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GOD’S CONTROVERSY WITH HIS PEOPLE
Micah 6:2-33.6.3. Hear ye, O 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. O my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me.
WHENEVER we call on men to serve the Lord, they have some excuses to offer, either for the deferring of their duty, or for the neglecting of it altogether. They will complain that the things required of them are too strict; that, by reason of the weakness of human nature, they are impracticable; or, at all events, that, under their present circumstances, it were better to postpone the observance of them. In these excuses, they do not intend directly to reflect on God: but, in reality, they do cast the blame of their iniquities on him: on him, I say, as a Lawgiver, that he has required too much of us; or on him as a Creator, in that he has formed us incapable of obeying his will: or on him as a Governor, who, in his providence, has assigned us a lot which does not admit of our fulfilling his commands. On these grounds God has a controversy with us; and appeals to the whole creation that he is greatly wronged by us. The whole process of his appeal is here stated.
We have here,
The court summoned—
[Sometimes God makes his appeal both to heaven and earth: “Hear, O heavens! and give ear, O earth; for the Lord speaketh [Note: Isaiah 1:2.].” At other times he calls to the earth alone, as in the passage before us: “Hear ye, O mountains, and ye strong foundations of the earth!” But what amazing condescension is here, that he should summon his own creatures, to sit, as it were, in judgment upon him! He has a right to do whatsoever he shall please: and to presume to question any thing that he does, is the height of impiety. Has not “a potter power over the clay, to make of the same lump a vessel unto honour or unto dishonour,” as he shall see fit? Or has the “clay any right to say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus [Note: Romans 9:20-45.9.21.]?” If the Maker choose to mar the vessel the very instant he has formed it, he has a perfect right to do so: nor would the vessel have any reason to complain. So has God exactly the same right over us [Note: Jeremiah 18:6.]. He has not injured us, because he did not make us of the highest rank of created intelligences: nor would he have done us any injury, if he had made us devoid of reason, like the beasts? If, when he endued us with reason, he had again bereaved us of it; or if he were at this moment to deprive us of all the advantages we enjoy; we should have no ground of accusation against him: he has “a right to do what he will with his own [Note: Matthew 20:15,];” nor is he called to “give an account to us of any of his matters [Note: Job 33:13.].” But when we arraign his conduct, he is willing to have his cause tried before a tribunal of his own creatures, and to place sinners themselves upon the seat of judgment. His permission, yea, his entreaty, to them is, “Judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard [Note: Isaiah 5:3.].”]
Viewing now the court assembled, let us hear,
The pleadings opened—
[Here is evidently an accusation implied; namely, God has both injured us, and even “wearied” us, by his oppressive conduct: and to this the Almighty, standing as a defendant before the court, answers, by challenging inquiry; and, with conscious rectitude, he says, in the face of his accusers, “Testify against me.” Declare wherein I have injured you: “declare it, that ye may be justified [Note: Isaiah 43:26.].”
Have I injured you by any undue strictness in my laws? Point out one that could have been dispensed with, or one that could have been lowered. They are all reducible to love: they require nothing, but that you should “love God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength; and, that you should “love your neighbour as yourselves.” Wherein could any abatement have been made? Point out, in any one particular, wherein these requirements are too strict; or whether they be not, in every respect, “holy and just and good [Note: Romans 7:12.].”
‘Have I injured you at all in my providential dealings? You may not be so elevated in rank and affluence as others: but the human race is a body; and the body cannot be all eye, or all ear: it must have hands and feet; and every member must have its proper office: every member, too, must seek its happiness in the good of the whole; and be as willing to contribute, in its place, to the welfare of the rest, as to have its own welfare furthered by the rest. But it may be, that you have been peculiarly afflicted, in mind, or body, or estate. Be it so: but have you been afflicted beyond your deserts? “Can a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins [Note: Lamentations 3:39.]?” Hadst thou had thy desert, thou wouldst long since have been “in hell, without so much as one drop of water to cool thy tongue:” and thy sufferings are infinitely short of that; yea, and are mitigated also by numberless consolations. And art thou aware of all the ends for which these afflictions are sent? What, if they have been sent to call thee to repentance, and ultimately to save thy soul? Thou shouldst, then, be rather adoring me for them with the liveliest gratitude, than be complaining of them as injuries wantonly inflicted on thee.
