This is the word he calls them to hear and a strange word. Isaiah asks, What mean your sacrifices? God will not have them. I think the people would say in their own hearts, What means the prophet? What would the Lord be at? Do we anything but what he commanded us? Is he angry at us for obeying him? What means this word? Is he not repealing the statute and ordinance he had made in Israel? If he had reproved us for breach of commands, for omission and neglect of sacrifices, we would have taken with it, but what means this reproof for well doing? The Lord is a hard master. If we neglect sacrifices, and offer up the worst of the flock, he is angry, if we have a care of them, and offer them punctually, and keep appointed days precisely, he is angry. What shall we do to please him? I think many of you are put to as great a non plus, when your prayers and repentance and fasting are quarrelled, do ye not say in your hearts, we know not what to do? Ministers are angry at us if we pray not, and our praying they cry out against, they command us to repent and fast, and yet say that God will abhor both these. This is a mystery, and we shall endeavour to unfold it to you from the word. It concerns us to know how God is pleased with our public services and fastings for the most part of people have no more religion. Ye all, I know, desire to know what true religion is. Consult the Scriptures, and search them, for there ye shall find eternal life. We frame to ourselves a wrong pattern and copy of it, and so we judge ourselves wrong. Our narrow spirits do not take in the latitude of the Scripture's religion, but taking in one part we exclude another, and think God rigid if it be not taken off our hand so. But, I pray, consider these three things, which seem to make up the good old way, the religion of the Old and New Testaments --
First, Religion takes in all the commands, -- it is universal, hath respect to all the commandments, Psal. cxix.6. It carries the two tables in both hands, the first table in the right hand, and the second in the left. These are so entirely conjoined, that if you receive not both, you cannot receive any truly.
Secondly, It takes in all the man, his soul and spirit as well as his body, nay, it principally includes that which is principal in the man, his soul and spirit, his mind and affections. If ye divide these, ye have not a man present but a body, and what fellowship can bodies have with him who is a Spirit? If ye divide these among themselves, ye have not a spirit indeed present if the mind be not present, surely the heart cannot, but if the mind be, and the heart away, religion is not religion, but some empty speculation. The mind cannot serve but by the heart, where the heart is, there a man is reckoned to be.
Thirdly, It takes in Jesus Christ as all, and excludes altogether a man's self. He worships God in the spirit, but he rejoices not in himself, and in his spirit, but in Jesus Christ, and hath no confidence in himself, or the flesh, Phil. iii.3, 8. It includes the soul and spirit, and all the commands, but it denies them all, and embraces Jesus Christ by faith, as the only object of glorying in and trusting in. All a man's self becomes dross in this consideration. Now, the first of these is drawn from the last, therefore it appears first -- I say, an endeavour in walking in every thing commanded, of conforming our way to the present rule and pattern, is a stream flowing from the pure heart within. A man's soul and affections must once be purified, before it sends out such streams in conversation. And from whence doth that pure heart come? Is it the fountain and original? No certainly. The heart is desperately wicked above all things, and how will it cleanse itself? But this purity proceeds from another fountain, -- from faith in Jesus Christ, and it is this that lies nearest the uncreated fountain Christ himself, it is the most immediate conduit the mouth of the fountain or the bucket to draw out of the deep wells of salvation. All these are conjoined in this order, 1 Tim. i.5 -- "The end of the commandment is love." Ye know love is said elsewhere to be the fulfilling of the law, and when we say love, we mean all duties to God and man, which love ought immediately to principle. Now this love proceeds from a pure heart, cleansed and sanctified, which pure heart proceeds from faith unfeigned. So then, we must go up in our searching from external obedience all alongst, till we arrive at the inward fountain of Christ dwelling in us by faith, and then have ye found true religion indeed. Now, ye may think possibly, we have used too much circumlocution: what is all this to the present purpose? Yes, very much. Ye shall find the Lord rejecting this people's public worship and solemn ordinances upon these three grounds, -- either they did not join with them the observation of weightier commands, or they did not worship him in them with their spirits, had not souls present, or they knew not the end and use for which God had appointed these sacrifices and ceremonies, they did not see to the end of all, which was Jesus Christ.
