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Mercy and Not Sacrifice

Mercy and Not Sacrifice is a lesser-known sermon composed by Jonathan Edwards and preached in 1740. It is included in the WJE, 19 and can be read at The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University. The doctrine Edwards presented in this message is that "moral duties towards men are a more important and essential part of religion than external acts of worship of God." He chose as his text Matthew 12:7, "And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless" (ESV).

Edwards' original manuscript can be seen and studied at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. This is the first page:

This sermon was included in the book The Other Jonathan Edwards: Selected Writings on Society, Love, and Justice by Gerald McDermott (Editor), Ronald Story (Editor):

Mercy and Not Sacrifice has been reproduced here with minor aesthetic edits for an online environment.


Mercy and Not Sacrifice

Matthew 12:7 But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.

Christ says this on occasion of the Pharisees' charging the disciples for plucking the ears of corn and eating when they were going through the corn fields on the sabbath day. And in the words two things are to be observed:

1. The passage that Christ cites out of the Old Testament; and,

2. How Christ applies it.

1. I would take notice of the passage itself that is cited from the Old Testament: “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.” The passage is cited from the prophecy of Hosea, the sixth chapter, v. Hosea 6:6: “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” 'Tis only the former part of the verse that is quoted by Christ in the text, in which passage may be observed two things:

(1) Two kinds of duties [are] compared, mercy and sacrifice, the one a moral duty towards men, viz. that of mercy. For God, in the place cited, is speaking of the things that he expects of men and what duties he chiefly insists upon from them: and he says he desired mercy, that is, he insists on their doing acts of mercy one to another. The other is a duty of external religion towards God, viz. offering sacrifice. This was a part of God's instituted external worship. It was so then when the prophet Hosea said it, and it remained to be still when Christ cited the words, as he did in the text; for the law of sacrificing and the rest of the ceremonial law did not cease till Christ's death and resurrection.

So that the kinds of duties that we have compared together are moral duties towards men, and the duties of external worship towards God.

(2) We may observe to which of these the preference is given, viz. to mercy, which is a moral duty towards men. This God prefers before sacrifice, that is, an external duty of religion towards God.

Nextly we may observe how Christ applies this, viz. to justify his disciples in doing that for their own relief when in want that otherwise would have been a breach of the sabbath. For by the law of Moses, it was unlawful for persons so much as to gather sticks, to dress their food, or to gather their food on the sabbath. And therefore, they might gather no manna in the wilderness on the sabbath; and when some of the children went forth on that day hoping to find manna, it was rebuked as a great sin. Gathering manna is spoken of as contrary to that rest that God then required on the sabbath (Exodus 16:23).

Christ seems to allow that their plucking ears of corn and rubbing them in their hands to get food to eat on the sabbath day would be unlawful were it not that their own relief required it. He allows that, were it not for this, it would be a profanation of the sabbath, and justifies it by other instances of like nature that, considered void of their circumstances, are profanations of the sabbath and yet are allowed of in Scripture, as the instance of the priests in the temple: as v. Exodus 16:5, “Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?”

Christ argues that if God prefers works of mercy to our neighbors to the parts of his own external worship, then persons when in distress themselves may relieve themselves, though it can't be without forbearing some of the external acts of worship towards God.


Moral duties towards men are a more important and essential part of religion than external acts of worship of God.

'Tis not only that particular moral duty towards men, viz. showing mercy to 'em, that is a more essential part of religion than that particular act of worship {of God}, viz. offering sacrifices.

It appears by Christ's application of this passage of the prophet Hosea that the preference is given to acts of mercy, not only before sacrificing, but to other external duties of God's worship. For Christ applies it here to an external keeping of the sabbath, which is a part of religion that belongs to God's external worship that is as much insisted on in Scripture as any part of the external worship. The command in which it is required is not one of the ceremonial, but one of the Ten Commands, one of those great commands that were given at Mt. Sinai by an audible voice and that were written on tables of stone. And Christ, in the context, also mentions another part of God's external worship, viz. that sacred regard to the temple and to the holy things of it which the law required, and which David and those that were with him violated when they were in distressing want. These things show that 'tis not only that particular part of worship— sacrificing— that is meant, but any part of the outward worship of God.