‘Perhaps it is of the sanctions of my law that thou complainest: they disquiet thee; they appal thee; the dread of them makes thy life a burthen to thee. But what less than heaven wouldst thou appoint for the reward of my faithful servants? or what less than hell for the punishment of those who rebel against me? The object both of the reward and of the punishment is the same—to make thee flee from sin, the only true source of misery; and to make thee follow after righteousness, which is a certain prelude to glory. Both sanctions are intended equally for good: the one, to operate on thy hopes; the other, on thy fears: and both together to secure thine everlasting happiness. But it is of the threatening only that thou complainest: thou thinkest it hard that such a punishment as death, eternal death, should be annexed to one transgression of my law. But I have told thee, that “the wages of sin is death [Note: Romans 6:23. ὀψώνια, the provisions given to the soldiery.].” The provisions which were the payment of a Roman soldier were surely no very extravagant remuneration for his services: nor is eternal punishment an undue recompence for sin: the penal evil of damnation does not in the least exceed the moral evil of sin. Only let it be considered what sin is, and against whom it is committed, and its turpitude and malignity will be found perfectly to justify the judgments denounced against it.
If there be any other matter which mine accuser has to lay to my charge, let him bring it forth: I am prepared “to plead with him:” let him “testify against me;” and let the court, before which we stand, judge between us.’]
The charges being thus, for want of an explicit statement on the part of the accuser, inquired into, let us attend to,
The replication made—
[As far as relates to a vindication of Jehovah, in reference to some particular points, an answer has been provided in the allegations themselves: and, as nothing more specific is stated as the ground of complaint against him, all further vindication of him is waved: and now the complaints on his side must be brought forward. This is done in another part of Scripture, where the very complaints which are preferred against God are retorted by him on his accusers. “Thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob; but thou hast been weary of me, O Israel. Thou hast not brought me the small cattle of thy burnt-offerings; neither hast thou honoured me with thy sacrifices. I have not (as thou pretendest) caused thee to serve with an offering, or wearied thee with incense; but thou hast made me to serve with thy sins, and wearied me with thine iniquities [Note: Isaiah 43:22-23.43.24.]” Thus, also, in the passage before us, God prefers his charge against his accusers: “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, Aaron, and Miriam. O my people, 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 [Note: ver. 4, 5.]:” that is, ‘Call to mind the mercies I have vouchsafed to you, from the time I brought you out of Egypt, till your entrance into Canaan; and then say, whether you have cause to complain of me as acting unkindly towards you; or whether I have not rather reason to complain of you, for your base ingratitude, and your multiplied transgressions against me?’ To the same effect may God well reply against us. ‘You complain of me as acting oppressively towards you. Look at the redemption which I have vouchsafed unto you; and not by power only, but by price, even the precious blood of my only dear Son;— a redemption, too, not from a mere temporal bondage, but from sin and Satan, death and hell. Look also at the counsels which your great adversary, the Devil, has given, and at the efforts which he has made for your destruction; and see how I have preserved you in the midst of all; “from Shittim,” where the counsels were given, “to Gilgal,” in the very land of your inheritance. Look at these things, and then say, whether thine accusations against me are just; and whether there be any terms too strong wherein to state thy baseness and impiety?]
To this reply nothing is added. The truths contained in it being undeniable, not a word is spoken by way of rejoinder: the righteousness of Jehovah is admitted; and, by the consent of all parties, we have,
The cause adjudged—
[As in the case before us, so in all cases “will God be justified when he speaketh, and be clear when he is judged [Note: Romans 3:4.].” Brethren, you may now offer your complaints as you please; and, whilst God is not permitted to be heard, you may have it all your own way: ‘You are quite as good as you need to be; and God is unreasonable in expecting you to be better. The denunciations of his wrath are a mere fallacy: they will never be executed: he would be unjust, if he were to proceed in accordance with them: you have nothing to fear: you act in a very rational and justifiable way, whilst you live to yourselves and to the world, rather than unto him: and whatever he may have said to the contrary, “you shall have peace, though you walk after the imagination of your own hearts [Note: Deuteronomy 29:19.],” and trample under foot his holy laws.’ Of all this you may he confident, whilst God is not heard: but let him be heard, and even you yourselves shall be judges in your own cause. Let him be heard, and not one of you will have a syllable to offer in your own defence, and much less in crimination of your God. If the man that had not on the wedding-garment was silent (was muzzled, as the word means [Note: Matthew 22:12.],) much more will you, if you will bring your matters to a trial here; and, at all events, when standing before the judgment-seat of Christ. Indeed I am persuaded, that the cause between you and your God is already adjudged, even in your own consciences: for, where is there one of you who will venture seriously to arraign the conduct of his God, and not acknowledge, that “God’s ways are equal, and that it is his own ways only that are unequal [Note: Ezekiel 18:25; Ezekiel 18:29.]?”]
