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Arise, contend thou before the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice
God’s controversy with Israel
In this text we have God offering to plead before the sinner.
The parties, who are they? On the one part, the Lord of universal nature. On the other part, man, Israel, the Church. The manner of pleading this cause. Who can coolly hear this language? At the sound of these words conscience takes fright. The matter of controversy is, the whole conduct of man to God, and the whole conduct of God to man.
I. Hear what complaints man has to bring against God, and what, God has to answer. That a creature should complain of his Creator should seem a paradox. We are apt to complain of God on three accounts: His law seems too severe, His temporal favours too small, and His judgments too rigorous.
1. Are not the laws of God just in themselves. What is the design of those laws? Is it not to make you as happy as possible? Are not those laws infinitely proper to make you happy in this world? And doth not God exemplify these laws Himself? What does God require of you, but to endeavour to please Him?
2. Complaints against God as the governor of the world. Man complains of providence; the economy of it is too narrow and confined, the temporal benefits bestowed are too few and partial. This complaint, we allow, has some colour. But from the mouth of a Christian it cannot come without extreme ignorance and ingratitude. If the morality of Jesus Christ he examined it will be found almost incompatible with worldly prosperity. Temporal prosperity is often hostile to our happiness. Had God given us a life full of charms we should have taken little thought about another.
3. Complaints against the rigour of His judgments. If we consider God as a Judge, what a number of reasons may be assigned to prove the equity of all the evils that He hath brought upon us. But if God be considered as a Father, all these chastisements, even the most rigorous of them, are perfectly consistent with His character. It was His love that engaged Him to employ such severe means for your benefit.
II. Hear what complaints God has to bring against man. Every one is acquainted with the irregularities of the Jews. They corrupted both natural and revealed religion. And their crimes were aggravated by the innumerable blessings which God bestowed on them. Apply to ourselves--
1. When God distinguishes a people by signal favours, the people ought to distinguish themselves by gratitude to Him. When were ever any people so favoured as we are?
2. When men are under the hand of an angry God they are called to mourning and contrition. We are under the correcting hand of God. What are the signs of our right feeling and mood?
3. To attend public worship is not to obtain the end of the ministry. Not to become wise by attending it is to increase our miseries by aggravating our sins.
4. Slander is a dangerous vice. It is tolerated in society only because every one has an invincible inclination to commit it.
5. If the dangers that threaten us, and the blows that providence strikes, ought to affect us all, they ought those most of all who are most exposed to them.
6. If gaming be innocent in any circumstances, they are uncommon and rare. Such is the controversy of God with you. It is your part to reply. What have you to say in your own behalf? (J. Saurin.)
God’s appeal to His people
The prophet is directed to plead with Judah, and to expostulate with them for their rebellious backslidings. The prophet is directed to address himself to inanimate nature; to summons the very senseless earth itself, as it were, to be an auditor of his words, and an umpire between God and His people. There is something, indeed, very solemn and awful in this appeal. The prophet was directed to proclaim, in the face of all nature, the equity and justice of God’s dealings; and to challenge, as it were, a scrutiny from His people. He condescends to put Himself (so to speak) on trial, to demand an investigation into His dealings, and to plead His cause as man with his fellow man. Having exhibited the claims which God had upon the grateful obedience of His people, and, by consequence, the inexcusableness of their revolt, the prophet next introduces, in His figurative description, the Israelites as being struck with alarm and consternation at the condition whereunto their transgression had brought them, and, in the excitement of their minds, as seeking to appease the anger of a justly offended God by the most costly and abundant sacrifices. May we not take up the words of the prophet, and, adapting them to our own times and circumstances, say, “The Lord hath a controversy with His people”? May we not, as Micah did, stand forth to challenge a hearing for the cause of the Lord, to show of His righteous dealings towards us, to plead for the equity and mercy of His government, and to leave the folly and ingratitude and rebellion of those whom He hath so signally favoured utterly and absolutely without excuse? We cannot plead ignorance, or that He is a rigid taskmaster whose service is hard and oppressive. Nor can a conscious sense of unfitness and depravity be pleaded as an excuse for not complying with the invitations of a gracious God to engage in His service. Why, then, is it that men refuse to listen to the gracious calls of God? There is but one plea that can be urged with any apparent reason; namely, the utter inability of fallen man, of himself, to turn unto God, or to make one movement toward that which is good. While it is acknowledged that the grace of God alone can change the carnal mind, and renew the corrupt heart, and incline the apostate will, yet we must ever bear in mind that God worketh not without means; He accomplisheth not without methods and instruments. In the work of grace it is precisely as in the works of nature, that God hath appointed certain steps to be followed, in the economy of His providence, on the part of man, which He doth cause to be successful to the production of their object. Then we must use the means of His special appointment; humbly come to Him in faith and prayer, to pray that we may have grace to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. (J. B. Smith, D. D.)
Man in the moral court of history
I. Here is a call on man to give audience to Almighty God. “Hear ye now what the Lord saith.”
1. Natural. What is more natural than for a child to hang on the lips and attend to the words of his parent? How much more natural for the finite intelligence to open its ears to the words of the Infinite!
2. Binding. The great command of God to all is, “Hearken diligently to Me; hear, and your souls shall live.”
3. Indispensable. It is only as men hear, interpret, digest, appropriate, incarnate God’s Word that they can rise to a true, noble, and happy life.
II. Here is a summons to inanimate nature to hear the controversy between God and Man. “Arise, contend thou before the mountains.” The appeal to inanimate nature--
1. Indicates the earnestness of the prophet. Every minister should be earnest. “Passion is reason” here.
2. Suggests the stupidity of the people. Perhaps the prophet meant to compare them to the dead hills and mountains. As hard in heart as the rocks.
3. Hints the universality of his theme. His doctrine was no secret; it was as open and free as nature.
III. A challenge to Man to find fault with Divine dealings. This implies--
1. That they could bring nothing against Him.
2. It declares that He had done everything for them. (Homilist.)
Hear ye, O mountains, the Lord’s controversy--
The influences of external nature
The striking feature of Micah’s prophecy is the mode in which he appeals to the objects of nature. While Isaiah borrows his imagery from the sublime realms of the imagination; Jeremiah, from the scenes of human life; Ezekiel, from the realms of the dead; and Daniel, from allegories connected with history; Micah paints from the mountain, the tree, and the flood. In the text, and many other passages, we see the tendency of this prophet to associate with the external forms of nature the presence and the judgments of God. It is very natural that the objects of God’s creation should speak to the human mind of Himself. The sublime silence of nature raises our mind far above the thoughts of this world, and fixes its gaze on the Eternal.
1. The objects of nature in their different ways speak of Him, and show in singular fashion how He is ever present at the events of mankind.
2. The objects of nature indirectly speak of religion and of heaven to the thoughtful mind. They embody and call out from us each elementary principle of religion. Majesty and sublimity are suggested by the mountain; repose by the evening sky; joy and gladness by that of the morning, etc.
3. The objects of nature become the home of association. This power of association that connects us to the scenes of daily life is essentially religious; it appeals to all the higher and holier parts of our nature when severed from their earthly dross.
4. There is another way in which this appeal to nature becomes a very practical matter. Nature is monotonous; so is God. We find it where we left it. The scene of nature which witnessed our early devotion becomes in after years our accuser and condemnation.
5. And nature suggests the Divine cause, the intelligent mind, the adaptation of the physical world to the wants of His creatures. But while this observation of nature so elevates the mind to God, it has its faults and infirmities, which are its own. Without the Word of God the works of God may mislead us. There is a further infirmity; the tendency there is in the objects of nature to cast melancholy and despondency over the mind. There are two elements of our nature which produce conscious happiness--hope and practical energy. To make hope effective, there must be a certain amount of connection between our practical energy and itself. The essence and health of our being rests in overcoming difficulties. Where we find no opportunity of doing this we become conscious of feelings without their natural vent, and the result is melancholy and ennui. But when we come to gaze upon the sublime forms of nature, none of our practical energies being of necessity called out towards them, we turn away with impressions of disappointment and sadness: the objects are too much for us, because we are not necessarily practically concerned upon them. It is singular that few people are more negligent of the call to Divine worship, are more blunted in their appreciation of Christianity, than the farming and agricultural classes. Manufacturing populations are much more actively intelligent. (E. Munro.)
O My people, what have I done irate thee?--
The Lord’s controversy with us
God offers Himself to be judged as to His dealings.
1. Is there nowhere a cry to provoke the Lord to ask, What have I done unto you? What should the heart reply? It concerns us to consider. When we fall short in putting to account the whole store of God’s mercies we are sure to charge the deficiency upon God’s niggardliness, and not upon our own unfaithfulness; for self-justification is always the immediate consequence of self-inflicted loss. It is the very extent of God’s mercies which makes men murmurers and complainers; for by so much the more they have failed to take due advantage of them. What would one reasonably expect from those highly favoured of God? But what is the real state of things? Discontent, disobedience, unthankfulness, unwatchfulness, murmurings, rebellion, open violation of God’s statutes, public profanation of His ordinances, common and declared neglect and contempt of His sacraments and means of grace, are the prevailing features of the picture. What a question to be put by a merciful God and a redeeming Saviour, to any one of us--“What have I done unto Thee?” Do we incur the rebuke?
2. The question goes further yet,--“Wherein have I wearied thee?” How cutting a question to the people that profess His name! (R. W. Evans, B. D.)
The Lord’s controversy
The history of Israel is a most humbling and affecting picture of the depravity of the human heart. The Sinai covenant, though it had much of Gospel in it, yet was essentially a covenant of works. The turning point of its blessings was the nation’s obedience. In the New Testament the legal dispensation is ever opposed to the Gospel covenant, in which the turning point is not our obedience, but the obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ; yet are its blessings dispensed in such a way as infallibly secures the highest obedience of the renewed soul. The first covenant excited to holiness, and in those that were real saints, and lived above their covenant, it promoted it, but did not secure it; but the Gospel not only excites on higher grounds, not only promotes to the highest point, but infallibly secures sanctification in all that really receive it.
II. God’s affecting complaint of His ancient people. They were wearied of the Lord and His pleasant service. And as they sowed, they reaped. They reaped misery and destruction. But is this confined to them? How often even the true saints of God seem weary of their God! How soon we are weary of His services; of His rod; aye, even of God Himself,
II. God’s most tender expostulation. Such an expostulation from a grieved fellow creature would be wonderful, but consider the dignity of Him who speaketh. Let unwearied kindness, unbroken faithfulness, tender love, most unmerited and most sovereign grace all speak. Oh, that this view of the Divine character were laid on all our hearts and consciences! Oh, that our souls might be stirred up deeply to repent of past unwearinesses, to take them to the Fountain opened for sin and uncleanness, and there receiving fresh springs of life and love, consecrate ourselves unweariedly to His glory. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
What can man accuse, God of?
It is impossible to predict what impression the same truth will make upon the different minds of men. But surely, all the terrors of God could not more effectually overawe the heart of a sinner than the passage of Scripture which I have now read. It strikes my ear like the last sound of God’s mercy. Instead of vindicating His authority, does He condescend to plead the reasonableness of His law? Then His forbearance is almost exhausted, and the day of grace is nearing its end. The supreme Lord of heaven and earth appeals to sinners themselves, for the mildness and equity of His government; and challenges them to produce one instance of undue severity towards them, or the least shadow of excuse for their undutiful behaviour towards Him.
I. A direct proof of the goodness of God, and of his tender concern for the welfare of His creatures. This appears from--
1. The unwearied patience which He exercises towards transgressors.
2. The sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.
3. The various means which God employs for reclaiming men from their ways of folly and vice. He is not only the gracious Author of the plan of redemption, but He has likewise set before us the most powerful motives to persuade us to embrace His proffered favour, and to comply with His designs of mercy.
4. The fact that He has selected some of the most notorious offenders in the different ages of the world to be monuments of the riches of His grace.
II. Objections urged against the mildness and equity of the Divine administration.
1. Is it the holiness and perfection of His law that is complained of? This complaint is both foolish and ungrateful. The law of God requires nothing but what tends to make us happy, nor doth it forbid anything which would not be productive of our misery.
2. Is it the threatening with which the law is enforced that is complained of? But shall God be reckoned an enemy to your happiness because He useth the most effectual means to promote it? There is a friendly design in all God’s threatenings.
3. Perhaps the objection is to the final execution of the threatenings. But would the threatenings be of any use at all if the sinner knew that they would never be executed?
4. Do you blame God for the temptations you meet with in the world, and those circumstances of danger with which you are surrounded? But temptations have no compulsive efficacy; all they can do is solicit and entice.
5. Do you object that you cannot reclaim or convert yourselves? But you can use the means appointed. He who does not employ these faithfully, complains very unreasonably if the grace is withheld which is only promised with the use of the means. The truth of the matter is, that the sinner has no right to complain of God; he destroys himself by his own wilful and obstinate folly, and then he accuses God, as if He were the cause of his misery. Consider that to be your own destroyers is to counteract the very strongest principle of your natures, the principle of self-preservation. (H. Blair, D. D.)
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, Aaron, and Miriam
Reasons for gratitude
Ingratitude often meets with, what it always deserves, the most grievous punishment.
The highest aggravation of this ingratitude is, when the goodness of God is despised, when His loving kindness is disregarded, and the mercies the Supreme Being bestows on poor depending creatures are neglected, if not altogether forgotten, by those to whom they were graciously afforded. Then a grateful remembrance of any remarkable mercy, or signal deliverance, is a duty the most reasonable in itself, and well pleasing to God. This important duty is not confined to private persons; but if God bestows on a nation public mercies, all the members of the community should join together to express their gratitude and thankfulness.
1. Consider the great reason the children of Israel had thankfully to remember the mercy in the text mentioned.
(1) The miserable condition they were delivered from with regard to their bodies and souls.
(2) Their wonderful deliverance from this unhappy state.
(3) The state they were brought into.
2. Show how applicable this is to our present circumstances. (Reference is to the reformation of the Church of England from popery, in the time of Queen Elizabeth.) (Richard Mayo, M. A.)
O My people, remember now
A Divine reading
This chapter is a pathetical expostulation of God with His chosen people, the Jews, for their ungracious demeanour and miscarriage towards Him.
This expostulation is carried in a gracious manner. God pleads the justice and equity of His cause by a threefold argument.
1. By an attestation of the dumb and senseless creatures (Micah 6:1).
2. An appeal and reference to themselves.
3. A commemoration of many blessings bestowed upon them.
He insists upon three fundamental blessings, by all which He manifests His favour towards them, and aggravates their impiety and ingratitude against Him.
1. A redemption from a long and tedious bondage; from a grievous and miserable bondage, and from a vile and base bondage.
2. The placing of a gracious administration over them.
3. He watches over them, against all attempts of their malicious enemies. He defeated Balak and Balaam’s conspiracy. And this makes up the full sum and measure of God’s goodness to His people.
I. The commemoration itself. Here is a gracious compellation. “O My people.” It imports three things. It is a speech of claim and possession. It is a speech of love and affection. It is a speech of recall and invitation. Here is a forcible quickening of memory. “Remember now.” God appeals to His ancient mercies. He kept them upon record; registered them up in His holy Book; framed them into songs of commemoration; put them into the form of an oath; founded the sacrament of the passover as a commemoration. These remembrances are provocations of thankfulness, and obligations to obedience, and encouragements to faith.
II. The benefit or blessing to be commemorated.
1. Of the danger that beset them. Notice the ground of it; the manner of it; the matter of the conspiracy.
2. The issue out of this danger. The answer to Balak contains God’s gracious deliverance of His people from Balak’s malicious and wicked intendment. In it there is a strict prohibition, a gracious inversion, a just retorsion.
III. The end and purpose of this gracious deliverance. That ye may understand the righteousness of the Lord. (George Stradling, S. T. P.)
That ye may know the righteousness of the Lord--
The importance of just ideas of God
If idolaters are zealous in the service of imaginary deities, we ought much more to be engaged in the service of the one living and true God forever. The ideas which people entertain of their God do actually exert great influence, and produce interesting effects upon their disposition and conduct. It has been observed by men of the best information, that idolatrous nations have cherished the dispositions and indulged the vices which they have attributed to their deities. Virtue and vice are measured by the supposed disposition and character of their idols. The descendants of Abraham imagined that God was partial to them and vindictive to other nations. Hence they despised and hated the nations around them, and looked upon them as dogs and outcasts from God. Then it is easy to see the high importance of entertaining just notions of the Lord our God. If we believe that God is partial, arbitrary, and vindictive we shall cherish a similar disposition and practice, as far as we make any sober pretensions to religion. And we ought to imitate the moral character of God. See what results if we think God arbitrary, hard and revengeful, or passionate and wrathful. Our relations with our fellows will match our thoughts of our God. The same applies to better thoughts of God. It would be difficult to set in a just light the moral purity, excellence, and happiness of a character formed by such a glorious and perfect model as that of the infinite God, who is emphatically love. But most persons arrive at mature years without acquiring just, enlarged, and honorary notions of God, especially on some important points and traits of character. How shall this evil be remedied? By a careful attention to the Bible, where the character of God is fully revealed. By excluding from the character of God everything that appears to be hard and unreasonable, partial and vindictive--everything that would be thought unreasenable and unworthy in a good man, a wise and affectionate parent, or an upright and compassionate judge. (Ezra Ripley, D. D.)
Wherewith shall I come before the Lord
This is a momentous question, which the world has ever been asking--“How shall we approach God?
” For men feel that they are separated from Him,--that there is something which prevents access, and they have sought how to remove the obstacles which intervene.
I. Three methods likely to effect the desired purpose. They are--
1. Outward acts. What must I do? This is to a certain extent natural, for we cannot obtain any substantial good in the world without work, or its equivalent, money. Some attempt one particular deed, such as self-denial, others a notably moral life; others, again, obsequious religious observances.
2. Pious gifts. “With burnt offerings.” This shows the innate idea of atonement or propitiation. There is a universal consciousness of innate guilt and sinfulness, and there is a universal feeling that it must be punished. There is also in the text the idea of purchase. “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams?” It is not uncommon for men to think that they can bribe God by outward acts of philanthropy, by building churches or hospitals.
3. Personal suffering and self-denial. “Should I give my firstborn,” etc. How terrible the consequences of such an act! Yet men have thought that mortifying the natural sentiments of humanity would gratify God. Many have voluntarily submitted to mutilation, to pilgrimages; they have even sacrificed their children in the hope of obtaining eternal life.
II. The text points out the only true method of acceptance with God. The prophet rebukes these popular ideas in a quiet manner. He says,--There is no excuse for your ignorance. Then why do men ask? It is because of their want of faith, for “seeing they see not.” He hath showed this in His Word, in His precepts, in His examples of life. We have here as components of that way--
1. Holiness. God hath required of thee to do justly. We must not forget that justice is due to God as well as to man. Just dealing demands reverence, faith, trust towards God in Christ, as much as honesty towards our fellow creatures.
2. Mercy. This means tenderness of disposition, and an ability to receive God’s message as well as to show our mercy to others.
3. Humility. Accepting God’s method of salvation, leaving our hopes and destiny with Him, receiving the sacrifice wrought out for us at Calvary; not to think higher of himself than a man ought to think. To live justly is to live in Christ, for in Him all justice is fulfilled. To love mercy is to imbibe Christ’s spirit, for He is the manifestation of Divine mercy. To walk humbly is to follow Christ’s teaching, for He inculcates humility, self-denial, and trust. (J. J. S. Bird, B. A.)
The world’s cry concerning the method of being brought into fellowship with God
It is not that God has withdrawn from us; it is that we are alienated from Him by wicked works. Here is one of the world’s cries. Where can we get a satisfying response? There are only three answers--
1. That which has reference to the presentation of sacrifices. This is the way in which the heathen have sought to bridge the gulf between themselves and their Maker. Yes, and the old Hebrew too. Millions of victims have been slain, and oceans of blood have been shed. But is this satisfactory? To say that we are to return to God through sacrifices, however costly and abundant, is not quite sufficient. In the first place, it is repugnant to our reason to suppose that such sacrifices can be acceptable to the God of love and mercy. In the second place, it is opposed to the declarations of the Bible. “For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it. Thou delightest not in burnt offering” (Psalms 51:16). “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me? saith the Lord” (Isaiah 1:11). “And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering” (Isaiah 40:16). “None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: for the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth forever” (Psalms 49:7-8). And in the third place, such sacrifices, as a fact, have never removed from man this feeling of distance from his Maker. The gulf remains as deep and broad though the cattle upon a thousand hills were offered.