First, then, I say the people were much in external sacrifices and ceremonies, commanded of God, but they were ignorant of the end of his commands, and of the use of them. Ye know in themselves they had no goodness, but only in relation to such an end as he pleased they should lead to, but they stayed upon the ceremony and shadow, and were not led to use it as a means for such an end; and so, though they fancied that they obeyed, and pleased God, yet really they wholly perverted his meaning and intention in the command; therefore doth the Lord plead with them in this place for their sacrificing, as if it had been murder. They used to object his commands. What, says the Lord, did I command these things? Who required them? Meaning certainly, who required them for such an end, to take away your sin? Who required them but as a shadow of the substance to come? Who required them but as signs of that Lamb and sacrifice to be offered up in the fulness of time? And forasmuch as ye pass over all these, and think to please me with the external ceremony, was that ever my intent or meaning? Certainly ye have fancied a new law of your own, I never gave such a law; therefore it is said, Psal. l.13. -- God pleads just after this manner, "Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?" &c.; and Micah vi.7, "Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil?" He who hath no pleasure in sinful men, what pleasure can he have in beasts? Therefore, it was to signify to them (who thought God would be pleased with them for their offering) that he could not endure them; it was worse to him to offer him such a recompense, than if they had done none at all. He is only well pleased in his well-beloved Son; and when they separate a lamb or a bullock from the well-beloved, what was it to him more than "a dog's neck" or "swine's flesh?" It was his creature, as these are, and no more, Isa. lxvi.3. Now that they looked never beyond the ceremonies, is evident, because they boasted in them; they used to find out these as a remedy of their sins, and a mean to pacify God's wrath, Micah vi.6. Paul bears witness of it, 2 Cor. iii.13-15. Moses had a vail of ceremonies over his face, and the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that mystery, Christ Jesus, but their minds were blinded, and are so to this day in the reading of the scriptures; and this vail of hardness of heart shall be done away when Christ returns to them again. Now, I say, it is just so with us. There was never a people liker other than we are like the Jews. We have many external ordinances, preaching, hearing, baptism, communion, reading, singing, praying in public, extraordinary solemnities of fasting and thanksgiving, works of discipline and government, public reproof to sinners, confessions and absolutions. What would ye think if we should change the terms of sacrifices and new moons, and speak all this to you? To what purpose is the multitude of your fasts and feasts, of your preachings and communions, of your praying in secret, and in your families, of conference and prayer with others, of running to and fro to hear preaching, to partake of the Lord's table? I am full of them, I delight not in them. When ye come here on the Sabbath, who required at your hand to tread my courts? Come no more to hear the word, run no more after communions, seek no more baptism to your children, call no more solemn assemblies, it is all iniquity. O, say ye, that is a strange preaching indeed! Must we pray no more, hear no more, sing no more? Did not God command these? Why do ye discharge them? We do not mean so, that these should not be, but they should be in another way: all these want the soul and life of them, which is Jesus Christ in them. Do ye not think yourselves religious, because ye frequent these? The multitude of the people think that these please God, and pacify his wrath: ye have no other thing in your mind but these. If ye can attain any sorrow or grief for sin, or any tears to signify it, presently you absolve yourselves for your repentance. The scandalous who appear in public, think the paying of a penalty to the judge, and bowing the knee before the congregation,(284) satisfies God. Ye miss nothing when ye have these. I speak to the professors of religion also, who pretend to more knowledge than others, when ye have gone about so many duties, ye are well satisfied if ye get liberty in them. If ye can satisfy yourselves, ye doubt not of God's satisfaction; and if ye do not satisfy yourselves in your duties, ye cannot believe his satisfaction. Ye get the ordinance, and miss nothing. Now, I say, in all this ye do not reach to the end of this ministry, Jesus Christ; ye do not steadfastly behold him, to empty yourselves in