Conceiving then the cause terminated, I will offer a few words,
In a way of candid appeal—
[Is there one amongst us that will still persist in “charging God foolishly [Note: Job 1:22.]?” When God asks, “What iniquity have ye found in me, that ye have gone far from me [Note: Jeremiah 2:5.]?” will any of you venture to accuse him as the cause of your miscarriages? When he further asks, “Have I been a wilderness to Israel? a land of darkness? Wherefore say my people, We are lords; we will come no more unto thee [Note: Jeremiah 2:31.]?” will any one amongst you dare to maintain the charge that is here supposed? No: you all know that the fault is altogether in yourselves. You know, that God is worthy to be loved and served; and that to consecrate yourselves to him is “a reasonable service [Note: Romans 12:1.].” You know well, that you can neither substantiate your own accusations against him, nor rebut his accusations against you. I will, therefore, proceed to address you,]
In a way of salutary advice—
[Offer not excuses now, which will not avail you in the day of judgment. That time is quickly coming: and then God will be heard, whether ye desire it or not. You will not then have to make your cause good against a man like yourselves, but against the Omniscient and Almighty God. Cease, then, to determine from your own statements alone. Let God be heard speaking to you in his word. Try your case fairly, according to that book which you have in your hands, and by which you will be judged in the last day [Note: John 12:48.]. Be candid in weighing both sides of the question, and in giving “judgment according to truth.” Then you will surely acknowledge, that by the law you are justly condemned; and that “God is true, though every man be made a liar [Note: Romans 3:4.].” But need you, on that account, despair? No. “If you have sinned, you have an advocate with the Father, even our Lord Jesus Christ; who is also the propitiation for your sins [Note: l John 2:1.].” Put your cause into his hands; and though condemned by the law, you shall be acquitted by the Gospel: for through this Saviour you shall have all your past “iniquities blotted out,” and a righteousness given to you that shall be perfectly commensurate with all the demands of law and justice [Note: Romans 3:21-45.3.22.]. Then, in the presence of the whole assembled universe, shall you stand approved; and “God himself be just in justifying” and rewarding you [Note: Romans 3:25-45.3.26.]. To that day, so terrible to the impenitent and unbelieving sinner, you may look forward with confidence and joy: for though guilty in yourselves, you shall be “accepted in the Beloved [Note: Ephesians 1:6.];” and, though in yourselves deserving of the heaviest condemnation, you shall receive “a crown of righteousness that fadeth not away.”]
THE SUM OF PRACTICAL RELIGION
Micah 6:6-33.6.8. 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? 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?
IN human judicatories, offenders are arraigned, witnesses examined, sentence passed, in order to the punishment of crimes. But God has raised a tribunal, to which he summons his offending creatures, in order that when their mouths are stopped, and they plead guilty before him, he may pardon their iniquity, and restore them to his favour.
We have, in the chapter before us, God bringing a charge against his people, and calling upon the hills and mountains to judge between them. He first challenges them to allege any thing against him that can in any respect excuse their disobedience, or extenuate their guilt: and, when they are unable to do it, he proceeds to set forth his conduct towards them as the greatest aggravation of their guilt. He instances this in two particulars; in his exertions for them when he brought them out of Egypt into the wilderness; and in his kindness to them just when he was bringing them out of the wilderness into Canaan; when he overruled the evil purposes of Balaam, and constrained him to bless those whom he had been hired to curse. This having produced on some the desired effect, a repenting Jew is introduced, anxiously inquiring how he may be reconciled to his Maker, and serve him acceptably in future? and God, instead of inexorably consigning him over to the punishment he has deserved, prescribes to him the way wherein he must walk, and wherein he shall obtain the favour he desires.
Some have understood these words as proceeding from Balak and Balaam: but Balak had no such wish to please God: on the contrary, he wanted nothing so much as to destroy his people: and Balaam expressed no such solicitude to lead Balak to a holy life; but, on the contrary, taught him how to ruin the souls of God’s people, by tempting them to an illicit intercourse with the daughters of Midian.
