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that they were practically and intimately acquainted with almost every species of immorality and vice, which are the necessary consequences of a false and impious system of religion.
In the midst, however, of this mass of impiety and wickedness, it would appear that the people had not discarded from their practice the whole of the precepts which were enforced in the law of Moses. It was, nevertheless, to the least important parts of this law to which they continued their adherence. This, however commendable and praiseworthy it might have been, as long as they maintained their consistency by endeavouring to perform the whole of its injunctions alike, became an abomination to the Almighty when he perceived that the offering up of sacrifices proceeded from a corrupt heart rather than from a pious, upright, and benevolent disposition. The prophet Micah, therefore, reasons with his countrymen on the folly and inconsistency of their proceedings, by asking them whether they supposed that the Almighty would be satisfied with their sacrifices alone, when they altogether disregarded the other more numerous and important duties, without which these offerings could be neither useful to themselves nor acceptable to God. The rebuke is conveyed in a series of questions proposed to himself;—“Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself 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, 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 ?” To which he immediately rejoins, “ He hath 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.”
From the few observations which have been offered, it is not too much to infer that the law of Moses, to which the Israelites were directed to refer for the regulation of their social and religious conduct, consisted of two branches, the ceremonial and the moral. And precisely the same remark may
be made in respect of the law of Christ; and, in short, every
law of which we can form a conception seems more or less to partake of this twofold division. Whether, indeed, this last observation be rigidly and indisputably true, may, perhaps, admit of doubt. One thing, however, is certain, that the moral or religious improvement of mankind is the sole design of any law whatsoever, and consequently where the performance of rites and ceremonies is prescribed, this is only done for the purpose of providing a cause in order to produce an effect. When, therefore, men are precise in their performances of ritual forms and ceremonies, and lay a stress upon the
propriety and necessity of these, at the same time that they neglect those weightier and more important matters, those moral and religious duties to which it is clear that these must be subservient, their practice and their disposition are precisely of that Pharisaical description which the Saviour of the world so indignantly and so contemptuously condemned, several hundred years after the delivery of the rebuke contained in our text. “ Wo unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint, anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”
It is here proper to observe, that a period of more than seven hundred years had intervened between the preaching of the prophet Micah and that of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We therefore perceive that the habits and dispositions of the Jews, in their public and national capacity, were closely assimilated at each extreme of this protracted interval of time. Such as were the Jews in the time of the prophet Micah, such they were in the time of Jesus Christ, and such we naturally presume they were during the whole or the greater part of the period which elapsed between the ministry of the one and that of the other. Hypocrisy and deceit were the prevailing crimes applicable to all. All of them alike offered a species of ceremonial and unsubstantial homage at the shrine of the God of their fathers; all of them alike neglected that submission to the will of God, and that charitable and benevolent disposition to their fellow mortals, whom fortune had placed in a less elevated and commanding situation than themselves. And here, again, it is remarkable how
exactly the declarations of the prophet and the Redeemer harmonize with each other in respect of the unfeeling exactions and impositions of those who professed to praise and obey the God of Israel. Attend to the exclamation of the prophet, which he addressed to those of his age and country who were in power and authority.
“ Hear, I pray you, O heads of Jacob, and ye princes of the house of Israel! Is it not for you to know judgment? Who hate the good, and love the evil ; who pluck off their skin from off them, and their flesh from off their bones; who also eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off them; and they break their bones, and chop them in pieces, as for the pot, and as flesh within the caldron. Then shall they cry unto the Lord, but he will not hear them: he will even hide his face from them at that time, as they have behaved themselves ill in their doings.' The exclamation of our Lord, which may be considered an almost exact parallel of the preceding, is the following, which will be easily recognized by the most ordinary reader of the New Testament. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites ! for ye
devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers ; therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.”
It is therefore most evident, that injustice, oppression, and wrong, in respect of their fellowcreatures, and most inexcusable neglect and disobedience in respect of their duty to God, were the prevailing crimes among the descendants of the
twelve tribes, for a period of at least seven or eight hundred years. This, I mean, is a fact which is rendered most clear and indisputable by a comparison of the respective addresses and exhortations of the prophet Micah and of Jesus Christ. If we go back, however, into the history of this nation beyond the life of the former of these, we shall find that the charge which applies to the children will, in scarcely an inferior degree, apply to their fathers. Nay, more than this, if we direct our attention, not to the Jews alone of this or of that period,—not to one or more nations or communities as distinct in this respect from the rest of our fellow creatures, but to the inhabitants of the entire world, and of every age of the world, we shall find that all have been most sadly wanting,—all most grossly and unpardonably criminal, precisely in the same respect as were the Jews who lived during the period to which we have before alluded. Many, indeed, it is to be hoped, are the exceptions to this rule, which, in the best of cases, is of by far too general a nature ; for wherever we look, in whatever direction we turn our eyes, we shall most assuredly perceive that obligations of small moment are attended to, by those who do not hesitate to disregard duties the most decided and of the most vital importance, and such as are enjoined as a necessary and indispensable condition of our salvation and happiness hereafter.
Enougli, brethren, must have been said to convince you, that my chief object in selecting the