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are arrived at any maturity of reason and understanding, to give up ourselves to God, determining to obey all his laws, and to decline every evil thing. And if we are sensible of any acts of disobedience, already done, they should be repented of, and every sin forsaken. The reason of things teaches this.
2. The word of God teaches the same. Addresses are there made to the young, as well as to others. The Jewish people were commanded to“ teach their children diligently” the divine laws that had been delivered to them. The design of Solomon in his collection of wise maxims was to “ give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and understanding,” Prov. i. 4. And children are to be “ trained up in the way they should go," ch. xxii. 6. How just is that admonition! “ Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them,” Ecc. xii. 1. And, " Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might. For there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave whither thou goest,” ch. ix. 10.
All which shows, that we do not satisfy the law of God, nor answer the end of our being, by some acts of religion near the end of life: but we ought to be truly religious, and serve God all the days of our life on earth. We should not, then, content ourselves with a design to be religious hereafter, but resolve to be so now.
3. Consider, how gracious, how affectionate and compassionate are the calls and invitations of God to sinful men. Says Wisdom: “ How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity ? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge! Turn ye at my reproof. Behold, I will pour out my Spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you,” Prov. i. 22, 23. And says God himself by his prophets: “ Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways. For why will ye die, o house of Israel ?” Ezek. xxxiii. 11. And our Lord in his preaching : “ Come unto me all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” Matt. xi. 28–30. And in his state of exaltation : “ Behold, I stand at the door and knock : if any man hear my voice, and open
the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me," Rev. iii. 20.
How moving, how affecting is this concern for us! And
shall any of us resist, and grieve the good Spirit of God, and sin against our own souls ?
4. Consider, therefore, farther, that by an early dedication of yourselves to God, and serious piety from the beginning, you will prevent a great deal of sin, which you might otherwise be guilty of, and a great deal of sorrow and vexation, which that would occasion either here, or hereafter, in this world, or another.
5. If you begin to be religious in the early part of life, you will probably be useful in the world, and be the cause of much good, both temporal and spiritual, to many persons. You will promote the happiness of men by kind
. offices. You may strengthen, encourage, and edify some good men: and may reclaim some sinners by your counsel and example.
6. Early, and constant, and persevering piety is very honourable. It is to the advantage of Mnason, that he is called “ an old disciple,” Acts xxii. 16. St. Paul speaks honourably of some who were in Christ before him," Rom. xvi. 7. He humbles and abases himself when he says: “ And last of all he was seen of me, as of one born out of due time,” 1 Cor. xv. 8. And the “ first fruits” of any place unto Christ, Rom. xvi. 5; 1 Cor. xvi. 15, 16, they and theirs, are sometimes particularly mentioned by him in his epistles, and affectionately recommended to the special regard of others.
7. The coming to a full determination in this point, and turning our feet without delay.to God's commandments, will contribute to the comfort and peace of our minds. For we are then fitted for life, and for death; and prepared for all the events of this variable and inconstant state of things. It must be a great advantage to know, and consider this: to be able to view death, and all the evils of life, without terror, or much discomposure of mind.
8. Lastly, they who give themselves up to God in their youth, and serve him faithfully all their days, may hope for some distinguishing honour in the great day of recompense. Indeed some, who set out late, may outgo others that began more early. They excel, it may be, in personal abilities and attainments : by which they are peculiarly qualified for important services in the cause of God and religion. But usually they who begin early, and persevere to the end, will have the advantage.
And may these things be seriously attended to, and considered by all of us! Åre we not grieved that some things have been so long deferred? Let us not defer any longer. Let not this present exhortation be slighted, lest we should not have another. Felix and Drusilla once desired to hear Paul of Christ's doctrine, and Felix trembled. But he deferred for that season. And we do not know that he trembled again: or ever gave Paul another opportunity of entering again upon the like argument, Acts xxiv. 24–26.
Let us then beg of God,“ to incline our hearts to his testimonies :" and to “ teach us his statutes, that we may keep them unto the end.”
THE SEVERAL BRANCHES OF MORAL RIGHTEOUSNESS.
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?" Mich. vi. 8.
. IN the preceding verses a very important question is proposed : “ Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the most high God ?” It is answered in the words of the text. What God chiefly requires of men is, that they “ do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with him.”
This is the immediate occasion of the words. But I presume it may be useful to take a more extensive and distinct view of the preceding context. The chapter begins with these words: “ Hear" ye now,
: what the Lord saith. Arise, contend thou before the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice. Hear ye, 0 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," Micah vi. 1, 2,
It is not unusual for God to bespeak the attention of inanimate creatures, and appeal to them for the justice of his proceedings, more emphatically to represent the stupidity and thoughtlessness of men. So by Moses of old: "I call
“ heaven and earth to witness against you this day. Give ear, 0 ye heavens, and I will speak: hear, 0 earth, the words of my mouth,” Deut. iv. 26; xxxii. 1. So also by later prophets : “ Hear, O heavens, and give ear, 0 earth.
For the Lord has spoken: I have nourished up children, and they have rebelled against me,” Is. i. 2; see also Ezek. vi, 2, 3,
It follows in the third verse of this chapter: “ O my people, what have I done unto thee? And wherein have I wearied thee? Testify against me.” God condescends by the prophet, to expostulate with the people of Israel. And he gives them leave to come and make their complaints against him, if they had any: and show their reasons, if they could assign any: why they had forsaken him, neglected his laws, and gone after strange gods.
In Jeremiah are some appeals to the Jewish people very much resembling this: “ Thus saith the Lord: What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain ?" Jer. ii. 5. Again, “ Have I been a wilderness unto Israel, a land of darkness ?” ver. 31.
Ver. 4. “ For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the house of servants, and I sent before thee Moses, and Aaron, and Miriam."
They had no injuries, or neglects, to complain of. And farther, God reminds them of the benefits he had bestowed upon them, particularly their remarkable deliverance from the bondage of Egypt: when they were brought out thence, and were formed into a distinct nation, and made a great people.
Ver. 5. “ Remember now what Balak king of Moab consulted, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him from Shittim unto Gilgal, that ye may know the righteousness of the Lord.” • Remember also the consultations and designs . of Balak against you, and how Balaam was constrained to • bless, instead of pronouncing a curse upon you: and that * though you were then brought into a heinous transgression, ' you were not utterly cut off and destroyed; but I bore 6
with you, and preserved you, until I had brought you into • the land of Canaan, and given you rest there. Recollect • these things, that you may be convinced of my righteous* ness and equity, my mercy and compassion, my fidelity • and veracity, in fulfilling the promises I had made, and
that I have not failed to do you good. You will then perceive, that you have no just ground of complaint . against me: and that if some desirable blessings are with· held, it cannot be owing to want of goodness in me, but it • must be rather owing to some failure of duty in you: • which is the cause of the evils you suffer, and the ground • of the controversy between 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 ordi• nary 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 some• times 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 firstborn should be demanded.'
The answer is in the text: “ He has showed 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 men