2. There is that which has reference to a right moral conduct. “He hath 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 just what philosophy would say. Think the true, love the good, and do the right, and you will be accepted of your Maker--you will come back into a friendly state with Him. This is satisfactory so far as it goes; for to do the right thing is reconciliation with heaven. Those who live a holy life walk with God, and are happy in His fellowship. But the question is, How to come into this morally right state? And the philosophy which presents this method has no answer to this question.
3. There is that which has reference to the intervention of Christ. This is the answer of the Bible. It teaches that Christ is man’s way back to fellowship with his Maker. “I am the way: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.” “Through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). But, now, in order to see the satisfactoriness of this answer, it may be necessary to ask the question, In what way does Christ bring man into fellowship with God? Negatively--First: Not by repealing any of the laws of moral obligation binding on man. Christ’s intervention did not render man in the slightest degree less bound to obey every precept in heaven’s moral code. That code is as immutable as God Himself, Secondly: Not by dispensing with any of the settled conditions of spiritual culture and improvement. Christ does not make men good in any miraculous way. Observation, reflection, study, resolution, faith, practice, these are the means by which souls must ever advance. Thirdly: Not by effecting any change in the Divine mind. The mission of Christ was the effect--not the cause--of God’s love. Christ was its messenger and minister, not its creator. Nor did He change God’s purpose. It was according to His eternal purpose that Christ came, and to work that purpose out was Christ’s mission. What, then, does He do? He is the Reconciler. He reconciles not God to man, but man to God. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.” In Christ, as the reconciler or remover of this felt distance between man and his Maker, we discover a twofold adaptation of the most perfect kind.
I. In Him we see a special approach of God to Man. In Christ there is a change in the Divine manifestation. He in Christ comes to man in man’s own nature. “God is manifest in the flesh.” In man He reveals the image of His invisible self. In this manifestation two great obstructions to man’s union to God are removed.
1. The obstruction of inappreciableness. God in nature is so vast as to be inappreciable by man, but in the Man Christ He comes within our horizon, and within the compass of our faculties.
2. The obstruction of guilty dread. Was there an obstruction to this union on God’s part? If so, who shall describe its nature? Men, the world over, feel that they have sinned, and are liable to a terrible punishment. This sense of guilt hangs as a portentous cloud over the soul of the world. Men, by millions, often stagger with horror under its black shadow, and anxiously seek some shelter from the threatened storm. This guilty dread first drove man from his Maker. “I heard Thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid.” The soul, from the laws of its nature, flees from the object of its dread. Fear is the centrifugal force of the spirit; it drives it from its Maker. This dread of God is as universal as sin, and as deep as the heart of humanity. It accounts for all the horrid views that men have of their Maker, and for all their hostility to Him in heart and life. Now, how does God in Christ remove this? He comes to man in just such a form as is adapted to expel fear, and inspire hope and trust. In what form could He come but in the form of a man to effect this? Would a revelation of Himself in all His absolute glory do it? No! this, if it could be borne by mortals, would only raise the terror to a more overwhelming degree. Would a revelation of Himself through angelic natures do it? The Eternal, to disarm man of this terrible fear, comes to him in man’s own nature. Are you afraid of a Teacher, who, free from all assumption of superiority, scholastic stiffness, and pedantic utterance, mingles with the crowd, and utters truth the most lofty to the imagination, the most reasonable to the intellect, the most real to the conscience, the most inspiring and ennobling to the heart? Transport yourselves in thought to the mountains of Capernaum, and the shores of Galilee, and listen to Him who speaks as “never man spake.” God is in that Teacher, and through Him He says, “It is I, be not afraid.” Are you afraid of a Philanthropist, the most tender in heart, the most earnest in affection, the most race wide in sympathy? Follow Jesus of Nazareth during the three years of His public life, as He goes “about doing good.” Count the diseased that He heals, the hungry that He feeds, and the disconsolate that He comforts.
II. In Him we see a special attraction of Man to God. This is another step. He not only comes to man, but He attracts man to Himself. He does this--
1. By awakening the highest gratitude. Gratitude attracts, draws the soul into loving sympathy with its benefactor. Kindness is a magnet that draws the object to its author. God in Christ displays such infinite mercy as is adapted to inspire the soul with the strongest gratitude. Where is there mercy like this? He loved us and gave Himself for us.
2. He does this by awakening the highest love. Love attracts, love draws us into the presence of its object and makes us one with it, feel as it feels, and move as it moves. God in Christ is moral beauty in its sublimest form. All conceivable virtues centre there, and radiate thence, in infinite perfection. Holiness, as it streams directly from the Absolute One, would be too strong for our vision, would dazzle and confound us, but in Christ it comes mildly and fascinatingly, reflected through the humanities of our nature.
3. He does this by awakening the highest hope. Hope draws the heart to its object, Thus we are drawn to Him. We feel that “our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ.” (Homilist.)
The religion of man, and the religion of God
I. The religion of man. “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord?” etc.
1. This is simply the voice of man’s religious instinct seeking after God. In Pope’s universal prayer, there is truth, as well as error. “There are,” says the late Dr. Vaughan, “tendencies in man which make religion, in some form, a necessity of his nature; but it is no less certain that there are tendencies in him which ensure that the religion chosen by him will not be a spiritual one,” etc.
2. Consciousness, history, the Bible, prove that this inward light has become darkness. Man’s religious faculty has become impaired, and reveals its degeneracy in superstition and cruelty. God must be propitiated, but by “thousands of rams, and ten thousands of rivers of oil,” and by the sacrifice of their own offspring. “Where there is no vision,” etc.
3. The ignorance in which man has involved himself is rectified by God’s revealed will. “He hath showed thee, O man,” etc. Reason has failed to discover a resting place for the soul. The course of ages witnessed the trial, and in the most favourable circumstances.
II. God’s religion. “He hath showed thee, O man.” Notwithstanding their gorgeous economy of symbol and sacrifice, they were taught that the symbol could not save, that God desired truth in the inward parts.” The religion of God is summed up under three heads--
1. “Do justly.” Love to God ensures love and justice to man.
2. “Love mercy.” This strikes at the selfishness of our nature.
3. “Walk humbly with thy God.” The soul of religion is here; reconciliation--communion--reverent, constant converse with God. (John Lewis.)
The ancient question
A question which has troubled mankind in every age. For the religious feeling is natural to man. All nations have had some idea of God, and have worshipped Him according to their notion of His nature and attributes. Consequently, strange answers have been given to this inquiry, which have led to cruelty and human sacrifices. Men have mistaken the character of God.
1. The question which the heathen tried to answer is still waiting for our individual answer. In the minds of all thinking and earnest persons the question will sometimes arise, Am I living as God intended me to live? Am I at peace with God? There are times when we are brought face to face with the living realities of life, and of death, and of eternity.
2. To this question many and different answers have been given. The old Jews thought the best way to approach God was by the sacrifices of the Levitical law. Will God be pleased with outward observances and external show? Can we gain God’s favour by bribing Him with flattery and gifts? Not Jews only, many Christians have had such fancies. What does Isaiah say to such religionists? God wants no gifts and offerings. Can God’s favour be obtained by suffering? Shall I lacerate my tenderest affection? Shall I give up everything that is pleasant? Hundreds have asked themselves this question. But they have utterly mistaken the character of God. They thought He was pleased with torture and self-sacrifice. But He is a God of love, our Father, and not a hard taskmaster.
3. To this question the prophet gives us the true answer. God would have us live justly, and mercifully, and humbly before our God. Our Father’s will is that we do our duty where He has placed us, to God, and to our fellows, and to ourselves; that we be just, with a justice that hates oppression, and will not tolerate wrong; that scorns petty vices and despicable meannesses; merciful, with a mercy that condescends to the helpless, the fallen, and the despised; and humble, with an honest reverence towards God, the Author and Giver of all good things. This is what God requires, goodness, and justice, and sincerity, and love. (John Vaughan, M. A.)
The awakened sinner
Here the purport, though not the express words, of a conversation between Balak and Balaam is introduced, in order strongly to describe the slate of a mind harassed with guilt, and clearly to point out the only way in which relief can be obtained.
I. Show what is implied in the anxious inquiries of the awakened sinner.
1. Such inquiries imply the existence of a sense of sin. Sin is the transgression of the Divine law--an infraction of the immutable rule of righteousness which God hath given to His creatures--a state and course of rebellion against His rightful authority; and an opposition to His character, and the interests of His holy dominion. Every child of Adam is the subject of moral failure, chargeable with moral delinquency, and exposed to all the evils of moral ruin. The great bulk of mankind are totally insensible to their real condition. Sooner or later the spell on them will be broken. The idea of God presents itself. The character of God is seen as infinitely pure and inflexibly just. The sinner finds he has broken His law in innumerable instances, in thought, word, and deed. There is often some particular transgression to which the sinner is addicted.
2. The questions before us imply a conviction of the indispensable necessity of expiation. The awakened sinner is convinced, not only that God has a right to demand satisfaction for the injury done to His moral character, in the view of intelligent beings, but that reparation of one kind or other must be made, else it is absolutely impossible for the offender to escape. Under the influence of such views, the sinner asks, “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord,” etc. His concern is, to get the obstacle removed which intervenes between him and the favour of the Almighty. Something, he conceives, must be done: some sacrifice must be presented; a suitable expiation must be made.
3. The words imply a willingness to go any length, and to be at any expense, if only expiation can thereby be made, and the desired pardon be obtained. It is to this natural principle of the carnal mind that we are to ascribe the numerous austerities and works of supererogation practised by the members of the Church of Rome.
4. All these anxious inquiries, with all the self-righteous efforts to which they give rise, discover an awful and lamentable ignorance of the only way of salvation. How can a creature that is bound by the laws of his moral constitution to yield a perfect, uninterrupted, and perpetual obedience to the reasonable demands of his Maker, throughout every period of his being, make compensation by any subsequent conduct for former omissions and transgressions?
II. the cheering import of the prophet’s reply. Revelation alone solves the difficulty. In the Bible, and in the Bible alone. Of this Divinely authenticated communication the substance is this: that the whole human race, having, by transgression and rebellion, forfeited the Divine favour, and become obnoxious to the everlasting infliction of the Divine wrath, and being utterly destitute of all aid from themselves and from all creatures, the Infinite Jehovah, whose laws they had broken, and whose authority they had rejected and contemned, Loved with amazing pity, sent His own equal Son into the world to suffer, the just for the unjust: that by the infliction of the punishment upon Him as the substitute of the guilty, a sufficient manifestation might be afforded of the Divine opposition to sin, while mercy is extended to every sinner that betakes himself by faith to the Lord Jesus Christ as his Saviour, his Righteousness, and his Strength. Whoever, of all the guilty sons or daughters of Adam, believes in the all-sufficiency of the atonement which the Son of God made with His infinitely precious blood upon the Cross, is freed from his obligation to punishment, and obtains a right to all the privileges and all the blessedness of the kingdom of heaven. The atonement is that good which we individually require. Nothing else can satisfy the mind, remove its fears, or inspire it with a good hope towards God.
III. A description is here given of evangelical holiness. There are two rocks on which men are ever disposed to make shipwreck of their souls: the one is self-righteousness; the other is, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness. Multitudes go down to the grave with part of the concluding words of the text as a lie in their right hand. Piqueing themselves on the probity of their character before men, the charity which they distribute to the poor, and their going regularly through the outward forms of religion, they imagine that they have Divine authority itself for believing that all will be well with them at last. But the words admit of no such construction. They do not, in fact, apply at all to unconverted and unbelieving sinners; but to such only as have found the good which the maintain good works. (E. Henderson.)
The good way of coming before the Lord
The question of an awakened soul. “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord?” An unawakened man never puts that question. He does not like to think of God, or the claims of God.
I. The piercing question of every awakened soul.
1. An awakened soul feels that his chief happiness is in coming before God. This was unfallen Adam’s happiness. This is the joy of holy angels. This is the true happiness of a believer.
2. An awakened soul feels difficulties in the way. Two great difficulties. The nature of the sinner. When God really awakens a soul, He shows him the vileness and hatefulness of himself. He directs the eye within. The nature of God. “The High God.” When God really awakens a soul, He generally reveals to him something of His own holiness and majesty. See the cases of Isaiah and Job. The anxiety of the awakened soul leads to the question, “Wherewith?” It is the question of one who has been made to feel that “one thing is needful.” Anything he has he would give up to get peace with God.
II. The answer of peace to the awakened soul. “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good.” Nothing that man can bring with him will justify him before God. There is nothing a man would not do--nothing he would not suffer--if he might only cover himself before God. Tears, prayers, duties, reformations, devotions--the heart will do anything to be righteous before God. But all this righteousness is filthy rags. For--
1. The heart remains an awful depth of corruption.
2. Supposing the righteousness were perfect, it cannot cover the past. Old sins, and the sins of youth still remain uncovered. Christ is the good way. The good way to the Father--
(1) Because He is so suitable.
(2) Because He is so free.
(3) Because He is so God-glorifying.
All other ways of salvation are man-glorifying; but this way is God-glorifying.
III. God’s requirement of the justified.
1. God requires His redeemed ones to be holy.
(1) He requires you to “do justly”; to be just in your dealings between man and man.
(2) To “love mercy.” This is the brightest feature in the character of Christ. If you are in Christ, drink deep of His Spirit.
(3) To “walk humbly with your God.”
2. Remember that this is God’s end in justifying you. He loved the Church, and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it. If you are not made holy, Christ died for you in vain.
3. Whatever He requires, He gives grace to perform. Christ is not only good as our way to the Father, but He is our fountain of living waters. Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Look as much to Him for sanctification as for justification. (R. M. M’Cheyne.)
On the atonement
The first rites of all religions but one are rites of propitiation. Men everywhere, feeling themselves sinners, justly conceive it necessary that, in order to obey God acceptably, they must first be reconciled to Him, and obtain indemnity for past offences. Among the pro fessors of idolatry, ancient and modern, the principle of self-atonement has taken up its residence. Even we may think that our sufferings ought to be accepted as a partial atonement for our offences. The mistake is not man’s conviction of the necessity of an atonement, but the way in which that atonement is sought. The mistake is man’s making his conviction a foundation for his pride to erect its fancied claims on the Divine justice, and his self-righteousness to flatter itself with the hopes of meritorious exertion. God has provided the necessary burnt-offering. He has provided it in a way at once the most suitable to His own glory, the most congenial to the harmony of the Divine attributes, and adapted, with unspeakable wisdom and felicity, to the lost and hopeless state of His guilty creatures. Being justified by His grace, through the atonement which He has accepted, we have a ground of confidence before God. And being reconciled to God through the death of His Son, we should walk acceptably before Him, in newness of life. (C. R. Maturin.)
How to come before God
Assuming the fall of our first parents, human reason brings us to the conclusion that we are all naturally the worthy objects of God’s wrath and punishment. Scripture seems to teach this, and our experience confirms it. How then can we be delivered out of this state? Wherewith shall we come before the Lord?
1. Shall we come with repentance and amendment of life? No. These may be indispensable conditions of salvation, they can, in no sense, be its meritorious and procuring cause.
2. Shall we come before Him with burnt offerings? etc. There is no virtue in animal sacrifices to wash out the guilty stain of our offences.
3. Shall we give our firstborn for our transgression? Would human sacrifices do, if animal sacrifices would not? No. They would be neither an adequate nor perfect sacrifice, such as God could accept.
4. Is there any created being that would suffice to redeem us? There is no creature that could meet the two required conditions, and be, at the same time, a perfect and an adequate sacrifice.
5. The apostle answers the question in Ephesians 2:13-18. Christ was the victim everyway adapted to the necessities of the case. He was a perfect sacrifice, and He was a sufficient sacrifice. (Ch. G. Lawson, M. A.)
The principles of the Reformation and of Protestantism
I propose to consider that peculiar element of Christianity which, though not exclusively held by the Churches of the Reformation, yet it was the glory of the Reformation to have brought fully out. The warning of the prophet Micah consists of three parts, which contain within themselves the doctrine and practice of all true Protestant religion.
I. the authority to which all religious questions must be referred. The question of authority is one by which men in these days are often perplexed. It is said that our business is not to ask what is taught, but only to know who it is that teaches us. This is not the way in which the Bible speaks of authority. We are to heed what it is that is said, and what it is that commends itself to our own consciences. The person, the office, no doubt is something; but the message, and the substance of the message is much more. The real authority which guides and ought to guide us, is that which needs no external support or credentials. Everywhere the true voices of God make themselves heard and felt, if not immediately, yet at last, not by external weight, but by their own intrinsic force. The real teachers and oracles of mankind have been those who, in every age, and in every station, and in every race of men, have been raised up by God. The Bible is the great and supreme authority, because the Bible contains the greatest of all truths in the most enduring, persuasive, and exalted form. We do not believe the Bible to be true because it is inspired; but we believe the Bible to be inspired because and in proportion as it is true. There is, therefore, no need to go to any external official source for guidance.
II. The great question which has to be settled. “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord?” That question is the root at once of all religion, and of all superstition. Man feels that there is a Being above him, whom he longs to propitiate and to approach. Between weak, frail, sinful man, and the great, supreme, holy God what is there in common? Many ways have been devised. In the early ages of the world it was by the offering of gifts--the gifts of the earth, the gifts of slain animals, the gift even of human life. In Christian times other modes have been adopted, also of the most various kinds. Even the wildest and the worst of them is instructive as expressive of the yearning of the human heart, even in its lowest condition, to bridge over the gulf, to express its reverence for the Most High, to be at peace with its Maker. The modes of approaching God might be wrong, but the question how we are to approach, and how we are to please the great Father of all human” spirits, is the question which cannot be put aside.
III. The Divine answer to that question. This is the answer to the question how God is to be approached. There is no other answer--by justice, by mercy, by humility. Though this answer came from a heathen prophet, it was yet the Word of God, and commends itself at once to every enlightened heart and conscience. It needs no defence; it needs no explanation. It is the foundation of all true religion, because it rests on the only true idea of the character of God. This is true theology; this is a true account of what God is, and of what God requires. False religion imagines that God can be pleased by other means than by a good, merciful, and humble life. True religion teaches that whatever else may be pleasing to God, there is and there can be nothing so pleasing to Him as doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly. There are many other great truths in the Bible besides this; but this is the one master truth which runs through from first to last, controls and covers all the rest. And this is the teaching of the New Testament. Through that ideal of human justice, mercy, and reverence, was the Divine nature manifested in Jesus of Nazareth. And it is the end and meaning of the death of Christ. Not by the blood of bulls and goats, but by the eternal spirit of holiness and truth, He offered Himself. It is the end and meaning also of His resurrection. He rose again that we might rise above the follies and sins of the world, that we might “die unto sin and live unto righteousness.” (Dean Stanley.)
The true sacrifice for sin
Does any one ask, “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord?” Then we have a cheering answer for him. No such way of acceptance as is suggested in this passage. It is a mistake to imagine that by an increased attention to outward services, and by a devotion to specified duties, he can compensate for the violations or omissions of days gone by. God requireth another sort of service than that of mere outward ceremony. He is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth: He requireth a new heart and a right spirit. Nor can the most painful efforts or arduous instances of self-punishment or self-denial avail. We are too apt to have a low estimate of the sinfulness of sin. It requires a deep sense of the holiness and majesty of God to estimate sin in some degree aright. When we do, we may comprehend more adequately the nature of that precious and costly atone ment of God’s own providing, set forth in Scripture as a sufficient sacrifice and oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. We are not competent, in the weakness of our present powers, to comprehend these matters fully. Should the newly awakened sinner ask what sacrifice he shall offer; what self-infliction shall he undergo? we say, No such things are required of thee. Look to the Cross of Christ as the heaven sent remedy for the disease of the soul, and as the Divinely appointed way of reconciliation with God. (J. B. Smith, D. D.)
