards them. He brings a charge against them, and calls upon the mountains to judge between them.
“ Hear, O ye 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." "Jehovah asks whether the services which he has required of his people have been such as to weary them; whether they have been too burdensome to them, after the repeated acts