his bosom, to turn over all the unrighteousness of your holy things upon him who bears it. That which pleaseth you, is not "he in whom the Father is well-pleased," but the measure of your own duty. O, the establishing of our own righteousness is the ruin of the visible Church! This is the grand idol, and all sacrifice to it. Know, therefore, that the most part of your performances are abomination and iniquity, because ye have so much confidence in them, and put them not upon Christ as filthy rags, or do not cover them with his righteousness, as well as your wickedness. I know ye will say, that ye are not satisfied with them, and that is still the matter of your exercise. Well, I affirm, in the Lord's name, from that ground, that ye have confidence in them, for if your diffidence and disquietness arise from it, your confidence and peace must come from it also. Is there any almost that maintain faith, except when their own conditions please them well? And that faith I may call no faith, at least not pure and cleanly entire faith. As for the multitude of you, you must know this, that God is not pleased with your prayers, and fasting, and hearing, &c. because ye have such an esteem of them, because ye can settle yourselves against all threatenings, and never once remember of Jesus Christ, or consider the end of his coming into the world; because ye find no necessity of pardon for your prayers and righteousness, but stretch the garment of these over the uncleanness of your practices. What delight hath the Lord in them, when they are put in his Son's place? Will he not be jealous that his Son's glory be not given to another?
In the second place, the Lord rejects their performances, because there was nothing but a mere shadow of service, and no worshipping of God in the Spirit. Ye know what Christ saith, "God is a Spirit, and he that worships him must do it in spirit and in truth," John iv.24. It is the heart and soul that God delights in, "My son, give me thy heart," for if thou give not thy heart, I care for nothing else. The heart is the whole man. What a man's affection is, that he is. Light is not so, -- it brings not the man alongst with it. Christ Jesus hath given himself for us, and he requires that we offer ourselves to him. If we offer a body to frequent his house, our feet to tread in his courts, our ears to hear his word, what cares he for it, as long as the soul doth not offer itself up in prayer or hearing? And this was the sin of this people, Isaiah xxix.13. "They draw near with the lips, and their heart is far from the Lord." Now are we not their children, and have succeeded to this? Is there any thing almost in our public services, but what is public? Is there any thing but what is seen of men? Ye come to hear, ye sit and hear, and is there any more? The most part have their minds wandering, no thoughts present; for your thoughts are removed about your barns and corns, or some business in your head; and if any have their thoughts present, yet where are affections, which are the soul and spirit of religion, without which it is no true fire but wild fire, if it be not both burning and shining? Are ye serious in these ordinances? Or rather, are ye not more serious in any thing beside? And now, especially, when God's providence calls you to earnest thoughts, when it cries to all men to enter into consideration of their own ways, I pray you, is there any soul-affliction in your fasts even for a day? Is there any real grief or token of it? Not a fast in Scripture without weeping! We have kept many, and have never advanced so far. Shall the Lord then be pacified? Will not his soul abhor them? How shall they appease him for your other provocations, when they are as oil to the flame, to increase his indignation? The most part of Christians are guilty here; we come to the ordinances, as it were, to discharge a custom, and perform a ceremony, that we may have it to say to our conscience that it is done, and there is no more intent and purpose. We do not seek to have soul-communion with God. We come to sermon to hear some new thing, or new truth, or new fashion of it; to learn a notional experience of cases. But alas, this is not the great purpose and use of these things. It is to have some new sense of those things we know. We know already, but we should come to get the truth more received in our love, to serve God in our spirits, and to return to him ourselves in a sacrifice acceptable. This is the greater half, if not the whole of religion, -- love to Jesus Christ who loved us, and living to him, because he died for us, and living to him because we love him. Now, all our ordinances and duties should be channels to carry our love to him, and occasions of venting our affections.