Outward and inward religion
Does the prophet, in these words, really condemn all outward rites and sacrifices as such? All that the prophet seems to inveigh against was enjoined by the express commands of Almighty God. Neither Micah, nor Isaiah, nor any other prophet, had authority to dispense with the requirements of the Mosaic law. And our blessed Lord came “not to destroy the law.” The office of the prophets was clearly to prepare the way for a more spiritual religion than the law had given to Israel. Their mission was to perfect, or rather to prepare the way for perfection. And so they disparaged legal ordinances, not as useless or wrong, but because they were imperfect. The law was given for a particular use, to be a schoolmaster to bring men to Christ. But if men made it an end, instead of the way to an end, no wonder that the prophets lifted up their voices in warning against it. You are not necessarily arguing for the total disuse of a thing, because you maintain its proper use against its abuse. Christianity grafted a higher state of things upon what was already in existence. What the prophets say is, in effect, this,--“Your sacrifices are nothing in themselves, but connected with the truth they typify and shadow forth, they have a value and dignity. But while you practise injustice, cruelty, and pride, they are utterly valueless in the sight of God. You cannot please God with these alone, unless you are pleasing Him by the discharge of your social and moral duties.” The truth for us is, that no attention to the externals of religion can satisfy the demands of our Creator and Redeemer if it be not accompanied with a holy and virtuous life. (J. C. Chambers, M. A.)
God requires what He does
Taking the text as a revelation of the character of the Speaker Himself, we may say that God does in His own economy and sphere what He asks us to do in ours. What does this revelation do?
1. It does away with all ostentatious piety. Many of us would be glad to buy ourselves off from judgment. We may not put the question into words; it is not, therefore, less a question of the soul. What can I buy my liberty for? No amount of oil shall stand between me and release; no number of calves and rams shall for a moment deter me from paying the fine, if so be I can have the arrow drawn out of my heart, the poison withdrawn from my blood. But the Lord will not have all this. He does not want your gaiety but your simplicity; He does not want you to drive up to His door in chariot of gold and with steeds of fire, that he may receive your patronage; He sends word down to you by the first and humblest servant He lights upon,--Go and say all I want is that thou shalt do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God. This will take all the paint off our religion; this will deplete our decoration; this will leave us in ruins as to external appearance; but there are ruins that are true palaces. It will do away with all our ostentation of another kind than that which is merely physical, ornamental, or decorative; it will do away with all our intellectual contributions and displays of patronage in reference to the Cross. The Cross does not want your intellectual homage.
2. This revelation vindicates God from the charge of delighting in animal sacrifices. Does He love to see the smoking hecatomb? No; when He has required blood of the merely animal kind, it has always been symbolically, typically, or prefiguratively; it was a necessary part of the alphabet of spiritual lessons. He must begin His lessons where the scholar can begin. Everything the Lord did require of a physical and external kind was only in a temporary sense, the whole thought of God leading up to spirituality. “God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”
3. This revelation destroys the notion of piety by proxy. “My firstborn for my transgressions.” We are always willing to make away with other people; we are exceedingly liberal with the lives of others. We philosophise and theorise with admirable serenity, as if we had abundance of leisure in which to contemplate the tragedy of mankind, and we say, If a thousand perish, and ten thousand be saved, the gain is on the side of salvation. No! That is false; that is a misuse of the principle of majorities. There ought to be no man lost. And no man will be lost but the son of perdition. If after the Lord has dealt with a man by His providence and by His Spirit, and by all the mystery of the Cross, there is found in that man nothing but devil, he must go to his own place, and to his own company. But the Lord will do the handling upon a scale we cannot comprehend, and if the Lord gives up any human soul we may well say sadly, Amen. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
But he hath shewed thee, o man, what is good
Piety and true religion
What is good? You may conceive of true piety as of a tree of life planted in the midst of Paradise, in the midst of the Church, spreading as it were its branches; whereof these three in the text are the fairest. Justice and uprightness of conversation; mercy and liberality; and humility. The sacrifices and ceremonious parts of God’s worship were “good” but ex institute, because God for some reason was pleased to institute and ordain them. In themselves they were neither good nor evil. When they were commanded, it was for the sake of that good effect which the wisdom of God could work out of them. That which is good in its own nature is always so. Piety and true religion are older than the world. Ceremonies are confined to time and place. The ceremonious part of religion was many times omitted, many times dispensed with, but this good which is here shown admitteth no dispensation. Mere outward performances of some parts of the law were not done out of any love to the law or the Lawgiver. Formal worshippers do not love the command; they obey for the sake of something else. Outward performances and formality in religion have the same spring and motive with our greatest and foulest sins. The same cause produceth them, the same considerations promote them, and they are carried to their end on the same wings of our carnal desires. This formality in religion standeth in no opposition with the devil and his designs, but rather advanceth his kingdom and enlargeth his dominion. This formality and insincerity is most opposite to God, who is a God of truth. Innocence, integrity, and mercifulness are the good man’s sacrifice. They were from the beginning, and shall never be abolished.
II. What is good, and its manifestations. View this good as it stands in opposition to the things of this world, which either our luxury or pride or covetousness has raised in their esteem and above their worth, and called good, as the heathen have done their vices. Good things are not in themselves, but only as they are subservient to the good in the text. Look at the good of the text.
1. As fitted and proportioned to our very nature. God built up man for this end alone, for this good;--to communicate His goodness to him, to make him “partaker of a Divine nature,” to make him a kind of god upon the earth, to imprint His image upon him, by which according to his measure and capacity he might express and represent God.
(1) By the knowledge not only of natural and transitory things, but also of those which pertain to everlasting life.
(2) By the rectitude and sanctity of his will.
(3) By the free and ready obedience of the outward parts and inward faculties to the beck and command of God.
2. As fitted to all sorts and conditions of men. Freedom and slavery, circumcision and uncircumcision, riches and poverty, quickness and slowness of understanding, in respect of this good, of piety and religion, are all alike. Religion is no peculiar, but the most common and the most communicative thing that is. This good is every man’s good that will.
3. As lovely and amiable in the eves of all. This is the glory of goodness and piety, that it striketh a reverence in those who neglect it, findeth a place in his breast whose hand is ready to suppress it, is magnified by those who revile it, and gaineth honour when it cannot win assent.
4. As filling and satisfying us. That which filleth a thing must be proportioned to it. “There is nothing in the whole universe that is taken for enough by any one particular man”; nothing in which the appetite of a single man can rest. Only this good here in the text can fit it, because it is fitted to it.
5. As giving a relish and sweet taste to the worst of evils which may befall us, whilst with love and admiration we look upon it. It maketh those things which are not good in themselves useful and advantageous to us. This good is open and manifest to all. It is published by open proclamation, as a law, which hath “a forcing and necessitating power.” But if the object be so fair and visible, it may be asked, How cometh it to pass that it is hid from so many eyes, that there be so few that see it, or see it so as to fall in love with it and embrace it? Three hindrances are mentioned by Isidore of Pelusium.
(1) Narrowness and defect of the understanding and judgment.
(2) Sloth and neglect in the pursuit.
(3) Improbity of men’s manners, and a wicked and profane conversation.
Then let us cleave fast to this good, and uphold it in its native and proper purity against all external rites and empty formalities; and, in the next place, against all the pomp of the world, against that which we call good when it maketh us evil.
III. The promulgation of this good as a law. “What doth the Lord require of thee?” This is as the publication of it, and making it a law. And His will is attended with power, wisdom, and love.
1. By His power God created man, and “breathed into him a living soul.” Made him as it were wax, to receive the impressions of a Deity, made him a subject capable of a law. As God createth, so He continues man and protects him. From this ocean of God’s power naturally issueth forth His power of giving laws, of requiring what He may please from His creature.
2. As His absolute will is attended with power uncontrollable, so it is also with wisdom unquestionable. The “only wise God.” His laws are like Himself, just and holy, pure and undefiled, unchangeable, immutable, and everlasting. As His wisdom is seen in giving laws, so it is in fitting the means to the end, in giving, them virtue and force to draw us to a nearer vision and sight of God.
3. God’s absolute will is attended with love. These are the glories of His will; He can do what He will; He will do it by the most proper and fitting means; and whatsoever He requireth is the dictate of His love. Consider the form in which God’s requirements are presented, and the manner of proposing them. The prophet here does not “bid us do any great things.” When men pretend they cannot do what God requires, they should change their language; for the truth is, they will not. It is not only easy, it is sweet and pleasant to do what God requireth. Obedience is the only spring from whence the waters of comfort flow, an everlasting foundation on which alone joy and peace will settle and rest. Take in view the substance of these words of the text. The word “Lord” is a word of force and efficacy; it striketh a reverence into us, and remembereth us of our duty and allegiance. As He is Lord paramount, and hath an absolute will, so His will is attended with power, with that power which made thee. I cannot name the several ways we stand obliged to this Lord. We may comprehend all in that axiom of the civilians, “We have as many engagements and obligations as there be instruments and writings betwixt us.”
IV. Justice and honesty. We are no sooner men, but we are debtors, under obligations to God, to men, to ourselves. To “do justly” is to give every man his own, not to lay hold on, or alienate or deceitfully withdraw, or violently force from any man that of which he is the lawful possessor. Private justice is of far larger extent than that which is public, which speaketh and acteth from the tribunal. Public justice steereth by no other compass but the laws of men; but this by the laws of nature and charity. Justice and honesty in its full shape and beauty is fastened upon its proper pillars, the law of nature, and the law of the God of nature.
V. The love of mercy. Where there is no justice, there can be no mercy; and where there is no mercy, there justice is but gall and wormwood. Therefore in the Scripture they go hand in hand. Consider mercy--
1. In the fruit it yieldeth.
2. In its root.
VI. Walking humbly with God. Humility consisteth in placing us where we should be at the footstool of God. (A. Farindon, B. D.)
True religion a reasonable service
Virtue is essentially, and therefore inseparably connected with religion. It is not possible that a vitiated mind should have any proper relish for Divine truth. The animal man comprehendeth not the doctrines of the Divine Spirit. There is a strong and an insuperable reason in nature for this evident distinction between good and bad men in inquiries of religion, which is plainly this,--That every advance in celestial truth opens a prospect the most inviting to the virtuous, while the vicious man trembles at every ray of light which is let in on his disordered mind. It seems most natural to put the address of the text into the mouth of the king of Moab, in conversation with the prophet. Success against a numerous and victorious enemy engrossed the king’s thoughts. For this purpose he had recourse to the God of Israel, whose aid he endeavours to engage by a profusion of offerings in every kind of his substance, or even, if all these should fail, with the life of his son. The answer is such as well suited a representative of the Creator of the universe. “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good.” Whatever answers entirely the end for which it was made is said, in the Scriptures of the Old Testament, particularly to be good. That must be good indeed which serves admirably the purpose for which it was designed by infinite wisdom. To man alone is reserved the happy privilege of dedicating voluntarily his powers to the ends for which they were at first bestowed. This is good for man. It is naturally to be expected of him, upon whom the dominion of this world and the reversion of the next is conferred, that he should regulate his conduct by the laws of nature and of God. This is his rational worship. Obedience, arising from any other cause than moral motives, would be the motion of a stone, not the duty of a man, and consequently incapable of being in any sense acceptable to God more than the rising vapour, or the falling dew. It is most reasonable to suppose, that if ever the Creator of the world should vouchsafe to make any discovery of His intention relative to the conduct of man, the tables of revelation must contain a transcript of the laws of nature. “To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God” is the sum and great outline of the whole duty of man. To preserve a solicitous attention to God’s supreme direction, under a rational conviction of His paternal care; an equitable regard to the rights and interests of our brethren, His children; with a sensible concern for their infirmities and wants, a concern which must reach out its hand beyond the line of rigid justice. These offices are generally ranged by moralists under three different branches, as they relate to God, to mankind, and to the individual. However contracted or enlarged, this is the law of man; and this law is properly eternal and immutable, which is not so of any accidental or accessional appendages to religion. If this law were once as punctually observed as it is often plainly promulged, we should then have the same harmony in the moral as has always been in the natural world. (T. Ashton, D. D.)
What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy god?--
Three things God wants of us
I. Explain the whole passage. The prophet alludes to the story of Balak and Balaam. The lesson drawn from the story is this,--How unavailing are the most costly sacrifices, how far from being truly acceptable to God, when not attended with true piety, justice, mercy, and a good disposition of the heart in those that offer them. For this was the case of Balak in the history told us. We have in the text a sort of dialogue betwixt Balak and Balaam, represented to us in the prophetical way. It might seem that Balaam’s advice was too good for him to give; but it is to be considered that Balaam’s character was of a mixed nature, had something good and something bad in it.
II. Raise observations on the passage.
1. This reference of one Scripture book to another is one of those internal marks of their truth and genuineness which, to men of true learning, gives great satisfaction in their study of the Sacred Scriptures.
2. How prone men must have been to rest in the mere outward performances of some acts of worship or devotion, to the neglect of those substantial duties of justice, mercy, and true piety; or that purity of heart and life which God more especially requires in those that worship Him. Learn here the harmony and agreement of God’s dispensations to mankind from the beginning of the world. Resolve to learn and practise the good lesson of the text. (O. Peters, M. A.)
What God requires
God had shown by His law what is good; but the prophet adds that it is “to do justly, to love mercy (or kindness), and to be humbled before God.” It is evident that, in the two first particulars, he refers to the second table of the law; that is, to “do justice, and to love mercy.” Nor is it a matter of wonder that the prophet begins with the duties of love; for though in order the worship of God precedes these duties, and ought rightly to be so regarded, yet justice, which is to be exercised towards men, is the real evidence of true religion. The prophet therefore mentions justice and mercy, not that God casts aside that which is principal--the worship of His name; but he shows, by evidences or effects, what true religion is. Hypocrites place all holiness in external rites; but God requires what is very different; for His worship is spiritual. But as hypocrites can make a great show of zeal and solicitude in the outward worship of God, the prophets try the conduct of men in another way, by inquiring whether they act justly and kindly towards one another, whether they are free from all fraud and violence, whether they observe justice and show mercy. Micah adds, however, “And to be humble in walking with thy God.” No doubt, as the name of God is more excellent than anything in the whole world, so the worship of Him ought to be regarded as of more importance than all those duties by which we prove our love towards men. The main object of the prophet was to show how men were to prove that they seriously feared God and His law: he afterwards speaks of God’s worship. Condemned here is all pride, and also all confidence in the flesh: for whosoever arrogates to himself even the least thing, does in a manner contend with God as an opposing party. The true way then of walking with God is, when we thoroughly humble ourselves, yea, when we bring ourselves down to nothing: for it is the very beginning of worshipping and glorifying God when men entertain humble and low opinion of themselves. (John Calvin.)
God’s requirements and God’s gift
The prophet read off rightly God’s requirements, but he had not anything to say about God’s gifts. So his word is a half-truth. The great glory of Christianity is not that it reiterates or alters God’s requirements, but that it brings into view God’s gifts. To “do justly,” etc., is only possible through repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
I. God’s requirements. In the text are the plain, elementary duties of morality and religion. It covers substantially the same ground, in a condensed form, as does the Decalogue, only that Moses begins with the deepest thing and works outwards, as it were: Micah begins at the other end, and starting with the lesser, the more external, the purely human, works his way inwards to that which is the centre and the source of all.
II. Our failure. There is not one of us that has come up to the standard. Micah’s requirements come to every man that will honestly take stock of his life and his character, as the statement of an unreached and unreachable ideal If then it is true, that all have come short of the requirement, then there should follow a universal sense of guilt, for there is a universal fact of guilt, whether there be a sense of it or not. And there follows a hopelessness as to ever accomplishing that which is demanded of us.
III. God’s gifts. The gift of God is Jesus Christ, and that meets all our failures. What a difference the conception of God as giving--rather than requiring--makes to the spirit in which we work! What a difference it brings into what we have to do. We have not to begin with effort, we have to begin with faith. First go to the giving God. Then accept His gift. And then say, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
On the extent of genuine religion
Most commonly the Scriptures press upon us, in the first instance, that supreme and affectionate faith towards God and Christ, which is the foundation of every Christian virtue. And then proceed to inculcate those pure principles, those holy tempers, and those good works which genuine faith in God and Christ will necessarily produce. Sometimes, however, solicitous to recommend the tree by a reference to the excellence of the fruit, they specify works in the outset; and then direct our views to that faith from which every acceptable work is to spring. Love to God and our Redeemer, whether mentioned first or last, must be the fountain from which every human duty is derived. Christ is the cornerstone of the belief and the practice of a Christian. Explain the different branches of human duty according to the order in which they are arranged by the prophet.
I. “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good.” So clearly hath God made known whatever is necessary to salvation, that they who attain not salvation shall stand without excuse. In the breast of every man God hath implanted a natural conscience. And He has given us His written Word. On every man He bestows power to attain eternal life. He ensures to every faithful suppliant the all-sufficient influence of His Holy Spirit, not only that it may enlighten the mind to understand the Scriptures,. but may also give grace to obey them. And He commands His ministers to preach the Gospel throughout the world to every creature. Then if you know not your duty, it is because you will not know it. If you perish through ignorance, it is because you prefer ignorance to understanding.
II. What then must we do to be saved?
1. You must do justly. You must be just in every part of every one of your proceedings. You must render to every man, cheerfully, and without delay, that which belongs to him. This rule obliges you--
(1) On all occasions to speak the truth. For a lie is not only a breach of your duty to God, but is also a breach of your duty to your neighbour.
(2) To be a faithful subject to the king: to submit to all who are entitled to authority over you.
(3) To keep from injuring the person and restraining the liberty of your neighbour.
(4) To avoid in any way injuring your neighbour’s property. And the methods in which this may be done are numberless.
2. You are to “love mercy.” Mercy signifies Christian charity in its largest sense. It includes everything which we mean by affection, benevolence, kindness, tenderness, mildness, meekness, patience, forgiveness; and by every other expression which implies goodwill to men. Observe the difference of the terms in which God requires of us first justice then mercy. We are to do justly; we are to love mercy. Justice admits of no degrees. If we are not perfectly just, we are unjust. But mercy is in its own nature capable of gradations. One person may be more merciful than another. Thou shalt love mercy then. Thy heart shall be constantly set on deeds of mercy, they shall be thy study; they shall be a delight unto thee.
3. You are to “walk humbly with God.” To walk with God signifies to be a faithful and zealous servant of God. We are to bring our whole hearts, as well as our actions, into subjection to the Divine will. Are you in prosperity? Walk humbly with your God. Let the Giver be glorified in His gifts. Are you in distress? Walk humbly with your God. Evidently then, to the Jew and to the Christian, the sum and substance of religion have ever been the same. (Thomas Gisborne, M. A.)
I. The root principle of all duty. “Do justly.” It is said that in some parts of Africa and South America certain races of men have been found with apparently no sense of justice in them, and of course no religion. It would be interesting to know how far the one is the cause or the consequence of the other. It may be said they have lost their religion, and with it all sense of justice, or, having lost all sense of justice, there is no groundwork or foundation for any religious principle to operate upon. The question comes before us in a practical shape. How are the wild creatures of our streets to be caught and tamed and domesticated; how are the principles of justice and morality to be imparted to them--in other words, how are they to be taught to “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God”? In the Hebrew law God laid a foundation, in justice and morality, for the Gospel; a foundation on which He afterwards reared the superstructure of a glorious Church, whose walls are salvation, and whose gates are praise. On this common platform of justice and morality we all meet, acknowledging the law of the God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all.
II. The root principle of all religion. “Love mercy.” We are not only to practise this virtue, and imitate this attribute of our Father in the heavens, but we are to “love mercy.” To love it we must see it in all its beauty and Divine perfection, and this we can only do in Jesus Christ. He is the mercy of God to us.