The view before given seems to be the more just: and agreeably to it we shall consider,
The inquiries of an awakened soul—
A person convinced of his lost estate, cannot but desire to obtain peace with God—
[The most abandoned sinner, previous to the illumination of his mind by the Spirit of God, will be regardless of his state, and unconcerned about the account which he must give of himself at the judgment-seat of Christ. But, when once his eyes are opened to see his guilt and danger, he can no longer be indifferent about his eternal interests: he feels that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of God; and, however hardened he may have before been, he will cry out with agony of mind, “What shall I do to be saved [Note: Acts 2:37; Acts 16:30.]?” — — —]
But the ways he devises for his restoration to the Divine favour are invariably erroneous and absurd—
[The Jew, like all others of his own nation, first proposes a compliance with the ordinances of the ceremonial law; then, if that will not suffice, he will multiply them, so us to offer, if possible, thousands of rams instead of one, and “ten thousands of rivers of oil,” instead of about one or three pints, prescribed for the meat-offerings [Note: Leviticus 14:10; Leviticus 14:21.Exodus 29:40; Exodus 29:40.]. If this be not of sufficient value, he is ready to offer even his first-born son; determined, that neither the heathen deities shall be more honoured than Jehovah [Note: 2 Kings 17:16-12.17.17.], nor Abraham himself perform a more self-denying act of obedience than he [Note: This idea will account for such a proposal in the mouth of a penitent Jew. Genesis 22:2; Genesis 22:16.].
Such are the means whereby men still hope to recommend themselves to the Divine favour. They will multiply rites and observances far beyond what God himself has required: they will very readily submit to penances, and mortifications, and all manner of painful discipline: but to part with their bosom lusts, and to obtain a thorough renovation of their souls, they have no wish: they rest in external services; and substitute them in the place of an inward change of heart, and a thorough conversion unto God. And though we are not shocked at such views, as we are at the proposals of the Jew, yet are they, in fact, as derogatory from the Divine honour, and as unsuitable to the end proposed, as the grosser conceptions that are expressed in the text. The inquiries may be considered as twofold; first, How shall I obtain reconciliation with God? and next, How shall I walk so as to please him? Now is there any thing in external ceremonies, of whatever kind they be, calculated to answer either of these ends? Can superficial penitence, and ritual observances, worthless as they are in themselves, and still further debased by a presumptuous affiance in them, stand in the place of deep contrition, humble faith, and universal obedience? — — —]
Their futility will appear from,
The answer of God to them—
God “has shewn to every person what is good”—
[It is true that God did require offerings and sacrifices under the law: but he did not require them in lieu of obedience [Note: Isaiah 1:10-23.1.17.]; nor in preference to obedience [Note: 1 Samuel 15:22.]; nor at all for their own sake [Note: Psalms 50:4-19.50.14. (Here is the same controversy as in the text,) and Psalms 51:16-19.51.17.]: when used in any of these views, they were even hateful in his sight [Note: Amos 5:21-30.5.24.Isaiah 66:3; Isaiah 66:3.]: and on account of the abuse made of them, he calls them “statutes which were not good [Note: Ezekiel 20:25.].” He had declared by Moses, that the thing which alone he required, and to which all the ceremonial ordinances were subservient, was, the obedience of a humble and devoted heart [Note: Deuteronomy 10:12-5.10.13.].]
And the things specified in the text have an exclusive title to that character—
[Our blessed Lord, apparently referring to these words, throws the true light upon them [Note: Matthew 21:23.]. He shews that the Pharisees substituted ceremonial in the place of moral obedience: and that, while punctilious and exact in outward observances, they neglected those things which God principally required, “judgment, mercy, and faith.” These are the very things mentioned in the text: for the “walking humbly with God” evidently implies a humble and believing dependence on him.
Behold, then, what the Lord our God requires of us. First, we must “do justly.” It is in vain to think that we can ever please God, if we be not honest and just in all our dealings. Truth in our words, and integrity in our actions, are so essential, that a man may as well call himself an angel as a Christian, if he be allowedly defective in either. An adulterous Christian, or a murderous Christian, is not a greater contradiction in terms, than a lying Christian or a dishonest Christian. Hear this, ye professors of religion; and examine whether in your several trades and callings a dependence can be placed upon your word; and whether you are careful to “keep a conscience void of offence towards God and man:” and let it never be said of you, “They will talk about religion indeed, but they will lie and cheat as much, and perhaps more, than other people: a man of the world is more to be depended on than they.” O, if you give occasion for such a scandal as this, cast off your religion at once; or else get it purified from these base and damning defilements.
