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practice of all holiness and virtue in our lives; and SERM
CCVIII. therefore they had much rather have something that, might handsomely palliate and excuse their evil inclinations, than to extirpate them and cut them up; and rather than reform and amend their vicious lives, make God an honourable amends and compensation for them in some other way.
This hath been the way and folly of mankind in all ages, to defeat the great end and design of religion, and to thrust it by, by substituting something ese in the place of it, which they hope may serve the turn as well, and which hath the appearance of as much devotion and respect, and perhaps of more cost and pains, than that which God requires of them. Men have ever been apt thus to impose upon themselves, and to please themselves with a conceit of pleasing God full as well, or better, by some other way, than that which he hath pitched upon and appointed for them ; not considering that God is a great King, and will be observed and obeyed by his creatures in his own way; and that obedience to what he commands is better and more acceptable to him, than any other facrifice that we can offer, which he hath not required at our hands; that he is infinitely wise and good, and therefore the laws and rules which he hath given us to live by, are more likely and certain means of our happiness, than any inventions and devices of our own.
Thus I say, it hath been in all ages. The old world, after that general deluge which God sent to punish the raging wickedness and impiety of men, by sweeping all mankind from off the face of the earth, excepting only one family, which was saved to be the seminary of a new and better race of men; I say after this, the world in a short space fell off
SER M.from the worship of the true God, to the worship CCVIII.
of idols and false gods ; being unwilling to bring themselves to a conformity and likeness to the true God, they chose false gods like themselves, such as might not only excuse, but even countenance and abett their lewd and vicious practices.
And when God had made a new revelation of himself to the nation of the Jews, and given them the chief heads and substance of the natural law, written over again with his own finger in tables of stone, and many other laws concerning religious worship, and their civil conversation, suited and adapted to their present temper and condition ; yet how soon did their religion degenerate into external observances, purifications and washings, and a'multitude of sacrifices, without any great regard to the inward and substantial parts of religion, and the practice of those moral duties and virtues, which were in the first place required of them, and without which all the rest found no acceptance with God, Hence are those frequent complaints in the prophets, that their religion was degenerated into form and ceremony, into oblations and sacrifices, the observance of fasts, and sabbaths, and new moons; but had no power and efficacy upon their hearts and lives ; was wholly destitute of inward purity and holiness, of all substantial virtues, and the fruits of righteousness in a good life. Thus God complains by the prophet Isaiah, ch. i. 11, &c. " To what pur“ pose is the multitude of your facrafices unto me, “ saith the Lord ? 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 meet. ing. Wash you, make you clean, put away the evil
" of your doings from before mine eyes. Cease to SERM.
CCVIII. “ 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 fins be as scarlet, " &ę." Upon these terms God declares himself ready to be reconciled to them, and to have mercy on them. But all their external services and facrifi ces, separated from real goodness and righteousness, were so far from appealing God's wrath, that they did but increase the provocation. And to the same purpose, chap. lxvi. 2, 3. « To this man will I " look, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite 4 spirit, and trembleth at my word. He that kill. " eth an ox, is as if he flew a man: he that sacrifi« ceth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog's neck: he
that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swines " blood: he that burneth incense, as if he blessed s an idol, Yea, they have chosen their own ways, " and their soul delighted in their abomination.”. Jer. vi. 19, 20. “Hear, O earth : behold, I will
bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of “ their thoughts, because they have not hearkened
unto my words, nor to my law, but rejected it. 6 To what purpose cometh there to me incense “ from Sheba ? and the sweet cane from a far coun“ try? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor * your facrifices sweet unto me.” They thought to please God with costly incense and sacrifices, whilft they rejected his law. And chap. vii .4, 5, 6. “ Trust ye not in lying words, saying, the temple “ of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the tem“ ple of the Lord are these. For if ye thoroughly ” amend your ways, and your doings : if
roughly execute judgment between a man and
SER M.“ his neighbour ; if ye oppress not the stranger,
“ the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not in“ nocent blood in this place, neither walk after other
gods to your hurt : then will I cause you to dwell “ in this place." And ver. 8, 9, 10.
« Behold, ye trust in lying words that cannot profit. Will
ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear ci falny, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk af“ ter other gods, whom ye know not : and come " and stand before me in this house, which is call“ed by my name, and say, we are delivered to do « all these abominations ?" This was to add impudence to all their other impieties, to think that the worship of God, and his holy temple did excuse these gross crimes and immoralities. Micah. vi. 6, 7, 8. There God represents the Jews, as desirous to please God at any rate, provided their lufts and vices might be spared, and they might not be obliged to amend and reform their lives. “ Wherewith “ shall I come before the Lord, and bow my self “ 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, “and with ten thousands of rivers of oyl? Shall I “ give my first-born for my transgressions, the fruit “ of my body for the fin of my soul ?” All this they would willingly do: but all this will not do without real virtue and goodness, " he hath fhewed “ 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 ?”
And in the time of our blessed SAVIOUR, chose who pretended to be most devout among the Jews, were wholly buried about their pretended traditions of washing of hands, and the outsides of their cups
and dishes, and about the external and lesser things SERM.
CCVIII. of the law, the tything of mint, and anise, and cummin and all manner of herbs, omitting in the mean time the weightier matters of the law, “judgment,
mercy, and faith, and the love of God," as our Saviour describes their religion, Matth. xxiii. 23.
And after the clear revelation of the gospel, the best and most perfect inftitution that ever was, in the very beginning of christianity, what licentious doctrines did their creep in, “ turning the grace of God “ into lasciviousness,” and releasing men from all moral duties, and the virtues of a good life?“ by “ reason whereof the way of truth was evil spoken “ of,” as St. Peter, and St. Jude expresly tell us, concerning the sect of the Gnosticks. And St. John likewise describes the same feet by their arrogant pretences to extraordinary knowledge and illumination, whilst they walked in darkness, and allowed themselves in all manner of wickedness of life; they pretended to perfection and righteousness, without keeping the commandments of God.
And in the next following age of christianity, how was it pestered with a trifling controversy about the time of the observation of Easter, and with endless disputes and niceties about the doctrine of the Trinity, and the two natures and wills of CHRIST! by which means the practice of christianity was greatly neglected, and the main end and design of that excellent religion almost quite defeated and loft.
After this, when the mystery of iniquity began to shew itself, in the degeneracy of the Roman church from her primitive sanctity and purity, and in the affectation of an undue and boundless power over other churches, the christian religion began to be over-run with superstition, and the primitive fervour