III. The root principle of the spiritual life. “Walk humbly with thy God.” To walk with Him humbly and reverently, as He reveals Himself in the pages of His Word, and in the person and work of His Son, is the privilege of His believing children. This humble walk with God is one of light, and joy, and triumph. The entrance is pleasant, so is the road; the company; and the end. (R. Balgarnie.)
Of the great duties of natural religion, with the ways and means of knowing them
In these words you have--
1. An inquiry which is the best way to appease God when He is offended.
2. The way that men are apt to take in this case.
3. The course which God Himself directs to, and which will effectually pacify Him. Dwell on this third point.
I. Those several duties which God here requires of us. The Jews reduced all the duties of religion to these three heads, justice, mercy, and piety: under the first two, comprehending the duties which we owe to one another; and under the third, the duties which we owe to God.
II. The ways and means by which God hath made known these duties to us, and the goodness and the obligation of them.
1. By a kind of natural instinct.
2. By natural reason.
3. By the general vote and consent of mankind.
4. By external revelation.
5. By the inward dictates and motions of God’s Spirit upon the minds of men. (J. Tillotson, D. D.)
The Lord’s requirements
I. The duties expressed by the prophet. They are most reasonable; there is nothing in them but what every enlightened mind will most cordially agree to.
1. To “do justly.” Not only to think and speak justly, but to act so--to act with honesty, integrity, and fidelity, without injuring, defrauding, oppressing or tempting to evil any one. To “do justly” is in every way to befriend your neighbour.
2. To “love mercy.” To take pleasure in acts of compassion, forgiveness, and kindness. The love of mercy is a very different thing from any act of professed mercy. Real mercy lies in the motive of kindness, and the love of it lies in the gratification felt in another’s benefit. The love of mercy is a mighty impulse to its exercise. The love of mercy gives an intensity to it.
3. To “walk humbly with God.” This indicates a teachable, submissive, thankful, patient, and dependent spirit; a close communion with God; and a progressive know ledge of the character and majesty of the Deity. As this knowledge dawns upon the soul, so does the soul sink into self-abasement. The great characteristic of walking with God on earth is trust in Christ.
II. The motives furnished in the text for the discharge of these duties.
1. One motive is derived from the exhibition of the Lord’s goodness.
2. Another from the authority of the requirement.
3. Another from the nature and reasonableness of the things required. (W. D. Horwood.)
The consummate result of all education consists in the power of applying a few scientific principles. Out of one clear rule or method spring all the products of the branching and luxuriant science of figures. So the highest art and achievement of man’s life is but the flowering of one or two germinal truths. The requirements of the text are easy to understand--worth whole tons of sermons and dissertations. And yet these are precepts which are not yet made practical in the hearts of men. It is the application of the theory that is requisite. These words of the text point out the entire essence of religion--vital, evangelical religion. Some people entertain a dread of plain propositions. They do not like to have religion put in simple words; they want it left with some vagueness and complexity mingled with it. In plain words, they suspect it is only good morality. They miss the vitality of religion, as they call it. There is nothing in these words concerning terms of salvation, or faith in the atonement. But we may be sure that all the essence and vitality of religion is here. Christ is here; because who can do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with his Maker, without that communion with Christ Jesus, and that inspiration of His Spirit, by which alone we are strengthened and guided to do these things? And what an advantage there is in having such a condensed statement of religion! It clears up things; it is like getting a glimpse of a star in heaven, and taking our latitude and longitude, when we have been drifting about on the dark waves of doubt. The words of the text set forth no light affair for our performance. The essence of all right doing, right feeling, and right living is here indicated. The text expresses nothing less than all morality, all philanthropy, all religion; the essence of all vital religion, and the highest spiritual life.
1. The foundation principle of morality is involved in the precept, “Do justly.” It is a compact summary of all social duty. It abolishes all standards of mere selfish advantage and worldly policy, commanding us to do the just, the true, the righteous thing, whatever may come of it in the way of personal or temporal consequences. Be just, in thought, deed, word, hand, brain, heart. What, then, is the proper idea of justice? There is a vast difference between law and justice--between human enactments and God’s everlasting requirements. Is your idea of justice that which is merely legal? Or is it to set up your individual will, your selfish standard, regulated only by parchment laws, no matter what the spirit of civilisation or the general good demands? With others justice only means the stern thing--eye for eye, etc. But in this way a man gets a good chance to deify his own passions, and think he is doing God service. Sometimes men reverse this a very little. They manage, by some sting of reproach, or some obnoxious word, to get their revenge. They are after their revenge all the while. But justice is a merciful thing. It may be severe, it is never merciless. True justice is the justice of charity. In order to do justly we should construe the conduct of others as we would have our own conduct construed by them. The text absorbs so much of our being as is occupied in doing. “Do justly.” It is a lesson that God has set in two words, but it may take man all his life to learn it. All action should be just action.
2. A requisition which calls for all the life and power of the most genuine philanthropy “Love mercy.” Here comes in the element of feeling coupled with doing. In all good and true performances there must be affection. Out of philanthropy springs justice, as, in its highest form, that springs out of the ocean depths of God’s love. The grandest justice in this world is that which is conceived by the spirit of an earnest, toiling humanity. For all good and noble ends we ought to love mercy. There can be no beneficent power in this world that does not spring from love. They who have the real love of mercy in them, rejoice when they can palliate. You never can lift men up, and bring them into God’s kingdom, by any other way than loving them and implicating yourself with them. And mercy is the essence of all love. If you want to love your fellowmen, have mercy on them. Loving mercy is the spring of all right feeling, as doing justly is of all right being.
3. The final requirement is to be religious--to walk humbly with thy God. Neither to be just nor merciful is the primal thing, for we cannot do so unless we come into communion with the Spirit of Almighty God. We cannot do a right thing save as we are inspired to do it. This is the very essence of all true religion--to walk humbly with, or before God. The religion of the Bible makes us walk with God. It gives us a sense of a personal relation to Him. The Bible makes God a kindred personality. We become like Him, and we obtain therefore in ourselves the real springs and powers of all good feeling and all good action. Then learn that there is something required which is more than mere exercise of the intellect--it is the surrender and sanctification of the will and the affections. A surrendering, transfiguration, regeneration of the heart that brings men into a position in which they can walk humbly with God, do justly, and love mercy. God is the inspiration of all human excellence the quickener of all human thought; and when we can walk with Him, we do not need anything else; we can walk with Him everywhere. (E. H. Chapin.)
The last gospel of science
Prof. Huxley calls this verse “the perfect ideal of religion.” And he says that “the true function of science is not to set herself in antagonism to religion, but to deliver her from the heathen survivals, the bad philosophy, and the science falsely so called, which have obscured her lustre and impaired her vigour.” Consider what this “perfect ideal” is, and what it involves. The prophet, whether Micah or Balaam, sums up the whole duty of man in doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. Can we accept this summary as setting forth the very substance of religion? Yes, if we are allowed to take the words of Micah in the sense in which he used them. Taken simply by themselves, indeed, and apart from their prophetic use, they postulate the existence of God, and of a God whose character is the standard and rule of the justice and mercy we are bound to show. A God, therefore, to whom we owe a constant obedience, with whom we are to walk in a living sympathy and communion, and toward whom our proper attitude is one of profound humility and devotion. What did a Hebrew prophet mean by a “just” man, if not a man who walked in all the commandments of the Hebrew law blameless? Whence did this man learn that justice must be tempered with mercy but from the self-same law? What was his standard of compassion and charity but the charity of God? Assuming the words of the text to mean only what a modern man of science would use them to mean, have you considered how much they involve; how difficult it is to apply them to the complex and often conflicting claims of human life; and how much more difficult it is to render them a living and constant obedience? Is it always easy to ascertain What “justice” demands? The fatal defect of all the ethical schemes put forward by those who reject revealed religion and yet are fain to find some substitute for it is that they take no account, or not sufficient account, of the fact and power of sin. We who believe in God and Christ contend that to men defiled and weakened by sin, only faith in God, revealed in Christ, will enable them to do their duty, and to embody the perfect ideal in their lives. (Samuel Cox, D. D.)
A great question answered
Without controversy the highest, noblest element in man is his moral nature, with all that the word involves. A man’s highest destiny can never be achieved if this element of his nature be neglected. To gain this end of conformity to our highest nature in moral and spiritual matters, we need to know the law of our being on this subject. The greatest practical question man can ask is, How shall I live? What shall I do to meet the highest destiny of which I am capable, both for time and eternity? This question the prophet answers. It can be answered in no other way. No man can answer it out of the depth of his own judgment. It cannot be answered by conscience, nor by expediency. The Church cannot answer it. Upon no human foundation can we build anything solid in ethics. See the completeness of the prophet’s answer.
1. The answer is practical.
2. It covers the whole ground. Two conclusions--
(1) Let us as individuals take no man’s authority in matters of duty.
(2) National security and prosperity depend upon the use and teaching of the Bible. (C. V. Anthony, D. D.)
The threefold law
This is the climax of an outburst of God’s rebuke and expostulation. He stoops to plead with His rebellious people. Here are two characteristics of the natural heart.
1. An insinuation that God is a hard, austere Master.
2. A readiness to yield all excepting the heart itself.
Notice that these three commands are linked together. The triple command cannot be dismembered. Notice that the order is logical, not that of historical development. Justice is the root, mercy the foliage, and godliness the fruit.
I. Deal justly. There may be a noisy zeal in religion while the scant measure, the wicked balance, and the deceitful weight are used.
II. Love mercy. The whole New Testament unfolds this idea. This is to be not an occasional act, but a habit; not in exercise when under pressure, but growing from an inward impulse.
III. Walk humbly with God. Lit. it is “bow low.” Thus we feel an invisible presence and power, and have fellowship with the Unseen. Walking with God involves five particulars.
1. Choice of Him.
2. Sense of His actual presence.
5. Constant dependence.
(1) This verse is commonly quoted by the enemies of Christ, mere moralists. But it is one of the most searching portions of the Word, and proves that by the law no flesh is justified, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
(2) Those who have fled to the Cross for refuge will find in this verse a new incentive to holiness. It is by a blameless life we are to illustrate to the world the genuineness of our faith and professions of godliness. Let us not frustrate the grace of God, but lovingly heed this threefold law, that we may at once prove to ourselves, and to the world about us, that we are truly the children of God. (J. H. Worcester, D. D.)
The great question of humanity
Apart from revelation man can only know of God through man. And so the guess of man concerning God in any age reveals that age’s heart. The answers given to the question, “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord?” greatly differ. Through them all the desire is manifestly to atone for bygone sin. Yet when we examine the offerings of atonement which man has laid upon the seen and unseen altars of the world, we cannot help exclaiming: What were sin if gifts like these would purchase cleansing? What were man if gifts like these could give him peace? And what were God if gifts like these could call forth His forgiving love? God’s answer to the deepest question of humanity reveals God’s character. He does not behold our efforts of atonement with complacency, as though we were climbing feebly up a righteous way. God regards our offerings of atonement with exalted scorn. We have in the text a great ethical doctrine to which the heart of universal man assents without reserve. All men feel, and ever will feel, that whosoever doeth these things shall doubtless live by means of them. If a man will “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before his God,” all heavens that are worthy of the name will open wide before him. We have here a scheme of holiness in three degrees.
1. If we would stand before the High God we must “act justly.” Justly in every relation of life. And we must be just to God, “presenting our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is our reasonable service.”
2. We must “love mercy.” In heaven, maybe, only justice is required. On this sin-stained earth mere justice, if it stood alone, may emphasise the evils that are here. We must add mercy to our justice. A merciful man will be honoured by his fellows as long as aught of the Divine remains within humanity. Mercy is a tree whose root is pity, and its branches stretch with healing leaves and refreshing fruits above all the helpless, and suffering, and needy, of every grade and kind. Blessed are they who are merciful on earth, for they shall obtain mercy when they stand before God’s throne.
3. We must “walk humbly with God.” The more we understand the meaning of the two words “God” and “man,” the more daring seems the affirmation that they may walk together. To say that God will walk with man is to clothe God with ineffable tenderness. And to say that man can walk with God is to clothe men with sublimity. Surely the great mystery of the religious life is this, that God can walk and talk with me as though He and I were the only beings in the universe. But we must walk humbly with our God, so humbly that we shall commit all our ways to Him; so humbly that we shall never murmur at distress, knowing that all things work together for good; so humbly that we shall never worry about the things to come, remembering that “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” All sorts and conditions of men have quoted this text approvingly. But all have not quoted it with equal fairness to themselves. The man whose inward piety has not as yet transformed his outward life, is apt to slur over the words, “do justly.” The man who takes his stand upon his own integrity is apt to glide too swiftly over the words “love mercy.” The man whose faith is limited to sensuous things is apt to read only in a poetic way the words “walk humbly with thy God.” Refrain from doing justly, and the love of mercy soon will pass away. Refrain from doing justly, and from loving mercy, and the consciousness of the Omnipresent God will fade. And refrain from walking humbly with the Lord, and the love of mercy and desire for justice soon will disappear. All have not quoted this text with equal fairness to the evangelical faith. One can safely challenge the world to produce a single man who has fulfilled the whole of this counsel, apart from the shed blood and broken body of our Lord. (J. Moffat Logan.)
Religion and religionism
These words express the true object of all revelation, which is to make men good; they express the inmost meaning of all life, which is the attainment of holiness. Unmistakable in their plainness, these words sweep away the cobwebs of confusion of ages. Frankly accepted, they would be an eternal cure for all the maladies which in age after age have afflicted religion. They show that the aim of religion is to elevate character, to purify conduct, to promote goodness; they sum up the mighty spiritual teaching of the prophets; they herald the essential moral revelation of the Son of God. The word “religion” properly means certain opinions, and certain ordinances; a set of doctrines; or a mode of worship. New, outward ordinances, when their importance is exaggerated, tend to become burdensome and superstitious; and religious opinions, when maintained by ambition and self-interest, have deluged the world with crime. To avoid confusion, however, I will call this “religionism,” not “religion.” A stream of religionism flows through the Old Testament. The Judaic code has neither value nor significance in itself, but solely in so far as it may be a help or adjunct to higher things. Religionism, when it ends in opinions or observances, is worthless. All that was poorest and most pagan in Judaism eagerly seized on this element in the sacred books. Side by side with this stream of religious ordinance flows, through most of the Old Testament, and through all the New, the richer, purer, deeper stream of righteousness. And righteousness expresses, and alone expresses, the essence of true religion; for true religion is a good mind and a good life. Ask a dogmatist “What must I do to be saved?” and he will give you some elaborate, metaphysical definition. Ask a party religionist, and he will say that you must hear the Church. Ask your Lord and Master, and He will say, “If thou wouldest enter into life, keep the commandments. See how the prophets spoke; the New Testament so completely endorses their spiritual ideal that, while every page and verse of it breathes of righteousness, you scarcely find any religionism at all scarcely any organisation, ritual, or dogmatic creed. What is the sum total of the moral revelation of Christ? It goes into two words--Love: Serve. The teaching of every one of His apostles was the very antithesis of the spirit of externalism. According to them, “he that doeth righteousness is born of God.” To preach these principles is to preach the very essential heart of the scriptural morality; but yet it is a preaching that invariably makes religionists very angry. For its importance lies in this, that it is the very touchstone which discriminates between true and false religion, and which sweeps away, at any rate, the exaggerated importance attached to the adjuncts, the scaffoldings, the traditions and ordinances of men, which to so many make up the whole of their religion. What God wants is not so-called orthodoxy, but “truth in the inward parts.” What will avail you is not any amount of religiosity, but righteousness. The reason why it is necessary to insist on this is that eternal pharisaism of the human heart, which prefers formalism to spirituality, and which causes a constant recrudescence of Judaism in the heart of Christianity. The lesson for us is clear. Our religious opinions may be false; our party shibboleths may be but the blurred echoes of our ignorance or our incompetence; our private interpretations of Scripture may be no better than grotesque nonsense in their presumptuous falsity, and all this may not greatly matter, if by some Divine deliverance from our opinionated follies, we still do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. (Dean Farrar.)
The essentials of religion
It is a great thing to get down to simple principles. One of the hopeful signs of our times is a growing disposition to do this. In science and in theology alike, we are recognising simplicity where we once imagined that there was wonderful complexity. I rejoice that, in theology, we are getting down to fundamental Christian truths, which will ultimately make more clear man’s duties and God’s love. This was, in part, the mission of Christianity. God’s Temple of Truth could hardly be seen for the human rubbish which had accumulated about it, and Jesus Christ came to sweep it away. You remember how He did so. His Sermon on the Mount must have amazed all His hearers. It went down to the very roots of human life and duty, and was a fresh revelation of truth. His disciples followed in His footsteps. Even St. Paul, who was by far the most subtle minded of them, analysed Christianity, and showed that it consisted in three things--“faith, hope, love,”--and finally he reduced even these to one, saying, “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” The fact is, that the nearer men are to God, the simpler becomes their religious life and their religious thought. Look at this text. “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good.” Micah could fairly say this to every one in Israel; but much more forcibly should the words come home to us, who have heard the teaching and known the life of Jesus, Son of God, and yet Son of Man.
I. What does the Lord require of thee but to “do justly”? The reference of the prophet is to justice between man and man, which was but seldom seen in his day. Happily, our law courts are, on the whole, among our noblest institutions. But how about business affairs? What of the conflicts between capital and labour? Is all as it should be there?
II. The second requirement is to “love mercy.” The philanthropist in the Church may be the screw in business. To do justly is to do what right requires, and to love mercy is to do what love requires.
III. The last requirement is walk humbly with thy God. This is not the top stone of the edifice, but its foundation. Walk humbly with God, and you win walk honestly and kindly among your neighbours. (Alfred Rowland, LL. B. , B. A.)
The essentials of a religious life
They have always been the same. Our Lord has reality added nothing to these words of Micah. What he has done has been to put these truths in a new setting, to read them with a wider and deeper application; to embody them in His own life, and thus to enforce them with greater authority; to give us a new motive for obedience, and greater power to obey. What, does the Cross say to us but “do justly,” “love mercy,” and “walk humbly”? The essentials of a religious life are practical rather than theoretical. It appears that the Jews of Micah’s time were most anxious about the right form of worship. Yet, what does Micah declare to have been the common life of these people? He takes us into their houses, and shows them to be full of dishonest gains. He takes us into their shops, and shows us the scant measure, the short weights, the false balances. Into their law courts, and we find the judge selling his verdict for a bribe. Right through society there was the same hollow deception. “The inhabitants have spoken lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouths.” So the prophet has to tell them this, It is not a question of right worship for you, but of right conduct. Not how you should sacrifice, but how you should live. There are certain duties necessary because God has commanded them, and there are other duties which God commands because they are necessary. There are two ways in which men, nowadays, make too much of the non-essentials of religion. There is the ritualist, who exaggerates the importance of ceremonial. We become ritualists of a sort when we think the claims of God are met by coming to services and meetings regularly. The essence of religion is not in those agreeable emotions you feel in listening to a stirring sermon. It lies in honest dealing, in kind actions, in that humble, obedient spirit which springs from a realisation of the presence of God. Its sphere is principally not in the Church, but outside--in the world and in the home. The time and place in which to show that you are religious men and women is when you start upon your work in the morning, when you buy and when you sell, when you spend an hour in recreation, quite as much as when you pray or when you teach. Another way in which some make too much of the nonessentials of religion is on the side of doctrine. Men speak as ii they wanted all difficult questions settled out of hand before they will become the servants of God. There are difficulties in the Bible, but they belong to the intellect, and not to the practical life. We need not underestimate the importance of evangelical doctrine, but unless the doctrines of grace bear practical results, it is doubtful whether we are truly acquainted with them. These are the essential things--
1. “Do justly.”
(1) There is a justice of which the civil law is the guardian.
(2) A justice of which custom is the guardian.
(3) The only justice which will satisfy God is that of which conscience is the guardian.