Next, We must “love mercy.” Justice admits of no degrees: we must be just or unjust; and therefore we are told to do justice. But mercy has gradations that are of an unlimited extent: and therefore we must love mercy; or we shall never attain such a measure of it as will adorn our holy profession. Mercy includes every act and office of love, at least as far as relates to the distressed, the indigent, or the offending. And this disposition must be cultivated in all its branches with assiduity and delight. This constitutes the image of God upon the soul: and therefore we are exhorted to “be merciful, even as our Father which is in heaven is merciful.” Indeed if we shut up our bowels of compassion from a needy brother, all pretences to the love of God are vain and hypocritical [Note: 1 John 3:17.]. Hear then again, ye who profess godliness; and bring your experience to the touchstone. See whether you are filled with tenderness and compassion towards the bodies and souls of your fellow-creatures? See whether you not only do a kindness when called upon, but whether you “devise liberal things,” and deny yourselves with a view to the more extensive exercise of benevolence? Look at a professor that is hard-hearted, griping, covetous, vindictive; what a monster does he appear! How unlike to that adorable Jesus who laid down even his own life for his very enemies! Are there such people in the world? O “tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askclon.”
Finally, We must “walk humbly with God.” We have already shewn the construction which our Lord puts upon these words, and that without any force, they include the most essential doctrines of the Gospel. Indeed this requisition comprehends all our duty to God, as the two foregoing do our duty to our neighbour. Now our duty to God is, to “walk with” him, as Enoch and Noah did; and to walk “humbly” with him in a believing dependence on his grace to help us, and his mercy to pardon our defects. Without this, our attention to relative duties will be of no avail. This chiefly distinguishes the true Christian from a proud self-righteous Pharisee. There certainly are people of the world, who are eminent for their honour and integrity, their benevolence and liberality: but when we inquire into their secret walk with God, they are found miserably defective; and especially with respect to the humiliation of their souls, and their exercise of faith on Christ. It is in the relative duties, that the hypocrite fails; and in the duties to God, that the defects of the moralist appear. But both of them, though in different ways, are departed from God, and in the high road to destruction. Examine yourselves, therefore, ye decent and externally blameless characters; search and try how it is with you in your secret chambers; see whether you be not habitually and allowedly wanting in respect of brokenness of heart, and a steadfast cleaving unto Christ? And remember, that, while you cherish such pride and self-sufficiency in your hearts, you are as far from heaven as the most abandoned profligate; for “God will resist the proud, and give grace only to the humble [Note: James 4:6.].”]
We shall conclude with a word of caution,
To the careless and secure—
[We hear this passage quoted by many, with a view to subvert all the fundamental doctrines of Christianity: ‘Tell us not,’ say they, ‘about regeneration, or faith in Christ: this is my religion; “Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” ’ But can it be supposed that the prophet intended to contradict every other part of the inspired writings, and to tell us that morality was all, and Christ nothing? It has already appeared, from the words of Christ himself (wherein he seems to have referred to the very passage before us,) that “faith is one of the weightier matters of the law;” and that an acknowledging of ourselves to be lost sinners, and a believing in Christ for salvation, are absolutely essential to a humble walk with God. Let not then this mistaken confidence deceive you. Rest not in such an interpretation of the textas directly opposes the whole tenour of Scripture. But, if you will persist in this perversion of God’s word, inquire, Whether you have perfectly, and at all times, complied with these directions? and know, that if you have not, you shall be judged out of your own mouth, and be condemned by your own law.]
To those who are concerned about their souls—
[As you must shortly appear before God, it becomes you to inquire, “wherewith you shall come before him with acceptance?” and in answering this important question, there are two things against which you must guard with equal care, namely, a self-righteous dependence on your own works, and a presumptuous hope of salvation, while you live in any known sin, whether of commission or of omission. Nothing but Christ’s obedience unto death can form a proper ground of your hope: yet nothing but a life wholly devoted to God can evidence your interest in Christ. If your faith be productive of good works, it is lively, and saving; if not, it is dead, worthless, delusive. Seek then a humble faith in order to a holy life. If ye will offer sacrifices, let them be “those of a broken and contrite spirit:” if ye will “give a first-born for your transgression,” let it be God’s First-born, yea, his only-begotten Son. But never forget that your duties to God and to your neighbour are of equal and immutable obligation; and that according to your performance or neglect of them you will be acquitted or condemned at the last day.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Micah 6". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany