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* duty in
you : which is the cause of the evils you suffer, and the ground of the controversy be"tween us.'
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.
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 vet the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the scant measure that is aboiinable? 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,
use it. He has also shewed you this in his word, in the law, and in all the revelations he hạs 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 sepa. rated. 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,” i 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 oughť 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 unto.
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. « I delivered the
poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him. I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame. The cause which I knew not I searched out, I brake the jaws of the wicked, and plucked the spoil out of his teeth,” Job xxix. 12, 15, 16.
And you know, that there are many such exhortations propounded to Christians in the New Testament: that “every man should look not on his own things only, but on those of others also : that they should rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep : that they should bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”
But I shall not farther multiply precepts and directions of this kind, nor instance in any other cases, which the course of things will
, present to us ; and he who is of a merciful and generous disposition will take notice of, and act accordingly. I shut up this article therefore with those words of Isaiah containing a description of the different temper and conduct of base and narrow, indeed wicked minds, and of such as are truly generous, and public spirited. « For the vile person will speak villany, and his heart will work iniquity, to practise hypocrisy, and to utter error against the Lord,” that is, to pronounce false judgments, which are contrary to the express command of God in his law : “ to make empty the soul of the hungry, and to cause the drink of the thirsty to fail. The instruments also of the churl are evil. He deviseth wicked devices, to destroy the poor with lying words, even when the needy speaketh right. But the liberal,” the merciful, the generous, the bountiful “ man, deviseth liberal things, and by liberal things shall he be established,” Is. xxxii. 6—8.
The last thing in this text, said to be required of men, is “to walk humbly with God :" or, as the Hebrew is, literally, “and to humble thyself to walk with thy God. In the ancient Greek version, made before the coming of our Saviour, it is rendered": "and be ready to walk with thy God.” The meaning, I presume, in the general, is: “and to resolve to obey all God's commandments, and to continue and persevere therein always to the end of life.'
I shall briefly mention several particulars comprehended in this article.
First, it is to resolve to worship the true God, and him alone. In the text it is the Lord thy God: meaning the God that has made us, and preserves us : the God that has dealt bountifully with us, who has supplied and provided for us, who has helped and delivered us in times of danger and difficulty.
This, certainly, is one thing intended by the prophet: to engage the people of Israel, according to the commandment of the law, as well as the dictates of reason, to fear the Lord their God, and serve him only: even God, the creator of the heavens and the earth, who had brought them out of the house of servants, and had ever since conferred upon them many favours and benefits.
Secondly, it includes a respect to all God's commandments, and a readiness to submit to his authority in all things, without any exception.
Thirdly, this humbling ourselves to walk with God, or walking humbly with the Lord our God, includes dependence on him, trusting in him, and committing ourselves to him : believing, and hoping, that he will continue to protect and defend us, and afford us all those things which are needful and convenient.
Fourthly, it includes contentment with our state, and worshipping and serving God in a time of affliction and trouble, as well as in a day of ease and prosperity : blessing him not only when he gives, but also when he takes away: and acknowledging the wisdom and the righteousness of all his dealings with us.
This is implied in devoting ourselves to his service. Under the former particular I mentioned dependence upon God, and committing ourselves to him. This contentment under afflictions, now mentioned, when they befall us, in the course of divine providence, is acting and exercising that dependence which we have made a profession of, and performing according to the engagements we have entered into.
Fifthly, to walk with God includes continuance and perseverance in the service of God, and obedience to his holy laws and commandments, throughout the whole of our life, notwithstanding the temptations we may meet with, and though others should prove false to their engagements, and forsake the Lord their God.
Sixthlý, it includes serving God with a lowly humble apprehension of ourselves : considering the sins we have been guilty of, the defects of our obedience, the imperfections of the services we perform for the honour of his name, or the good of others : and that when we have acted according to the best of our ability, we have done no more than our duty, and what we were
under many obligations to perform: and humbly and thankfully owning the goodness of God in the encouragements he has given us, and the promises he has made
of accepting our sincere obedience, and rewarding it greatly beyond its merit.
II. I shall now add a word or two by way of application, and conclude.
1. We perceive, that the holy obedience, required of us, is of great extent: comprehending justice, mercy, and piety, with the several branches of each. It can therefore be no very easy thing to be truly religious. It must be a difficult, and an high attainment. We have need, as our Lord directs, to strive, to exert ourselves, and do our utmost, to “enter in at the strait gate.”. One came to our Lord, desirous to know what he should do that “ he might obtain eternal life,” and saying, that “ he had kept all the commandments from his youth.” But Jesus perceived that “he lacked one thing,” Matt. xix. And the event shewed, that his heart was governed by an inordinate love of this present world : and that he was not disposed to do all that is requisite to secure riches in heaven. Let us consider, and examine ourselves, whether this be our case.
2. Let us seriously attend to this representation of true religion, and remember, that the things here insisted on are of absolute necessity.
There is no making up the controversy between God and sinful men, but by repentance and amendment, or a return to real, and universal virtue and piety.
The displeasure of God is not to be appeased by costly oblations. But repent, and turn to the Lord with all the heart unfeignedly: break off every sinful course : cease to do evil, and learn to do well : seek judgment, love mercy, humble yourselves before the Lord your God: and take upon you the obligation of his reasonable and excellent laws and commandments: then he will receive you graciously, and love you freely. All your sins shall be blotted out: they shall be as if they never were. They will be remembered against you no more.
And all this is of absolute necessity; nothing else will avail for our acceptance. We cannot substitute any thing else in the room of true virtue and goodness. Long abstinence, painful mortifications of the body at certain seasons, will not suffice: nor some short transports of devotion, however warm and lively: nor any zeal for the externals of religion, or for the right faith, and for spreading the principles of religion in the world. Nothing but a regular course of sincere and undissembled virtue in the several branches of righteousness, mercy and piety, can recommend us to the favour and acceptance of a wise and holy God.
“ Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? 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 ?”
Or, shall I fast twice in the week, and pay tithes of all that I possess ?”
Shall I confess my sins once, or twice, or every month in the year, to a person in holy orders, and submit to all the bodily pains and penances he appoints ?
Shall I increase the number and length of my prayers to a double, or treble proportion more than ordinary? and hear, or read over an abundance of sermons, and other treatises of religion ?
Shall I erect a costly and magnificent edifice, wherein men may meet, and unite together in the worship of the great God and King of the world ?
The point is already resolved. Natural reason and divine revelation agree in one and the same answer to this solicitous and important inquiry. “ He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God?”
I have now explained the words of the text, and added an inference or two by way of reflection. But I propose to discourse again upon this subject, and farther shew the nature and extent, the excellence and importance of virtue, or moral righteousness.