This will teach the thief to make restitution; this will not truckle to underhand tricks; this will respect the claims of others even when it is most seeking to advance its own.
2. “Love mercy.” Many fail here. They are as upright as a marble column, and as cold and hard. The instincts of our better nature should teach us to be merciful. God urges us to show mercy one to another on the ground that we are all debtors alike to Him.
3. “Walk humbly with thy God.” Many so called moral men, and kind men, are nevertheless godless men. What is it to lead a godless life? It is to spend the life apart from God. This is the essence of all religious life, making God a reality, and acting as in His presence. (Frank Hall.)
The three great human duties
Misconceptions of the truth are as dangerous as the reception of falsehood. This text is one by which proud, self-sufficient, and ungodly mortals are accustomed to lull their consciences to sleep, and their guilty fears to rest, saying, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” They say, “that if a man do the best he can, God will require no more.”
I. What is it to do justly?
1. Is it not to keep a just weight, and a just measure; to be true and just in all your dealings?
2. To do justly, there must be no extortion, no speculation, no forestalling, no monopoly, no oppression.
3. The just man hates every false way; he keeps far from a false matter; he raises no false report; he is no false accuser, takes no false oath, bears no false report.
4. If you do justly, it will be by your God as well as by your neighbour. If just towards God, you will have “respect unto all His commandments.” You will justify all the gracious dispensations of heaven. Can you bless God for your creation so long as you make, not God, but self, the end of your creation? Can you say that you justly bless God for your preservation so long as you do not bless Him for your salvation? It is impossible that you can justly bless God for the inestimable gift of His dear Son while you refuse to hear Him. If you are just with God, you will be constant in your attendance in His house--the place where His honour dwelleth.
II. What is it to love mercy?
1. If you love mercy, you will “break off your sins by righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor.”
2. You will be merciful in all your intercourse with mankind.
3. If you love mercy, and show it to others, you will crave it for yourself.
4. If you love mercy, your walks will be walks of mercy, your visits will be visits of mercy, and your inquiries will be inquiries of mercy.
III. What is it to walk humbly with God?
1. If you do, you will be of a teachable spirit.
2. You will have a mean opinion of yourself.
3. You will not be carried away with high-sounding words in sermons or in prayers: you will love the plain, homely, honest truth.
4. If you walk humbly with God, you will walk humbly before Him.
5. You will walk humbly with Him in secret; your humility will not be a mere show of humility.
6. If you walk with your God, you will walk much with His dear Son.
7. You will enjoy much of His presence, the lifting up of the light of His countenance.
8. You will neither hide the talents He has committed to your charge in a napkin, nor lock up His kindnesses in your bosom, but will make known His goodness to the sons of men. Thankfulness will ever dwell with humility. (John Clementson.)
God’s great demonstrations and demands
“Do justly.” There is a justice of expiation, to break off our sins by repentance. A justice of compensation, by meet repairing our public injuries. A justice of vindication, to confirm our laws by inflicting such just penalties and restraints as some men’s insolvencies have deserved. There is the allay of mercy, or moderation, compassion, and tenderness, by way of pardon, indemnity and oblivion. There is added the root and crown of all virtues and graces, humility; which makes you surest of God’s acceptation and benediction. Humility is the salt that must be mingled with every sacrifice; a sweet perfume that must attend every oblation. It is the glory of all human and Divine perfections; the security of justice, and the sanctuary of mercy. If you intend to walk with God, and hope that God will go along with you, you must not only deny, you must so far utterly renounce, and annihilate yourselves, as not to trust in or seek yourselves, but the living God.
I. The Demonstrator or Shewer. “The Lord.”
1. The rise or occasion of this demonstration. Find this in Micah 6:6-7. Observe the vaunting questions and presumptuous postulations of a company of formal hypocrites.
2. The credit and authority of this Demonstrator, which makes His words, both for the truth and goodness of them, most worthy to be believed, received, and obeyed. He is the great and inexhaustible fountain of all power and order, natural, civil, spiritual. He is not more able by His wisdom, than willing by His indulgence and love, to instruct mankind in the way that is best for him. He has showed us the most infallible and immutable rules of justice, mercy, and humility.
II. The thing demonstrated. Denoted under three grand heads--
1. Consider justice, mercy, and humility together, and conjointly. Note the sanctity of these grand demands. The shortness of the discourse concerning them. Their perspicuity, though stated so briefly. The order and situation of the particulars. Justice comes first; then mercy; and then humility. The juncture of these three is inobservable, because they are inseparable where they are sincere. The common epithet, or predicate, to all of them. “The Lord hath showed thee what is good.”
2. Consider them separately.
(1) In the subject or substance, spirit and quintessence, of each of them. What is justice? Some measure it by their power; others by their wills; yet others by their fancies and imaginations. Some measure justice by necessity; some measure justice by forcible power and possession; as if might were right. Justice must be considered, in its fountain and original, the wisdom and will of God; in the grand cistern and conservatory, which is the sovereign and legislative power in every society and polity. Justice is considerable in the pipes and conduits of all subordinate magistrates. There is a justice due to God, to ourselves, and to others. What is mercy? By mercy God is, as it were, greater than Himself: a denier of Himself, and a sider with our interests. All our hopes and happiness are founded upon, and bound up in, the mercy of God. Mercy in God is a perfection of goodness, by which He moderates the severity of His justice toward sinful mankind. Mercy in man is an affection by which he lays to heart the misery of another, and is disposed to relieve them. Mercy is an inseparable attendant to human justice; yea, and to the Divine. Penitents are the proper objects of mercy. There are but few cases wherein the summum jus is required. In most cases there is possibility of remission, and moderation. What is humility? It is a most Christian grace, no less than a most manly virtue, becoming all men,--in the sense of their common infirmities, and mortal condition; in the conscience of their many sins and deserved miseries; in the reflection upon their best actions, full of failings and defects. Pride destroys and sours all the good, even of justice and mercy, that any man doth. Pride hath its reward only from itself, or the vain world. Consider the predicates or actions applied so each of these three terms. Consider justice--
1. Materially, as to the merit of the cause or person.
2. Regularly, as to the law prescribed by God or man, not by private opinion.
3. Authoritatively, by due order and commission, derived to thee from the lawful supreme power.
Do justice as to the inward form, principle, or conscience, for justice sake, not for ambition. Do justice in practice; impartially, speedily, in due measure and proportion, with humanity and compassion to the person. “Love mercy.” Observe the order; justice of showing mercy. Observe the emphasis of the word “love” put to mercy. Justice must be done as a task enjoined. Mercy must be loved and delighted in. This love is conjoined to mercy as a thing in itself most desirable, as most beneficial to ourselves and others, as obedience to God’s commands, and in imitation of the Divine perfections. Love mercy for the advance of all graces; as the best sign of the best religion, remembering that sin exposeth thee to misery; in order to confirm thy hope, and increase thy reward in glory. “Walk humbly.” Be ready and prepared to go with God. The words imply a freedom and familiarity of conversation which cannot be without two are agreed; nor can there be agreement with God, except where the heart is humble. Walking is a social and friendly notion, and it is progressive and parallel, in a way of confirmity, not contrariety. The more a man walks with God, the more he will grow in humility.
3. To whom God shows, and of whom He requires, these great lessons and duties. “Thee, O man.”
(1) All mankind.
(2) Those who enjoy the light of God’s Word.
(3) Each in His particular station.
4. The manner of God’s showing and requiring these duties of all sorts of men, in all occasions, times, and dealings. God hath showed it to mankind in those inward Principles of right reason, and that standard of justice which is set up in each man’s own heart. By the letters patent of the Holy Scriptures. By the greatest exemplars of holy men in all degrees. With frequent obtestation, threatening punishment. (John Gauden,, D. D.)
God’s claims on man
1. Has God any claims upon you? Has He a right to require anything of you, if it should seem good to Him to do so?
2. Does He exercise this right? Has He actually required anything? In the Bible you find God everywhere speaking imperatively to His creatures, giving them not merely counsels, but authoritative counsels and commands.
3. What are the claims which God asserts? What doth the Lord require of thee? Thy supreme love, thy choicest affections, thy whole heart, and whatever else such a love disposes to and draws after it. God has given rules for the regulation not only of our external conduct, and all of it, but of our speech, our thoughts, our motives, our principles of action, and of all the various modifications of feeling.
4. What is the character of these claims of God?
(1) They are reasonable. Their reason ableness may be inferred from their reality. God is incapable of making an unreasonable demand.
(2) They are particular. They are made on you as an individual, and not in any social capacity. God addresses His commands singly to each one.
(3) His claims are paramount. In every comparison they deserve to have the preeminence; in every competition the preference.
(4) His claims are impartial. God asserts them with respect to every intelligent being, and with respect to each the same.
(5) His claims are unalterable. We may change, but not they. Our duty is the same, whatever our character. God cannot lower His demands to adapt them to our inclinations or disabilities. Then how have we treated His claims? Have we done as He has required? Remember, there is a penalty threatened on him who disregards them. The claims of justice are prior to the claims of mercy. You ought to comply with His explicit and authoritative claims upon you. And you ought to comply at once, and fully. (W. Nevins, D. D.)
The requirements of the Gospel
There have been considerable disputes in those countries where the Scriptures were unknown with regard to man’s chief or sovereign good. Religion is man’s chief good. It is good in its origin; it cometh down from the Father of lights; it is good in its nature; it is good in its tendency and in its end. It is man’s chief good. There is nothing in it but what is most fit and proper and suitable to man, whether considered in himself, or in his relation to God or to His fellow creatures. Religion is a satisfying good. It possesses the power of healing all the various disorders of the human mind and heart; the power to console, comfort, exhilarate, and delight the redeemed spirit of man, in all the circumstances through which, in the providence of God, he may be called to pass in this world. It is a universal good, not restricted to any class of persons, to the persons of any one age, or country, or locality. It is an everlasting good; as vast as the necessities and capacities of the human spirit. The table of the law which instructs us in our duty to God is generally the first presented to us in Scripture. In the text the order is reversed. It is required that every man do justly to his fellow man. We are required to act with the exactest integrity and uprightness towards our fellow creatures in all respects, and towards every one of our fellow creatures. Keep the Golden Rule. But we are not to do justice strictly; we are also to love mercy. Mercy is ever ready to listen to complaints, to relieve wants, to pardon offences, to cover faults. Mercy delights to imitate the Father of mercies; to do good, according to its power, to all mankind, under all circumstances. There must not only be merciful conduct and language, but a merciful heart within us. “Walk humbly with thy God.” This means at least three things--reconciliation, affection, and intercourse.
1. Reconciliation. Two cannot walk together except they be agreed. There are three classes of persons with whom God can never be agreed. The immoral, the unbeliever, and the worldly minded
2. Affection. All God’s people love Him. And we know that God loves His people.
3. Intercourse. The intercourse between God and His people is as real as any intercourse is which takes place between any spirits in heaven, or any interchange of thought and of kindness which takes place between men on earth. Humility is essential to walking with God. The margin reads, “and to humble thyself to walk with thy God.” Before any of us can walk with God we must be humbled under His mighty hand; and the more deeply and thoroughly we humble ourselves, the more closely we shall walk with God. I speak not of that humility which is woven into the character by artifice and cunning; but of that humility which is wrought in the inmost soul by the finger of God. There are two doctrinal heresies against which our text is opposed.
1. The heresy of those who seek to be justified by works.
2. The heresy of those who think to be justified by a faith which is a mere sentiment, and never does any works. (F. Ward.)
The inner meaning of the Divine requirements
These words have often been quoted with respectful admiration by persons who look upon what they suppose to be the theology of the Bible with indifference or contempt. The philosopher and the philanthropist are to be invited to extricate these great maxims from the overlying mass, to give them the prominence which has been given to those dogmas which are so intricate, and which lead to evil results or to none. Most cheerfully do I take these words of the prophet as my guide; they are worthy of all the honour which has been paid them. To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly,--does God indeed require all this of me? If I may not learn how I can be just and merciful and humble, to assure me that I am bound to be so is an intolerable oppression. Men have felt this at all times; they are feeling it now. And the feeling, though it is mixed with much contradiction, is not a false one. They would have a right to complain of us, and of the Bible, if we came and delivered to them a set of precepts--the best precepts in the world--and did not tell them whence they were to derive the strength for obeying the precepts. Our morality must have some deep underground basis to rest upon. What is that basis? I answer, you must seek it in that very theology of the Bible which you have supposed it so great a deliverance to cast aside. There, and there only, will you find the protection against the narrow, local, artificial dogmas of priests, and the dry, hard, scarcely less artificial, often even more heartless, dogmas of philosophers. There you will find the protection against the flimsy, conventional morality of classes and ages; there you will find a meaning for the words, Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly, and a power to translate them from words into life.
1. The Lord requires thee to “do justly.” The whole question of the ground of moral obligation is raised by this sentence. It seems to tell me that some One is commanding a certain course of action which I am bound to follow because He commands it. And this course of action is described by the phrase “doing justly.” Is justice, then, nothing in itself? Are actions made right because a certain power insists that they shall be performed? The main controversy between the mere priest and the mere philosopher, so far as it bears on human conduct, lies here. The one has always been tempted to maintain that an omnipotent decree makes that good which would not be good without it, makes that evil which would be otherwise indifferent: the other has been always seeking to find what constitutes an action or a habit just or unjust, true or untrue; whether something in its own nature, or in its effect upon the individual doer, or in its influence upon society. The conscience in men cries out for a ruler; therefore it gives heed to the priest. Conscience exists only in the affirmation that right and wrong are eternally opposed; therefore it gives heed to the philosophers. Experience shows that the priest is very prone to raise maxims of temporary expedience to the level of eternal laws; there fore the conscience protests against him. Experience shows that the philosopher can find no standing ground from which he can act upon individuals or society, but is obliged to beg a standing ground from their opinion, or to erect his own above both; therefore the conscience protests against him. Then comes the message: “He hath shown thee, O man, what is good.” A message from whom? If He has not told me what He is, the tidings are worth nothing, the good has not been shown. If you desire a universal morality, there must be the revelation of a moral Being. If yon would have the command “do justly,” in place of a weight of rules, observances, and ceremonies, you must have justice set before you, not in words, formulas, decrees, but livingly, personally, historically. You must be taught what the just Being is by seeing what He does what He does for you. He would have you like Him. He must tell you how He makes you like Him. The Bible is not a book of mere moralities. It would be if you took away its theology. Its theology is the unveiling of the righteous Being to the heart and conscience of the only creature that is capable of being righteous, because of the only creature that is capable of departing from righteousness. It is at last the manifestation to all nations of that original righteousness which had been the root of all righteousness in them; the manifestation of the Divine righteousness in a Man, who came into the world to reconcile men to His Father, that they might receive His Spirit, and be able to he just, as He is,--to do justly, as He does.
2. The Lord requires of men to “love mercy.” This is a higher obligation still--harder to fulfil. I may do things, but against my whole nature. They will not be just or righteous acts, according to the scriptural idea of righteousness, which supposes the man to be good before he does good things. But they may be just according to some legal, philosophical, or sacerdotal rule. Can such a rule explain how I am to love because it is desirable that I should? Mercy is, no doubt, a beautiful quality. But there is a limit to men’s admiration. If mercy meets an unmerciful habit of mind in us, its works will be explained away. Mercy is not necessarily loved when it is exhibited in its fullest, most perfect form, when it shows itself in the most gracious and serviceable acts. There may be a cry for it on another ground. Men may feel that they resisted the Divine righteousness, that they are at war with it. They may invoke mercy to avert the punishment which they believe that righteousness desires to inflict upon them. Turn to the theology of the Bible. There Christ is set forth as the image of the Father, not in one quality, but in His whole character. He is said to show forth the righteousness of God in the forgiveness of sins. Man wants mercy because he has sinned, but this mercy has in it a power of putting away sin, of covering it, extinguishing it,--of transforming the creature, who was the subject and slave of it, into a new creature who can love mercy and do justly.
3. The Lord requires man to “walk humbly with Him.” About this virtue of humility there is as much strife as about justice and mercy. Can it be intended that the man should think meanly of the nature and the powers which God has given him? The more nobly he judges of his humanity, the more noble, says the philosopher, he himself will be. It is most true that, if we try by any artificial methods to cultivate what is called the grace of humility, it may become actually another name for meanness, for the abandonment of manliness and dignity, for a nominal self-denial which is compatible with much in ward self-exaltation. What is the true humility? We are humble in ourselves only when we are walking with God. It is this which lays a man in the dust. It is this which raises him to a height he had never dreamt of. The theology of the Bible, then, explains its morality. It enables us to know what we ought to be, and to be what we would wish to be. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)
What doth the Lord require of thee
The text contains three points for our self-examination. The Lord requires, first, that we “do justly”; in other words, that all our conduct be upright and faithful, that we “defraud not any,” and that we always “do unto others as we would they should do unto us.” The second requirement is, “to love mercy.” To be just, strictly just, honest, upright, is indeed something, but it is not all. A man may be very honest, and yet very selfish; indeed, justice and mercy are somewhat antagonistic virtues, and are not often found existing together. The man who prides himself upon his integrity not unfrequently makes it an excuse for uncharitableness. The more highly, then, any one prides himself upon his justice, the more reason he has to examine himself on the point of mercy. Are you always tender hearted,--ready to forgive,--treating others with due consideration and kindness, and putting the most charitable construction on all their actions? It is required of us not merely to show mercy, but to love mercy; to take positive delight in doing good. The third requirement is, to “walk humbly with thy God.” This implies something more than the absence of pride. What is it to “walk with God”? There is implied in the expression a unity of mind and will, a holy communion and fellowship with God, such as those are very far from even dreaming of, who content themselves with doing justly and loving mercy. Where shall we find this unity save in those who humbly inquire what God’s mind is, and who seek to know and do His will? The text is literally, as margin, “Humble thyself to walk with thy God.” Sinful man is naturally too proud to walk with God; he would rather be altogether independent and walk by himself. When by the grace of God he has been humbled and brought low, then he finds that to walk with God is his highest honour and present joy. Our text, which at first seemed but an epitome of the law, is seen to contain the Gospel. (W. E. Light, M. A.)
The requirements of God
I. To do justly. To act, speak, and to strive to think, fairly, honestly, towards all men. Not to suffer feelings, interest, passions, or prejudices to influence us. (See for Scripture counsels and commands, Deuteronomy 16:19-20; Psalms 82:3-4; Exodus 23:3; Exodus 23:8; Leviticus 19:33-36; Proverbs 20:14; Leviticus 19:11; Exodus 23:1.) Notice that we are bidden to do justly, but not commanded always to exact justice, or our strict rights from others.
II. Love mercy. The doing of strict justice is sometimes most painful, but the work of mercy is ever a labour of love. The Christian learns, more and more, how much he is indebted to mercy; and hence he loves mercy with thankful love, and the work of mercy is to him the work of gratitude. The Bible has beautiful precepts on this subject (Deuteronomy 22:1-4; Exodus 23:4-5; Matthew 5:44; Romans 12:20-21). The poor are especial objects of God’s mercy (Deuteronomy 15:11; Deuteronomy 24:10-13). The merciful will not be too sharp in gathering for himself all he can, nor in insisting on every right which man’s law gives him, if that right bear hardly on his neighbour (Deuteronomy 24:19-21; James 2:13). Mercy is to be shown in sympathy (Romans 12:15; Luke 23:34).
III. Walk humbly with thy God. The humblest thing a man can do is to accept Christ. The next is to depend simply and entirely on God the Holy Ghost for strength to do just, grace to love mercy, and to walk humbly. To walk humbly is to have a constant sense of our sinfulness--God’s holiness; our weakness--God’s all might; our folly and ignorance--God’s wisdom, truth, and love. It is to acknowledge God in prosperity (Deuteronomy 8:12, etc.). It is to acknowledge God in adversity (1 Peter 5:6; Isaiah 57:15). (F. J. Scott, M. A.)