Thirdly, The Lord rejected this people's services, because they were exact and punctual in them, and neglected other parts of his commandments; and this is clearly expressed here, "I will not hear" your prayers, though there be many of them. Why? "Your hands are full of blood." Ye come to worship me, and pray to me, and yet there are many abominations in your conversation, which you continue in, and do not challenge in yourselves. Ye have unclean hands; and shall your prayers be accepted, which should come up with pure hands? They took his covenant in their mouth, and offered many sacrifices, but what have ye to do with these things, saith the Lord, since ye hate to be reformed, since ye hate personal reformation of your lives, and in your families? What have ye to do to profess to be my people? Psal. l.16, 17. The Lord requires an universality, if ye would prove sincerity: if ye have respect to any of his commands, as his commands, then will ye respect all. If ye be partial, and choose one duty that is easy, and refuse another harder, -- will come to the church and hear, but will not pray at home, -- will fast in public, but not in private, -- then, says the Lord, ye do not at all obey me, but your own humour; ye do not at all fast unto me, but unto yourselves. As much as your interest lies in a duty, so much are ye carried to it. And I take this to be the reason why many are so eager in pursuing public ordinances, following communions, and conferences with God's people, ready to pray in public rather than alone. If ye would follow them into their secret chamber, how much indifferency is there! How great infrequency, how little fervency! Well, says the Lord, did ye pray to me when ye prayed among others? No, ye prayed either to yourselves, or the company, or both. Did ye seek me in a communion? No, saith the Lord, ye sought not me, but yourselves: if ye sought me indeed with others, you would be as earnest, if not more, to seek me alone, Zech. vii.6. And again, the Lord especially requires the weightier matters of the law to be considered. As it was among the Jews, their ceremonies were commanded, and so good; but they were not so much good in themselves as because they were means appointed for another end and use. But the moral law was binding in itself, and good in itself, without relation to another thing; and therefore Christ lays this heavy charge to the Pharisees, "Ye tithe mint and anise," Matt. xxiii.23. "Woe unto you, for ye neglect the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ye ought to have done, and not left the other undone." Are there not many who would think it a great fault to stay away from the church on the Sabbath or week day, and yet will not stick to swear, -- to drink often? "Woe unto you, for ye strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel;" therefore are the prophets full of these expostulations. The people seemed to make conscience of ceremonies and external ordinances, but they did not order their conversation aright; they did not execute judgment, and relieve the oppressed, did not walk soberly, did not mortify sinful lusts, &c. Alas, we deceive ourselves with the noise of a covenant,(285) and a cause of God; we cry it up as an antidote against all evils, use it as a charm, even as the Jews did their temple; and, in the mean time, we do not care how we walk before God, or with our neighbours: well, thus saith the Lord, "Trust ye not in lying words," &c. Jer. vii.4, 5, 6. If drunkenness reign among you, if filthiness, swearing, oppression, cruelty reign among you, your covenant is but a lie, all your professions are but lying words, and shall never keep you in your inheritances and dwellings. The Lord tells you what he requires of you. Is it not to do justly, and walk humbly with God? Mic. vi.7. This is that which the grace of God teaches, to deny "ungodliness and worldly lusts," and to "live soberly, righteously, and godly, towards your God, your neighbour, and yourself," Tit. ii.11, 12; and this he prefers to your public ordinances, your fasting, covenanting, preaching, and such like.(286) "Is not this to know me?" saith the Lord, Jer. xxii.15, 16. You think you know God when you can discourse well of religion, and entertain conferences of practical cases. You think it is knowledge to understand preachings and scripture; but thus saith the Lord, to do justly to all men, to walk humbly towards God, to walk soberly in yourselves, is more real knowledge of God, than all the volumes of doctors contain, or the heads of professors. Is this knowledge of God to have a long flourishing discourse containing much religion in it? Alas, no! to do justly, to oppress none, to pray more in secret, to walk humbly and soberly, this is to know the Lord. Practice is real knowledge indeed: it argues, that what a man knows, he receives in love, that the truth hath a deep impression on the heart, that the light shines into the heart to inflame it. What is knowledge before God? As much as principles, affection, and action, as much as hath influence on your conversations; if you do not, and love not what you know, is that to know the Lord? Shall not your knowledge be a testimony against your practice, and no more?