The sum of God’s requirements
These words are the answer of the Almighty, by the mouth of His prophet, to the cry of one of old, whose difficulties in his religious course appeared too great for him. God demands from him no impossible service--no countless sacrifices, no rivers of oil; He but bids him walk in the way in which all may walk who will--the paths of justice, mercy, and humility. The very terms in which the requirement is made imply that the work is far from an impracticable one. God speaks in mercy and tenderness. Upon the ease with which His precepts may be obeyed He founds a claim, surely a most touching and irresistible claim, to obedience. Was the doing justly, loving mercy, and walking with God a thing practicable for the few,--living in the dawn only of the day spring; and can it be impossible for you, the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus--you, upon whom the Sun of Righteousness hath risen in all His glory? God never set a man any work which he could not perform. He never yet bade His servant to do His will, and withheld from him the power of doing it. If you ask how a man, awakened to a sense of religion, may set himself to do the will of God, you must bear in mind the twofold principle of pure grace and free will. You must never lose sight of your own utter inability to do anything of yourselves apart from the grace and power of God. If we would work the works of God it must be in the might of God. But you must not rest satisfied with praying for grace; you must not relax in your own exertions to serve and obey God. When we think how great a task is set before us we may well rejoice that we have many promises that it is not an impossible one. We should see that the seeming impossibilities had been all of our own imagining. Though we are never, to remit our watchfulness, nor to forget our danger of again falling into sin, if we be true to God, we shall find each additional act of self sacrifice made in obedience to His will a source of peace and comfort to us. (G. W. Brameld.)
Here is the summing up of the law; these are the things which, if a man do, he shall live by them. Seldom does a sinner come to Christ who has not first attempted to work out his own salvation by keeping the law, who has not resolved in his own strength not to sin again, but to walk blameless. If he strive honestly and deal faithfully with himself, it will not be long before he will despair of success in his undertaking. This is quite beyond us, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and mind, and soul, and strength.” And yet no man can enter the pearly gates who does not thus love his God. Is God’s, then, an unjust requirement? Surely it is the one object of all human law to compel man to do justly. Would society, culture, civilisation, anything that is worth living for, be possible if all men refused to be just? Is it, then, unreasonable for God to command us to do justly? Is it too hard to require us to love mercy? Is this not felt instinctively to be one of the noblest traits of character, and do we not admire the exercise of it? If all men were strictly just to each other, humanly speaking, there would be little need of mercy; but realising that we need mercy ourselves, is it too much that we should be required to grant it to others? And the third require ment is surely no heavy or excessive burden laid upon us. “Do justly.” That is the foundation virtue, without which you can rear no superstructure of noble character. A man who has no sense of justice is utterly lost to all good influences, and, labour as you may, nothing can be made out of him. One’s sense of justice may be perverted, and needs to be rightly educated; but it must be there, else there can be only vileness and corruption. Primarily, justice means erectness, uprightness, being swayed neither to the right nor to the left by all the influences that can be brought to bear upon the life.
1. We must be just to ourselves; and we can do this only by giving any faculty of our nature its due authority and influence in governing our conduct. There are three motors in us which govern the executive will--passion, self-love, and conscience, and these are far from agreeing with each other. Our entire lives are frequently one long battle between them. Justice requires that all passions and appetites should be subordinate to self-love, which bids us regard the consequences to ourselves of what we do. Not selfishness, but self-love, which, in its proper place, is a noble faculty But above self-love sits the supreme ruler conscience, whose one great utterance, “Duty,” is the grandest word in any language; which shows to passion the baseness of sacrificing all else to present gratification, as well as the injury that results; and which tells self-love of higher and grander aims than personal advantage. If you are just to all that is best and truest in your own characters you will not be unjust to others. If you have not been thus just to yourselves, there is no hope for you save in Christ.
2. We must be just to our fellow men. Just before charitable and merciful. Men are ready to do anything, and to give liberally, if only they can avoid doing justly. There can be no mercy shown by one who is not just. A little more justice in the world would do away with the necessity for much almsgiving. Justice consists in giving to each action its proper reward, neither adding thereto from partiality, nor taking therefrom from envy and hatred. Then be perfectly upright, bending neither to the side of weak dislike to inflict suffering, nor to the side of angry desire for vengeance, and showing no respect of persons. And never ask more than justice from others. Do justly to those about you in estimating their conduct towards you, and especially in judging of their motives. You may be restfully sure that God will always--and in His gracious redemption most certainly of all--do justly. (T. T. Eaton, D. D. , LL. D.)
The justice of one man towards another
There are in religion things that are of a mutable and alterable nature, and things that are immutable and unchangeable. Whatsoever is by institution may, by the same authority that imposed it, be discharged and abated. The things mentioned in this text continue to all perpetuity. About these things all persons agree, that are of any education and improvement. Single out for treatment this righteousness between man and man--to “do justly.” There is a difference between justice and equity. Equity takes into account the circumstances of a case, grants allowances, and can moderate the rigour of law. There is no one but expects this measure from God when he makes application to Him. God considers and deals with us in a way of mercy and compassion. And we should deal so with one another. This is true liberty and perfection for a man, to have power over his own right, so as to compassionate and commiserate in ease of weakness and offence. It is greatness of power to be able to do this; and it is goodness of mind to perform it. Therefore let “just” and “equal” be so stated that that shall be just which appears to be either according to law or according to reason. Right is determined either by the proprietors, or by the magistrate, or by the voluntary agreement of persons that have power and interest. In commerce, custom and usage is to be heeded, for these began by consent. A man may be unjust from the nature of the thing, as well as by the breach of any law or constitution. He is equal--as differing from just--who considers all things that are reasonable, and makes allowance accordingly. There is a third thing beyond these, and that is to be gracious and merciful. God deals with us usually, but we deal thus with one another very rarely. The following are reasons why we should take this whole temper of mind into consideration, and put it into practice.
1. It is the temper of God.
2. It is everybody’s tenure and security. Where justice and equity do not get place there will be nothing but fraud, and everybody will be insecure.
3. These things do uphold the world, which otherwise would soon fall into confusion.
4. It is according to our principles; we are made to these things.
5. It is the right in every case. A man’s greatest wisdom is seen in finding that out, and his goodness in complying with it.
6. They are the rule and law of all action.
7. Everybody expects to be thus dealt with by others. That which is expected from another should be the measure of my dealing with him.
8. If we keep to the rule of right and fit we shall be justified whenever called to examination. Punishment is for the upholding of right, or it is exemplary that others, by a bad example, may learn not to offend. To live in the practice of justice and equity, will remove all suspicion of arbitrariness or self-will, will give a man heart’s ease and satisfaction, and will render a man acceptable to. God.
There are several things which every man must take care of that would be found in the practice of justice and equity.
1. Let a man be wary of self-interest.
2. Let no man allow himself to be arbitrary in a thing depending between himself and another.
3. Let not a man take upon him to be judge where he is a party.
4. Be always ready to any fair reference.
5. As thou art a Christian, yield more in fair consideration towards a friendly composure than absolute reason will oblige to and enjoin.
6. Let nothing rest upon secret and undeclared trust; leave nothing half done.
7. Make a simple reparation in case of wrong.
8. Be a plain and open dealer.
9. Make the same allowance for the infirmity and mistakes of others as thou dost desire for thyself.
10. In acknowledgment of what Christ hath done for thee, be thou equal, just, and righteous, beyond “what absolute reason or strict right may enjoin. (B. Whichcote, D. D.)
Justice and mercy
These words, written so many hundred years ago, come home to our hearts as freshly as if they had been spoken yesterday. We also have been shown what is good, and we also should admit that no better description could be given of the goodness which our hearts recognise than “to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.” Of course, it is true that through the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ we have a clearer knowledge of God’s nature, and so a deeper insight into what He requires of us, than the people to whom Micah spoke. No modern equivalent of burnt offering or calves of a year old, not thousands of rams or ten thousands of rivers of oil, no gift of churches, or communion plate, or musical instruments, or stained-glass windows, no, not even subscription to charity--nothing is good in the sight of God unless it carries with it the good will, the will to do justice and mercy. For today I do not propose to consider with you the abstract question as to what justice is, a question first asked in one of the most fascinating books in the world, The Republic of Plato, and often enough asked since. I propose to follow the Jewish prophet in assuming that we have all been instructed in the Divine law, so that the great names of justice and mercy have a meaning to us, whether we can put that meaning into words or not. Assuming that, I wish to call your attention briefly to the necessary moral qualities which underlie the practice of these Christian virtues. The moral qualities necessary for all who aim at being just and merciful are three--courage, patience, sympathy.
1. Courage. Courage is plainly necessary; for what can it profit us to see the right course to take, if, through faint heartedness, we are unable to take it? No one can be just or merciful who cannot take his own line; who has not, as we say, “the courage of his opinions.”
2. And then, patience--that is necessary. How much injustice in the world comes about because people will not take the trouble to investigate the case before them. In the abstract, in intention everybody is anxious to be just; everybody is eager to be merciful. But, unfortunately for us, the world is not an abstract world. It is very concrete, and it presents particular cases for the exercise of our virtue, and so our good intention counts for so little. If action on a great scale were required of us, we should all give a judgment that would be admirably just. But unfortunately, the decisions that are asked for from day to day are trifling decisions on everyday matters, and, in every instance, to come at the true facts of the case means spending time, means going into worrying details, and there is so much else to be done of so much importance. And so we become unjust, just for want of patience.
3. And then the man who would be just or merciful must have the power of putting himself in the place of another, and seeing the matter in all its circumstances from another’s point of view; and that means that he must have a real interest in other people for their own sakes, and be able to understand them, and be able to see why they did what they did. Would it be too much to say that no one can be either just or merciful to those whom he does not love? I said that these three qualities of courage, patience, and sympathy are necessary, whether the work that we have to do is an act of justice or an act of mercy. And you will see that it is so when you recollect that that common distinction between justice and mercy is merely a practical distinction necessary for human infirmity, but not a distinction that goes down to the root of action. We might illustrate from any trial for murder. In a case of that sort we should consider that it was the province of justice to concern itself with the bare account of the crime alleged, and if that were proved sentence would be passed. And then it would be considered the part of mercy to come in and weigh the extenuating circumstances, and modify the sentence accordingly. But if justice means giving to every one his due, clearly mercy is still more due to the criminal than what we called first justice. The extenuating circumstances are a very real part of the action. Or again, suppose that some one in our employment has abused our confidence. A clerk has stolen money to pay his gambling debts. Well, his employer, if he were a just man, in deciding whether to prosecute his clerk or not to prosecute him, would decide on the whole circumstances, and he would do what he thought best in the interests of the clerk. If he thought imprisonment likely to have the most salutary effect on the man’s character he would prosecute, and in that case prosecution would be mercy as well as justice. We can see this, of course, most plainly in God’s dealings with us. We can see. I mean, that justice and mercy are only two sides of the same thing. We know God gives us in all the circumstances of life what He sees to be best for us. We may sometimes call what He sends us a judgment, and sometimes we may call it a mercy, and all the time we know that the judgment as much as the mercy proceeds from His love proceeds from His knowledge of our real need; so that His justice is mercy in being what is best for us, and His mercy is justice, because that best is our due as being His children. Now, that is our ideal--a mercy that shall be justice, a justice that shall be mercy. Let us, then, do justice, let us love mercy, as becometh saints. And then for that third requirement. That, we know, is a pre-condition of the other two--to walk humbly with God.” If the other two gave the substance of saintship, surely this gives the secret--“to walk humbly with God.” It is a strange expression, and the rendering in the margin of the Bible is stranger still: “Humble thyself to walk with God.” Surely, if we had a vision of God as Moses or Isaiah, we should veil our faces and fall in the dust. Why should we need humility to walk with God? Indeed it is a question well worth asking, Why are we so often ashamed to obey the promptings of God’s voice speaking in conscience? Why are we so often ashamed to be just, ashamed to be merciful, ashamed in society of defending an unpopular person, ashamed in politics of defending an unpopular cause, fearing to be righteous overmuch, to be merciful overmuch? May God give us enough humility to accept His Almighty guidance through this world--humility enough to be on the lookout for the way that He has prepared for us to walk in; and may He give us all the courage and the patience and the sympathy necessary for our task whatever it may prove to be. (H. C. Beeching.)
And to walk humbly with thy God--
Of walking humbly with God
The beginning of this chapter contains a most pathetical expostulation of God by the prophet with His people about their sins, and unworthy walking before Him. Convictions, made effectual upon the soul, draw out its inward principles, which are not otherwise discovered. Men think they must do something whereby to appease the God whom they have provoked. They fix on two general heads. They propose things which God Himself had appointed, such as sacrifices and burnt offerings. Or they propose things of their own finding out, which they suppose may have a further and better efficacy to the end aimed at than anything appointed of God Himself. They have a better opinion of their own ways and endeavours, for the pleasing of God and quieting their consciences, than of anything of God’s institution. There is nothing so desperate, irksome, or wicked that convinced persons will not engage to do under their pressure on the account of the guilt of sin. The prophet discovers to such Persons their mistake. God prefers moral worship, in the way of obedience, to all sacrifice whatever. This moral obedience is referred to three heads--do justly; love mercy; walk humbly with God. The two first are comprehensive of our whole duty in respect of men. The third head regards the first table of the law.
I. What it is to walk with God.
1. Some things are required to it.
(1) Peace and agreement. These have to be made, can only be made, through the blood of atonement.
(2) Oneness of design. The aim of God, in general, is His own glory; in particular, it is “the praise of His glorious grace.” To exalt this glorious grace, two things are considerable. That all which is to be looked for at the hand of God is upon the account of mere grace and mercy. The enjoyment of Himself in this way of mercy and grace is that great reward of him that walks with Him. That a man may walk with another, it is required that he have a living principle in him to enable him thereunto.
2. What it is to walk with God. It consisteth in the Performance of that obedience, for matter and manner, which God, in His covenant of grace, requires at our hands.
(1) That our obedience be walking with God, it is required that we be in covenant with Him, and that the obedience be required in the tenour of that covenant. Things required if it is to answer the tenour of the covenant. It must proceed from faith in God, by Christ the Mediator. The person must be perfect or upright therein.
(2) That our obedience may be walking with God, it is required that it be a constant progressive motion towards a mark before us. Walking is a constant progress.
(3) Walking with God is to walk always as under the eye of God. By a general apprehension of God’s omniscience and presence. Two things will follow being under the eye and control of God. Reverential thoughts of Him. Self-abasement under a sense of the imperfection of all our services.
3. Our walking with God in our obedience argues complacency and delight therein; and that we are bound unto God in His ways with the cords of love.
II. What it is to walk humbly with God. The original words are, “To humble thyself in walking.” In our walking with God distinguish between the inward power of it and the outward privilege of it. What it is in reference whereunto we are to humble ourselves in walking with God. To the law of His grace, and to the law of His providence. We must humble ourselves to place our obedience on a new foot of account, and yet to pursue it with no less diligence than if it stood upon the old. We must address ourselves to the greatest duties, being fully persuaded that we have no strength for the least. We must see that in Christ is our supply. And we humble ourselves to be contented to have the sharpest afflictions accompanying the strictest obedience. Consider now what it is to humble ourselves to the law of His providence. There is much in God’s providential administration beyond, and even apparently contradictory to, the reason of men. Four things require this humbling of ourselves.
(1) Visible confusion.
(2) Unspeakable variety.
(3) Sudden alterations.
(4) Deep distresses.
We are to be humbled unto His sovereignty. His wisdom, His righteousness. How are we, by what means are we to humble ourselves to the law of God’s grace and providence?
(1) Let faith have its work.
(2) Constant abiding reverence of God will help the soul in this universal resignation and humbling of itself.
This reverence of God ariseth from the infinite excellency and majesty of God and His great name. The infinite, inconceivable distance we stand from Him. This glorious God is pleased of His own grace to condescend to concern Himself in us and our services.
III. Humble walking with God is the great duty and most valuable concernment of believers. Sundry ways whereby glory redounds to God by believers humbly walking with Him.
1. It gives Him the glory of the doctrine of grace.
2. It gives Him the glory of the power of His grace.
3. It gives Him the glory of the law of His grace, that He is a King obeyed.
4. It gives Him the glory of His justice.
5. The glory of His kingdom; first, in its order and beauty; and secondly, in multiplying His subjects.
This humble walking must certainly be the great and incomparable concernment of all those whose chief end is the advancement of the glory of God. In humble walking with God, we shall find peace in every condition. We shall find comfort. This will make us useful in our generation. (John Owen, D. D.)
Walk with God
Why not joyfully? There is a foundation laid for this. Joy is not, however, absolutely necessary. We have known much self-denial, and deadness to the world, and spirituality of devotion, and zeal for the glory of God and the welfare of others, in persons who may be said to be saved by hope, rather than confidence. But with regard to humbleness of mind, this is indispensable,--always, and in everything: and no progress can be made without it. How is our walking humbly with God to appear?
I. In connection with Divine truth. Here, God is our teacher; and if, as learners, we walk humbly with Him, we shall east down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of Christ; we shall sacrifice the pride of reason; and having ascertained that the Scriptures are the Word of God, and discovered what they really contain, we shall not speculate upon their principles, but admit them on their Divine authority.
II. In connection with Divine ordinances. Here we walk with God as worshippers; and if we walk humbly with Him, we shall have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and with godly fear.
III. In connection with His mercies. Here we walk with God as our benefactor. If we walk humbly with Him, we shall own and feel that we have no claim upon God for anything we possess or enjoy.
IV. With regard to our trials. Here we walk with God as our reprover and correcter; and if we walk humbly, we shall not charge Him foolishly; we shall not arraign His authority, or ask, What doest Thou?
V. With regard to our conditions. Here we walk with God as our disposer and governor; and if we walk humbly, we shall hold ourselves at His control; we shall be willing that He should choose our inheritance for us. We shall be satisfied with our own allotment, and learn, in whatsoever state we are, therewith to be content.
VI. With regard to our qualification and ability for our work. Here we walk with God as our helper and strength; and if we walk humbly, we shall be sensible of our insufficiency for all the purposes of the Divine life. Here, humility is--to fear always; and to--pray. Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe.
VII. With regard to the whole of our recovery. Here we walk with God as a Saviour; and if we walk humbly, we shall not go about to establish our own righteousness, but submit ourselves unto the righteousness which is of God, and acknowledge that we have nothing to glory in before Him. Happy this humble walker with God! God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. (William Jay.)
God’s requirements from His creatures
I. A great deal is required of man when he is told to “walk humbly with God.”
1. He who walks with God must be considered as living in the full consciousness that the eye of his Maker is ever upon him; that he cannot take a single unobserved step, nor do the least thing which escapes Divine notice. When you consider walking with God as implying an ever active consciousness of God’s presence, it would not perhaps be easy to find words which should better express a preeminent holiness. If a man has a practical conviction that God is ever at his side, such a man will be the same in public and in private.
2. Walking with God denotes a complete fixing of the affections “on things that are above.” He has both his head and his heart in heaven. High attainments in piety have been reached by the man to whom such a description applies.
II. Why, though a great deal be required, it might be spoken of in that almost slighting manner which is so observable in the text. The form of expression seems to indicate that God might have required much more than He has required. God asks nothing which it is not for man’s present as well as future advantage to yield. He hath so ordered His dealings with our race, that obedience is the parent of peace, and disobedience of disquietude. The creature is advantaged by giving what the Creator demands. God might have instituted so different a mode of dealing with man, that what He now asks is as nothing compared with what He might have demanded. (Henry Melvill, B. D.)
A question to which the text is an answer. This question teacheth us that ceremonial observances will not compensate a neglect of substantial duties; that hypocrites will give anything rather than give up themselves to the Lord; that it is not the costliness of the sacrifice, but the godliness of the sacrifice which God looketh at. The answer is. “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good.” Doctrine--In revealing our duty to us, God exacteth nothing of man but what is good. God has revealed His mind by the light of nature, and by the light of His Word, which is more clear, full, and certain. The revelation of God’s mind consists of two parts, the moral part, and the evangelical part. Whatever God has revealed is good. There is a moral and beneficial goodness. God exacteth nothing of us but what is good. This can be proved by the design of the Christian religion; and by the structure and frame of it. Doctrine--Walking humbly with God is our great duty, which distinguisheth the sincere from the hypocrites. What is walking humbly with God? A ready submitting and subjecting of ourselves to all God’s commands. This includes a fear to offend, and a care to please. A patient contentedness with every condition God bringeth us into. It implieth specially reverence in worship, and that we be deeply sensible of our unworthiness to approach His holy presence. A constant dependence on Him, and a looking for all from Him that we stand in need of in the course of our obedience. A modest sense of our own vileness and nothingness; humility being and involv ing a mean esteem of ourselves. What reasons may enforce this humility. It is God, on whom we continually depend, who requires it. It is our God, in whom we have direct interest. We are always with Him; in His eye and presence. Then if walking humbly with God distinguishes the sincere from the hypocrite, let us take care to walk humbly. (T. Manton, D. D.)
Humility before God
In the evening of the morning that Gordon, When in Palestine, received a telegram from England, asking him to undertake a mission which he had all his life longed to undertake, he was found by a friend outside the city wall, kneeling in prayer. When remonstrated with on account of the place being dangerous from Arabs, he replied, “The telegrams from England this morning filled me with such elation. I felt I might get into trouble by being proud, and I thought I would just get upon my horse and go away by myself and humble myself before God.”
Peace on the path
(Micah 6:8, marg.):--This “walking with God” is the most expressive phrase in the Bible for the Divine life. God and the soul companion pedestrians on the path of life--what could be more forcible? Walking with God is the flood tide of spirituality in our hearts, all the shoals and rocks and shallows covered by the bay-filled sea.
I. Meeting must be. Before we can walk with God, we must have met Him. Here is just the difficulty, this is the stumble at the start. There can be no walking with God, no communion with Him, till agreement be come to. There is a quarrel and controversy in the universe. By birth, man is God’s enemy; by choice, he is; by will, he remains. Darkness and light cannot be together. How then can man walk with God? Agreement is found alone in the Lord Jesus. It is in the Cross of Christ.
II. Acquaintance must be. For walking together more is required than agreement. Agreement would not keep us together. This walking together is for the closest of friends alone. We must be friends with God. We must know one another, we must love one another. This acquaintance, this knowledge, this friendship is found also in the Lord Jesus. In Christ we know God, and thus we walk homeward together. Sin is that which brings distrust, and sin is done away in the Sin Bearer.
III. the same pace must be. Walking with God implies that at the same pace the feet lift along the path. He knows what a slow, struggling pace ours is. He knows how our faltering feet drag along on the heavenly road. God will not let His feeble child walk cheerlessly alone, far behind Him.
IV. Going the same way must be. When two walk together, one face does not look one way, and the other face the other way. Both step onward side by side. Thus it is with us and the Lord, our Companion. (J. Bailey, A. M.)
The lord’s voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy name, hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it
The voice of God in His judgments
This text announces that there is a message sent from God, The voice of the Lord, as the written Word, is the ordinary, the appointed means of conveying His will to men. By that means God has in every age announced His purposes, and made known to us our duty. But there are occasions when God adopts another mode of communication, and speaks to us in a different manner. There are times when He speaks to us through His providence, and conveys a lesson by a language which ensures respect, if it does not compel obedience. He speaks to us as individuals by afflictions, by calamities, by losses, by bereavements, and this makes the careless sensible, by addressing them in a form which ensures attention. At other times He raises His voice and addresses cities or communities by judgments of a far more comprehensive kind--by war, famine, or pestilence. Thus God speaks to a disobedient and rebellious people. If His Word is despised, if His frown is neglected, He must adopt another mode of procedure, He must smite; a sort of necessity compels Him to make use of means which are foreign to His nature, and differ from His ordinary treatment. All that we know of God leads us to suppose that the mode of His address will be adapted to the state of His people. If they are like sheep, gentle, docile, and obedient, He will lead them forth like a shepherd. If they are rebellious and proud, if they show by their behaviour that they are not the sheep of His pasture, “He must take up other instruments, and lead them in another way. In that case He must rebuke, He must chastise, He must subdue by affliction those whom He cannot draw by love, and must humble the pride which resists instruction. But though He speaks, we dare not say that all hear. There were those, of old time, who had eyes and could not see, and ears and could not hear. There are those, even now, who can read the written Word, and see nothing that applies to themselves; or can sit under the sound of the Gospel, and hear nothing that they understand.
II. The text names the persons by whom that message will be understood. The men of wisdom, the few, the very few, whose hearts the Lord has opened, see what others overlook. They see His name, the end and the object of His doings, and learn to glorify God by being made acquainted with His nature in contemplating His works. Others see the rod, but do not perceive the hand that wields it. They see the event, but do not mark the providence. They see the afflictions, but will not observe the judgments. But just these things the man of wisdom does see. Nothing excites his attention which does not carry him to God, and lead him to look to God as the author of all that happens, the Ruler, the intelligent, the merciful Ruler of the world. The man of wisdom sees, and marks, and notes, what the fool does not; and the affliction which confounds the one becomes the means of illumination and correction to the other, while God is seen and considered in what is done.
III. The text describes the object and purport of the message. Consider the inference which is drawn by the man of wisdom, and how he applies it. “Hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it.” Convinced that the affliction which they undergo is a rod which God uses for the rebuke and chastisement of His people, they urge “attention to what is passing.” “Despise not the chastening of the Lord.” “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due season.” This is the language of wisdom, as wall as of piety. Admit the existence of God, and belief in His providence follows. Admit His providence, and you must see that providence such as His can have no limits. It extends to everything: it includes everything, the greatest as well as the least. But if this necessarily follows from the mere belief in God, remember that it is the part of wisdom to draw the necessary deduction, and to explain the event which appears by referring to the cause which produces it, and what is known of the character and will of Him with whom the event originates. Illustrate by reference to the failure of the potato crop during two succeeding seasons. We need not refer such calamities to any of the public or private iniquities which we have reason to lament. God deals with principles rather than with particulars. He corrects us by vindicating His own nature from our misconceptions; and a judgment which extends to all must be intended to convey to all a lesson which they need. We go to the root of all sins when we name the sinful heart of unbelief as the object of God’s displeasure, and believe that God is reproving that evil heart by the judgments He sends. We do not mean that speculative unbelief which denies the existence of God, but that practical unbelief which forgets Him. But just in proportion as a man is endeavouring to forget God, it is necessary that he should be reminded of Him. Unless we are to be given up to our idols, and left to work out our own destruction, we must be taught the secret of our dependence on God, and be led to seek Him in the way He has appointed. (Henry Raikes, M. A.)
The Divine cry against iniquity
Micah tells us his vision concerned both Samaria and Jerusalem. Against these there is a cry both of sins and of punishments.
1. Of sins. These two cities had corrupted the two kingdoms of which they were the respective heads. Atheism and immorality are nowhere so predominant as in great cities. The transgressions of Samaria were Baal and the golden calves. The transgressions of Jerusalem were her high places, where idolatries were practised. The idolatrous worship of these cities did not mean only a multiplication of images, altars, etc.; it consisted much in the gratification of their carnal lusts and passions. God’s voice also cries against their violence and oppression; their bribery and, corruption; their witchcrafts and soothsayers; their frauds in commerce and dealing; the treachery of friends, and the want of mutual affection in the nearest relations
2. Of punishments. The first woe denounced is the ruin of Samaria. The second is captivity. The third is the failure of the true prophecy and ministry of God’s Word among them. They did not care to hear unpleasant truths. The fourth is a pining, wasting sickness which should seize upon them. The fifth is famine. The sixth is the scorn and contempt with which their enemies should treat them. In these charges and denunciations, it is said, that the “man of wisdom will see God’s name,” that is, will acknowledge His commission and authority in them as fully as if he had seen Him write them. Such a man will confess, when the judgments are inflicted, that they are not fortuitous, coming in the ordinary course of things, or owing to the mere will of man, or concurrence of second causes; but that they are a rod from heaven, which God hath appointed for the punishment of His sinful people. (W. Reading, M. A.)
Man’s blindness to his own evil
Nothing is more essential to the character of the Supreme Being than perfect holiness. He loves righteousness and hates iniquity. As every man’s own conscience is a witness to the moral rectitude of the great Lawgiver, and leads to the expectation of His impartial judgment; so the remarkable interposition of Divine providence in the affairs of the world, by inflicting severe punishments for the obstinate wickedness of men, hath been universally acknowledged. Great and desolating strokes have been always attributed to the immediate avenging hand of God. Other catastrophes of nations and cities have been accounted for by the wisest of men as intended for examples of punishing obstinate wickedness and dissolute luxury. But the same uniformity is by no means observable in the effects of those judgments, as in their cause. We are not absolutely unconcerned at the strokes of providence which we see in the world. Stupidity cannot carry us quite so far; but we seldom consider them with such attention as we ought. In the afflictions which happen to mankind, every side deserves to be considered; and all is worthy of attention in these messages of Divine vengeance. It is a sad observation, that those men who above all boast of their reason, are least of all employed in such reflections. More occupied with nature than with the God of nature, they hold it weakness to discover the finger of the Almighty in the afflictions of men; they ascribe everything to second causes. But what is called nature, is either nothing or it is an assemblage of beings created by God: either the effects of nature are nothing, or they are the consequences of the laws by which the Supreme Creator governs those beings; and consequently, whatever we call natural effects, or actions of second causes, are the works of God, and the effects of laws established by Him. This reasoning, apparently sound, is confirmed in the Scriptures, which clearly teach that the calamities of particular men are designed for the instruction of all. But, not infrequently, the Divine judgments are abused in another manner; when men of a proud and uncharitable spirit, instead of considering them as warnings to themselves, think and speak of them as direct punishments for the crimes of those who suffer them. No reasoning can be worse than to say, such a man is a grievous sinner, because he is unhappy here on earth; and another is a great saint, because he is surrounded with all manner of delights. To reason in this manner is to set bounds to the Most High, without considering the different views which an infinite Intelligence may have in those strokes which He inflicts on mortals Sometimes He designs them for trials; sometimes to show forth His power and glory; sometimes to show the faith and fortitude of the sufferer. If any conclusion could be fairly drawn from the sufferings of men on earth, it ought rather to be of God’s love than His anger. In place of saying that the man who suffers is more culpable than he who suffers not, we might often have occasion to say, that he who suffers nothing at all is far more criminal than the man who suffers most. In general, there are very few sinners to whom any man hath a right to prefer himself. (A. M’Donald.)
Hear the rod
God conveys instruction to the children of men by His Word, and by His providences. These two methods of instruction mutually aid each other. When both His Word and His providence unite in addressing us, the criminality of inattention is carried to the very highest degree. Yet such inattention is common.
I. It behoves us to be attentive to the dispensations of providence which now may be taking place. In them God is, as it were, shaking His rod over us.
II. Point out some lessons of instruction.
1. God is teaching us the very great evil and malignity of sin in general.
2. God is now calling upon us to examine our selves, in order to ascertain whether we ourselves, as a nation, or as individuals, have in any measure contributed to bring on these calamities.
3. God is calling us to deep repentance; to examine into the state of our immortal souls, and to prove the genuineness and reality of our religion. It behoves us individually to examine our own hearts, and compare them with the mirror of God’s most Holy Word.
4. God is calling upon us to pray for the commencement of that great and glorious day, when the Gospel shall be universally spread over the face of the whole globe, and the “kingdoms of this world shall have become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ.” (John Vaughan, LL. D.)
God’s voice to cities
I. God has a voice to cities. The city meant here is Jerusalem. He speaks to a city through its--
The sermons that are preached, the agents that are employed to enlighten the ignorant, to comfort the distressed, reclaim the lost.
II. The wise in cities recognise the voice. “The man of wisdom shall see Thy name.” “And wisdom has Thy name in its eye” (Delitzsch). “And he who is wise will regard Thy name” (Henderson). The idea seems to be this, that the wise man will recognise God’s voice. Job says, “God speaks once, yea twice, and they perceive it not.” The crowds that populate cities are deaf to the Divine “voice.” The din of passion, the hum of commerce: the chimes of animal pleasures drown the voice of God. But me wise man haS his soul ever in a listening attitude. Like young Samuel, he says, “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.” Abraham heard the voice of God concerning Sodom, Daniel concerning Babylon, Jonah concerning Nineveh, Jeremiah concerning Jerusalem.
III. The judgment of cities is in that voice. “Hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it.” The rod is the symbol of judgment. O Assyria, the rod of My anger, the staff in My hand is My indignation.”
1. God warns cities.
(1) He warns them of ultimate temporal ruin. All cities must go--go with Nineveh, Greece, Babylon, Rome, Jerusalem.
(2) He warns them of spiritual danger. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” This is His voice to every citizen.
2. His warning should be attended to. “Hear ye the rod.” The only way to escape, is attention. (Homilist.)
The voice of the rod
Our prophet is proclaiming God’s controversy with Israel. He represents God as sitting in judgment on Israel. Appealing to them in proof of His former kindnesses to them. Specifying the crimes with which they were chargeable. Threatening to punish them with desolating judgments. Showing Israel how the impending destruction might he averted. He supposes a penitent Israelite manifesting concern for salvation by instituting the most important inquiries, and expressing his readiness to comply with whatsoever God might be pleased to demand. To obtain God’s favour, Micah says, we must come to Him, not according to the devices of superstition, but as God prescribes in His Word. To please God we must live in the uniform practice of justice, mercy, and humble piety.
I. The adversities of mankind are appointed by God.
1. The afflictions of mankind are various.
2. They are all subject to the appointment of God. They could not exist without Him. He adjusts all their circumstances.
3. They are appointed for important purposes, They should not therefore be disregarded nor despised.
II. Adversity is the instrument of God’s fatherly correction. Like a rod--
1. He employs it reluctantly:
2. Only for man’s benefit:
3. Only when necessary.
III. God speaks by the rod to those whom he chastens. He speaks withal.
1. A reproving,
2. A warning,
3. An encouraging voice.
IV. The instruction conveyed by the rod claims our attention.
1. With pious attention.
2. Inquisitive attention.
3. Candid attention.
4. Practical attention. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
Hearing the rod
(a funeral discourse):--Our Heavenly Father employs many instruments for the moral instruction of His children, To thoughtful and docile minds He teaches many an important and useful lesson by means of His providence perpetually operating around us. It is not in times of trial and affliction alone that providence conveys lessons designed for our enlightenment and benefit. But the lessons we are very slow to learn and very ready to forget. When some sudden and saddening affliction befalls us, the mind is often aroused, the heart is softened, we are compelled to pause and reflect. A painful dispensation solemnly speaks to us.
I. Of the brevity and uncertainty of human life. This is a lesson often sounded in our ears, and often addressed to our hearts. Early death is especially affecting. By it the young are urged so to live that death, whenever it may come, shall have no terror and no sting.
II. Of the disappointment of the brightest human hopes. The vanity of human wishes, and the frequent blighting of human hopes, have been in every age the theme of the moralist, the poet, and the preacher. Ought we not all to ask ourselves whether our hopes are such as death cannot destroy?
III. Of the mystery of providence. When we remember that all things are under the government of God, the Only Wise, the Almighty, and the All-loving, we ought not to complain even if we cannot comprehend. God works on a scale, and for a period, so vast, that it would be both presumption and folly for short-sighted and short-lived creatures, such as we are, to expect to comprehend His plans.
IV. Of the worth of a Christian faith. It supports the dying, it comforts the bereaved. It enables the believer in the conflict with the last enemy to come off more than conqueror; it enables those who mourn departed friends to live in the certainty of a future and blessed reunion. (G. D. Macgregor.)
The voice of God to the careless city
(on a visitation of cholera):--
1. This infliction is the “Lord’s voice,” as a rebuke and warning from Him. After every deduction and allowance for secondary causes, whether natural or artificial, we are compelled to return to the great first cause, and to acknowledge that this public calamity is indeed the voice of God. This voice of the Lord “crieth unto the city.” It is that of a watchman, or herald, proclaiming, with loud and unmistakable voice, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” “Let the people turn every one from the evil of his way, and from the violence that is in their hands. Who can tell if God will return and repent, and turn from His fierce anger, that we perish not?”
2. At such times “the man of wisdom shall see Thy name.” The name of the Lord in a special manner denotes His attributes--His justice, power, wisdom, goodness, love.
3. At such times, “hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it.” Not “bear ye,” but “hear ye.” The rod of Divine justice and love has a voice, both for the sufferer and the beholder. Invite to personal prayer and self-examination.
(1) As to your feelings in regard to sin in general.
(2) There should be a renunciation of self.
(3) But external reformation is not enough, nor will it ever be lasting unless the heart be touched within, and attracted by the loadstone of Divine grace. (L. M. Humbert, M. A.)
The voice of God to the nation
I. Public calamities are the voice of God to the nation. The dispensations of God are particular or general. The particular affect individuals; the general affect a nation or a world. A nation is but a larger family, a more numerous and extensive household. “The voice of the Lord crieth unto the city”--against the city. Why? On account of our national sins. They are many and great. Have not profligate luxury on the one hand, and commercial covetousness on the other, marked the latter period of our history? Gross immorality, daring crime, heaven defying impiety and blasphemy raise their unveiled, unblushing fronts in the broad light of day. Lying, uncleanness, and fraud are to be reckoned among the crying sins of our country. The voice of the Lord crieth against us on account of the little improvement we have made of our religious advantages. How few are living under the vital influence of those doctrines and principles, which distinguish the Gospel of the grace of God from all other systems! The voice charges us, not only with a shameful neglect of the Gospel, as a matter of personal concern, but also with indifference respecting its diffusion through the earth.
II. It is wisdom to see and acknowledge God in public calamities. His great, and venerable, and inviting name of wisdom, power, and love is inscribed upon all His works, and there it is seen and read by the man of wisdom. But especially it is visible upon the gloomy clouds of affliction. Multitudes live, and act, and form their judgments as if there were no Divine government--as if chance were universal monarch, They look only to secondary causes. The text implies that it is the part of folly not to perceive and acknowledge the hand of the Lord in public calamities. Such insensibility is an evidence of positive wickedness, approaching to atheism.
III. It is our duty and interest to improve public calamities. Why does a father chastise his children? That they may be improved by his correction. He uses the rod, not to gratify his own temper, but to profit them. It becomes our duty to seek personal improvement from the dispensations of our Heavenly Father. It is not only our duty, it is our interest to improve public calamities. The first lesson to learn is to examine and abase ourselves before God.
1. To be cheerfully resigned to the Divine will.
2. To bear upon our minds the claims which our rulers have on our prayers.
3. To nourish solemn and practical reflections upon death.
4. To derive improvement from this public calamity--the death of the Princess Charlotte of Wales--by seeking deeper impressions of the truth, that all is vanity except the Gospel (John East, A. B.)
God’s threatening rod
It is a question hard to determine, whether the greatness of God, or the condescendency of God, be the greater mystery. The day may be approaching when ye shall meet with these six silent things from God.
1. Silent rods, when ye shall not know nor understand the language of them.
2. A silent God. When ye shall cry to Him, and He shall not hear you.
3. Silent and dumb ordinances, which shall not speak to you.
4. Silent mercies, so that all the good things He doth unto you, ye shall not know their language.
5. The sad lot of a silent conscience.
6. Silent commands, threatenings, and promises; that is, ye shall never know what the commands call for, or the threatenings or the promises. The prophet accuses the people of neglect of duties which were lying at their door. In this verse we have the scope of it, which is this,--showing file people that the Lord would send a more sharp message, if they will not obey. Three things from the scope, before we come to the first thing in the words--
1. The slighting of known duties is the forerunner of some sad and lamentable stroke from the Lord. Note some aggravations of the sin of slighting known duties.
(1) When a person slights duty, after the sinfulness of that sin hath been discovered to him.
(2) When a person slights known duties, after God hath been discovering discontent with another person for that sin.
(3) After God hath begun to contend with them for so doing.
(4) Upon very small temptations.
(5) When persons do not as much as set about the well-doing of them.
(6) After God hath commended the beauty and excellency of such duties.
(7) Afar they have been convinced of the advantage which waits upon the doing of them.
(8) With very little resentment and grief of heart.
2. Some considerations to press you to the exercise of these duties.
(1) It is the Christian who practiseth, not who knoweth, to whom the promises are made.
(2) The Christian that is taken up in practising, and not the knowing Christian, is blessed. The blessed Christian is he who knoweth his duty, and doeth it.
(3) The practising, not the knowing, Christian is approven and commended of God.
(4) Not the knowledge, but the practice of Christian duties will give peace to the conscience.
(5) It is by the practice, not the knowledge of your duty, that you rise up in conformity with God.
3. Six things concerning known duties.
(1) Many persons are more desirous to know what they should do, than to do what they know.
(2) The question which shall be proposed to you in the great and notable day of the Lord, will be, “O man, what didst thou?”
(3) A grain weight of sincerity and practice is worth a talent of knowledge.
(4) The slighting of known duties hath many sad disadvantages waiting upon it. It makes Christians weary of duties. It brings on much hardness and stupidity of heart. It either mars the peace of conscience, or it hardens the conscience, or it lulls the conscience asleep. And the Christian who slights duty is likely to become exceeding formal in the duty he does.
(5) The slighting of known duty is the first step of the sin against the Holy Ghost.
I. God hath many ways in pressing people to their duties. Voice.
1. The voice of threatenings.
2. Of sad afflicting dispensations.
3. Of the promises.
4. Of all the mercies that we meet with.
5. Of our consciences.
6. Of public ordinances.
There are seven steps of judgment, which are likely to overtake us, if we hearken not to His voice,
1. God shall slight the voice of the disobeyers when they cry to Him.
2. At last God will speak no more to them.
3. God will draw His sword out of the sheath, and not replace it.
4. He will deliver us into the hand of the slayer.
5. He will cease to have correspondence with us any more.
6. He will purge us no more.
7. We shall be let alone, left alone in our sin.
II. God hath many rods to use in punishing those who slight their duties.
1. The rod of His mouth.
2. The rod of His hand; or afflictions and crosses,
3. The iron rod of destruction, when God doth utterly destroy.
Some will not take and make use of these threatenings, because they mistake what is their meaning; or they are in ignorance of their own condition. (A. Gray.)
Wisdom of hearing the voice of affliction
I. God appoints every affliction that men experience. He always acts agreeably to the counsel of His own will, in every evil He inflicts, and in every good He bestows. All the afflictions and sorrows and sufferings of Christ were brought upon Him according to the eternal appointment of God.
II. Every affliction has an instructive voice. This is intimated by the figurative expression in the text. God would not call upon men to hear the voice of His rod, if His rod had no voice. Men often speak as plainly by what they do as by what they say. And God often speaks as plainly by His rod as by His Word. God means to teach, and does teach by His providence. Afflictions tend to teach the afflicted their entire dependence upon God. This they are naturally insensible of, and need to be taught by the voice of the rod. Men must learn their dependence on God, before they can be happy, either in this life or in that which is to come. The voice of affliction tends to teach mankind the vanity of all earthly enjoyments. The great inquiry is, who will show us any temporal good? And if God grants outward prosperity, and pours the blessings of His providence upon men, they are ready to think that their mountain stands strong, that their happiness is secure, and that they shall never see corruption. Their hearts become wedded to the world. When God chastens them with the rod of correction, and takes away one earthly blessing after another, by His bereaving hand, they are ready to adopt the language of Job, “Naked came I,” etc. The voice of affliction naturally tends to turn the thoughts of the afflicted upon the most serious and solemn subjects. When the world appears vain, other things appear weighty and important. When temporal things lose their lustre, eternal things will assume their importance, and fix the whole soul in solemn reflections and anticipations. The day of adversity is the day to consider. This is one of the natural and salutary effects of Divine corrections. How often do afflictions prepare the way for awakenings, convictions, and conversions! Eliphaz very reasonably says, “Happy is the man whom God correcteth.”
III. It is always a point of wisdom to hear the instructive voice of affliction. This will appear, if we consider--
1. That the voice of affliction is the voice of God. The men of wisdom who see and know the name of God; that is, those who know and love the character, perfections, and govern merit of God; will hear, understand, and obey the voice of the rod of His wrath, which is His most solemn, imperious, and impressive voice.
2. To refuse to hear the voice of affliction will be highly displeasing to God.
3. By refusing to hear it, men will expose themselves to still severer marks of the Divine displeasure. Afflictions, bereavements, and fiery trials often follow one another in quick succession. One affliction seems to be the presage of another.
4. The afflicted never know when God calls to them by the voice of His rod, but that it is the last call He will ever give them, before He calls them into eternity.
Improve the subject--
1. If God appoints every affliction for the purpose of instructing the afflicted, then He can instruct those who are the most unwilling to be instructed.
2. If the voice of affliction be instructive, then all persons must be beneficially instructed, unless they use great efforts to prevent it.
3. If God Himself instructs the afflicted by the voice of His rod, then they never can have any excuse for not hearing His instructions.
4. If it be a point of wisdom in the afflicted to hear the instructive voice of the rod, then it argues want of wisdom in them to refuse to hear it.
5. If afflictions are instructive, then the afflicted are always in a peculiarly trying and dangerous situation. They must receive, or refuse to receive instruction.
6. This subject calls upon all to hear the voice of providence, which crieth to the nations who are now groaning under the rod of affliction and calamity. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
God’s threatening rod
There are three things which a Christian may meet with which are unspeakable.
1. An unspeakable sorrow, so that he cannot make language of it.
2. Unspeakable mercy.
3. Unspeakable joy.
There is not a grain weight of affliction in the cup which infinite wisdom doth not think fit should be there. There are some Christians that are forced to bless God more for their crosses than for their mercies. The cross of a Christian has two faces--an outward and an inward face. From this exhortation to Israel notice--
I. Every rod which a Christian meets with hath a voice in it.
1. It is a singular and remarkable step of the goodwill of God, when He doth manifest the meaning of a rod to a person or people.
2. The Christians of old have taken much pains to know the voice of the rods that they meet with.
3. It is exceeding anxious for a Christian to be under a silent rod; to be under such a dispensation that he knows not the language of it.
4. It is exceeding hard for a Christian to profit by a rod till once he take up the meaning of it.
5. A Christian may be long under a rod before he know the voice and language of it.
6. When a Christian wins apprehension of the meaning of his rod he should at once go about to answer it. How may a Christian gain the meaning of his rod? By making serious application to the throne of grace, that God would give light concerning it. If the rod was timed to thee, when the heart was under much distance from God, that probably is the meaning of the rod--to draw thee nigh again. We may also know the rod by reflecting on the manner and circumstances of the rod, and by observing the mind of the Lord in Scriptures; and by studying the circumstances associated with the rod; and by considering what are the Divine designs in sending rods. It is easier to bear a rod patiently which is for the trial and exercise of our predominant grace, than to bear a rod patiently that is for the mortification of our predominant idols. There is ordinarily some analogy between our crosses and our sins.
II. Some mistakes which Christians have concerning the meaning of the rod.
1. Many think the cross speaks wrath when it speaks love. Some think that love and the rod cannot be together at all.
2. Some think that God can never answer their prayers while He is afflicting them.
3. Some begin to dispute their interest when they meet with a rod or sad dispensation.
4. It is a great mistake of the voice and language of God’s threatening rod for a person to think religion but vanity and an empty thing under the cross.
5. Another mistake is, to dispute the fellowship a Christian hath with God.
III. How a Christian may be helped to obey the voice of the rod.
1. If the rod call for the mortifying of a particular lust and idol, it is incumbent to sit down, and bring up your hearts to a spiritual detestation of such an idol.
2. If the voice of the rod be to stir up a grace, then study to know that there is as much spiritual advantage in the real and spiritual exercise of such a grace as ye can lose by all the rods ye can meet with.
3. If the voice of the rod be that thou shouldst set about the exercise of a duty, then endeavour seriously that all impediments and lets to that duty be laid aside.
IV. What ought to be a Christian’s duty while he is walking under a silent rod. He should know God to be just, though he knoweth not for what He contends with him. He should be serious in making distinct supplications to God to know the meaning of such a rod. He should be serious to know the reason of God’s keeping up His mind from him in such a rod. He should study to bring his heart into a tender and spiritual frame. Study to have thy heart most united to Christ when under a silent cross, for at that time thou art most ready to fall. Take notice of the following observations concerning the cross. If affliction be spun out to any length, the Christian may turn impatient. There are five sorts of blasphemy which one that is under a cross may fall into. It shows the want of a son-like frame if the cross hinders us in the exercise of our duties. Look upon your crosses as divine gifts. There are some peaceable fruits of righteousness that redound to a Christian who is rightly exercised under the cross. The most rare enjoyments of the Christian are trysted to the time of his being under a cross. (A. Gray.)
The voice of the rod
In the presence of calamities let us say, “Speak, Lord, for Thy servants hear.” This, in substance, is--
I. To feel the strokes of God’s hand. If we feel the strokes of God’s hand we shall shake off a certain state of indolence in which many of us are found, and be clothed with the sentiments of humiliation, and of terror and awe. We shall be softened with sentiments of sorrow and repentance if we examine their origin and cause. And if we discover the remedies and resources we shall be animated with the sentiments of genuine conversion.
II. To trace the causes and the origin of our calamities. Micah wished the Jews to comprehend that the miseries under which they groaned were a consequence of their crimes. We would wish you to form the same judgment of yours. The subject has its difficulties. Under a pretence of entering into the spirit of humiliation, there is danger of our falling into the puerilities of superstition. Temporal prosperity and adversity are very equivocal marks of the favour or displeasure of God. By some, the slightest adversity is regarded as a stroke of God’s angry arm. It is better to form the criterion of our guilt or innocence, not by the exterior prosperity or adversity sent of God, but by our obedience or disobedience to His Word. But adversity is sometimes occasioned by crimes. This is apparent--
1. When there is a natural connection between the crimes we have committed and the calamities we suffer, God has placed harmony between happiness and virtue. Trace this harmony in the circles of society and in private life. An enlightened mind can find no solid happiness but in the exercises of virtue. The happiness procured by the passions is founded on mistake.
2. When great calamities follow upon great crimes.
III. To examine their consequences and connections. Some calamities are less formidable in themselves than in the awful consequences they produce. There are calamities whose distinguished characteristic is to be the forerunners of calamities still more terrible.
1. One calamity is the forerunner of a greater when the people whom God afflicts have recourse to second causes instead of the first cause, and when they seek the redress of their calamities in political resources and not in religion. This is the portrait Isaiah gives of Sennacherib’s first expedition against Judaea.
2. When, instead of humiliation on reception of the warnings God sends by His servants, we turn those warnings into contempt. Inquire how far you are affected by this doctrine. Do you discover a teachable disposition, or do you revolt against the Word of God’s ministers?
3. When the anguish it excites proceeds more from the loss of our perishable riches than from sentiments of the insults offered to God.
4. When the plague fails in producing the reformation of those manners it was sent to chastise.
IV. To discover their resources and remedies. We found our hopes on the abundant mercies with which God has loaded us during the time of visitation. With the one hand He abases, with the other He exalts. We found our hopes on the resources He has still left our state to recover, and to reestablish itself in all the extent of its glory and prosperity. Frustrate not these hopes by a superficial devotion, by forgetfulness of promises and violation of vows. (James Saurin.)
Do not be atheistical in the time of affliction. The “rod” means judgment. Sometimes judgment takes the form of chastening. We are not always to suppose that the rod means mere punishment,--an action of the strong upon the weak, or the righteous upon the wicked; the rod may be an instrument of education as well as of vengeance and of penalty. Do not suppose that the devil holds the rod. The devil is the weakest of all creatures; his is only the strength of boisterousness; there is nothing in it of abiding pith, stability, and power. Afflictions do not spring out of the dust. When the rod is lacerating your back, ask, What wilt Thou have me to do? When all things are dull and distressing and disappointing, say, This is the ministry of God; He is taking out of me some elements of vanity, which are always elements of weakness, and He is conducting me to the altar by a subterranean passage. We do not always go to the altar along a pathway of flowers; not always does God beckon us through a garden to follow Him to some chosen place of communion. Sometimes we are driven to the altar; often we do not want to pray; the soul will take no rest, and give none until a great, sweet, holy, burdened prayer has gone up to heaven by way of the cross. Is the rod lying heavy on your house now? Know ye the rod, and Him who hath appointed it; examine yourselves carefully and searchingly, and see if there be any wicked way in you, and drag it out: it will rot in the sunlight. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
Grace and love
Herein are three things. The people the Lord’s voice crieth unto, and that is, unto the city. You have the exhortation to hear the voice of the rod. You have an argument to press you to do so. There is a rod of power and dignity, of discrimination, of direction, of government, of destruction. It is a rod of correction that we are to understand here. And we remark that when God visits the transgressions of His people with a rod, it is their best wisdom to hear the rod, and who hath appointed it.
1. God doth not steal upon a people with His judgments, but He first warns them before He smites them. He sometimes warns by His Word, and sometimes by His works and dispensations. By His judgments upon others, and by His afflictions upon themselves, He brings a lesser judgment to prevent a greater.
2. When God smites His own people He deals with them in the way of the rod.
(1) Because they are His own children.
(2) As they are children, He loves them, and He that spareth the rod hateth the child.
(3) God doth sometimes correct His people because of their folly.
It may be said, Doth not God use the rod with the wicked too? There is a whipping rod, and a breaking rod; a whipping rod for the saints, and a breaking rod for the wicked. God’s rod for His people only chastises “in measure.” And His visitations are always seasonable.
3. God’s rod is a teaching rod. What lessons does it teach; and how does it teach them?
4. This message is sent especially to the great cities and towns of a nation or people.
5. When God visits with a rod, it is true wisdom to hear it and the Sender. You must honour God in His dispensations. That is the way in which to get the best blessing out of the strokes, and to prevent further strokes. (W. Bridge, M. A.)
Fast day service
The world is a place of punishment for sin, but it is not the place. Because God does not usually visit each particular offence in this life upon the transgressor, men are apt to deny altogether the doctrine of judgments. The Indian Mutiny was a rod of God for our nation, but it was an appointed rod. Hear this rod.
1. It would have been as well if we had heard this rod before it fell upon us. The wise man may hear God’s rod before it smiteth. He that understandeth God’s moral government knows that sin carries punishment in its bowels.
2. But the rod has fallen. What are the most glaring sins for which God is now visiting us?
(1) There are sins in the community that never ought to have been allowed. Such as public immorality.
(2) There are class sins.
(3) There are sins of trade.
(4) Sins in the relations between masters and workmen.
(5) Sins of illiberality, deceit, bigotry, lasciviousness, carnality, pride, covetousness, and laziness.
3. Hear ye the rod when it shall again be still. (Anon.)
The scant measure which is abomination
In these verses we have a sample of the crimes which abound in the city, and which would bring on the threatened judgment.
I. Their variety.
1. Here is fraud. Fraud is one of the most prevalent crimes in all cities.
2. Here is violence. “The rich men thereof are full of violence.” Wealth has a tendency to make men arrogant, haughty, heartless, often inhuman.
3. Here is falsehood. “The inhabitants thereof have spoken lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth.” There is scarcely a trade or profession carried on without deception. Fortunes are made by lies. Such are samples of the crimes prevalent in Jerusalem.
II. Their retribution. All these crimes are offensive to the Ruler of the universe.
1. Disease. “Therefore also will I make thee sick in smiting thee.” Crime is inimical to physical health and strength.
2. Desolation. “In making thee desolate because of thy sins.” A desolate man is one who neither loves nor is loved; and sin produces this state. Few states of mind are more awful or more crushing than the sense of aloneness.
3. Dissatisfaction. “Thou shalt eat, but not be satisfied.” Sin and satisfaction can never coexist.
4. Disappointment. “Thou shalt sow, but thou shalt not reap; thou shalt tread the olives, but thou shalt not anoint thee with oil; and sweet wine, but shalt not drink wine.” A sinful soul can never get out of its labour that which it expects.
5. Destruction. “Thy casting down shall be in the midst of thee.” Conclusion. Mark the law of retribution. Not more certain is it that the rivers follow the ocean, the planets the sun, than that suffering follows sin. (Homilist.)
For the rich men thereof are full of violence
Trying the impossible
The folly of expecting real prosperity by committing acts of injustice, or pursuing courses of sin, is here forcibly represented by comparing it to the absurdity of attempting to run horses upon a rock, or to plough the rock with oxen.
The strength of the representation is increased by its interrogative form. Our subject is, trying the impossible. Men are constantly doing this--
I. When they attempt to destroy an enemy by physical force.
II. When they attempt to make society morally good by mere secular instruction. Dishonesty, uneducated, may commit petty thefts; but educated, it will legally swindle a nation. Knowledge, alas! is all in vain.
III. When they attempt to get happiness from without. True happiness springs from within, not from without; rises from holy loves, hopes, aspirations, and aims. In one word, love is the well of water that springs into everlasting life.
IV. When they attempt to save souls by ministering to their selfishness. The man who tries to save souls by constant appeals to the selfishness of human nature acts more absurdly than he who attempts to gallop horses upon the sharp peaks of rugged rocks.
V. When they attempt to convert heathens abroad before converting the heathen at home. (Homilist.)
Thou shalt sow, but thou shalt not reap
Mark the vexation of it--sowing and not reaping; sowing, and somebody else reaping.
Here is the uncontrollable element in life. A man says, I certainly did tread out the olives, and I have not a small vessel full of oil with which to anoint myself; working for others, the slave of slaves. We see this every day. We need not invoke the supernatural in any merely metaphysical sense in order to substantiate this as a fact. It is the common experience of life. Men put money into bags, and go for the money, and it is not there. Why is it not there? The prophet explains that there were holes in the bag, and the money went right through. You have heard of a man all day long trying to draw water with a sieve. How industrious he is! See, the sieve goes down, the wheel is turned, and the sieve is brought up, and there is no water in it. It is a mystery. Not at all. Why is there no water? Because the vessel is a sieve; the water runs out as quickly as it runs in. Yon have heard of one who was rolling a stone up the hill all day, and the more it was rolled up the more it rolled down, and at night it was exactly where it was before the process of rolling began. Worthless labour, useless labour, vexatious labour. Thus doth God puzzle and bewilder and perplex men. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
And the statutes of Omri are kept
Omri and Ahab: lessons worth study
On the long dark roll of human infamy there are but few darker names than those of Omri and Ahab.
I. The religious sentiment in man is often terribly perverted. Omri and Ahab were not idolaters themselves, but they established idolatry in their country. The religious sentiment in man is perhaps the substratum element of his nature. Man is made to worship, and to worship the one true and living God only. But so blinded is his intellect, so debased his nature, so utterly corrupt, that, instead of worshipping the infinitely great, he falls down before the infinitely contemptible. The perversity of the religious sentiment--
1. Explains the errors, crimes, and miseries of the world. Man’s strongest love is the spring of all his activities, the fontal source of all his influence. When this is directed to an idol, the whole of his life is corrupted.
2. Reveals man’s absolute need of the Gospel. There is nothing bug the Gospel of Christ that can give this sentiment a right direction.
II. That obedience to human sovereigns is sometimes a great crime. The worship of Baal was enacted by the “statutes” of Omri, and enforced by the practice of Ahab. A human law, enacted by the greatest sovereign in the world in connection with the most illustrious statesmen, if it is not in accord with the eternal principles of justice and truth, as revealed in God’s Word, should be repudiated, renounced, and transgressed. “Whether it is right to obey God rather than men, judge ye.”
III. That the crimes of even two men may exert a corrupting influence upon millions in future generations. The reigns of Omri and Ahab were ages before the time when Micah lived. Notwithstanding, their enactments were still obeyed, their examples were still followed, and their practices were still pursued. The wickedness of these two men was now, ages after, perpetrated by a whole nation. How great the influence of man for good or evil! Verily, one sinner destroyeth much good. (Homilist.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Micah 6". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25