And by Christ's applying of it to the disciples' relieving themselves under pinching want by doing that which otherwise would have been a violation of the sabbath, it appears that 'tis not only that particular moral duty to men, viz. showing mercy to others, that is preferred before sacrificing, but other duties respecting ourselves and our neighbors that are of moral obligation and that nature obliges us to.

So that the doctrine that I here raised from the words, is the very lesson that is taught us in this passage of the Prophet as applied by our Savior in the text and context. 'Tis what God would have the Israelites of old understand by the prophet Hosea and what Christ would have the Jews understand: that moral duties towards men are of greater importance in religion than the external acts of God's worship.

Christ blames the Pharisees that they did not understand it; they did not know what it meant. And therefore, that we may not fall under the same blame, I would now insist particularly on this subject. And that I may do it with the greater clearness,

I. I would premise some things needful in order to the right understanding of the doctrine.

II. I shall endeavor to prove the truth of the doctrine, or to show that it is so.

III. [I shall endeavor] to give the reasons why it is so.

I. I would observe something needful to the clear understanding of the doctrine.

First. It may be proper to observe what religion is: which is nothing else but the creatures' exercise and manifestation of respect to the Divine Being. Humanity and civility consist in the exercises and testimonies of our respect to men. But religion is the expression of our respect to God. Nothing that men do can be referred to the head of religion any otherwise than as it is intended as an expression of respect to the Divine Being. Whatever duties men perform not as subject to a deity or without any reference to him, what they do has no religion in it, nor is not to [be] recked as any part of religion: for God is the object of all religion.

And all duties, of whatever kind or nature, are to [be] referred to the head of religion so far as they are performed with reference to God, though the duties that are performed don't immediately belong to God's worship, are not any acts of God's worship. But if they more immediately respect men— ourselves or our neighbors— yet if performed with conscience towards God, they are to be looked upon as acts of religion.

Thus if a man is temperate only from regard to his health, or if he [is] liberal and generous only for the applause of men, his temperance and liberality are no part of religion. But if he is temperate and charitable with conscience towards God, and the man performs these duties as subject to him, then they are performed as duties of religion. And then, in the

Second place, it must be observed that the duties of religion are of two kinds: they are either those that more immediately respect God and are called the duties of his worship, or those that more immediately respect men.

Both do respect God ultimately, as I have just now shown. Duties towards men are performed as duties to God ultimately; otherwise they don't belong to the head of religion. But yet there is this remarkable distinction to be observed: that some respect God immediately and belong to his immediate worship and service, such as prayer, keeping the sabbath, attending ordinances; and others more immediately respect men, such as acts of justice and charity to them.

The one are the duties of the first table of the Law; the other are duties of the second table. And,

Third. We must observe a distinction between acts of obedience and acts of [sacrifice]. They are those of which God is the immediate object.

Fourth. It must be observed that those duties that immediately respect God and are acts of his worship, are either internal or external. There are the acts of internal worship of God, as the worship of the heart, or which the Apostle calls worshipping God “in the Spirit,” in the third [chapter] of Philippians, v. Philippians 3:3; which is nothing else but the inward actings of love to God, and inward fear and reverence towards God, acts of inward trust in God and submission to him, and the like.

And there are external or outward acts of worship, such as outward prayer, singing psalms, going to the public assemblies of God's people, attending the sacraments, keeping days of fasting or thanksgiving, reading and hearing the word of God, attending private religious meetings, speaking respectfully of God, talking much of God and Christ, and seeming affectionate and reverential in the manner of our talk of things of religion or in our manner of behavior in the worship of [God]. Such things as these are the external acts of the worship of God spoken of in the doctrine.

Fifth. Moral duties towards men are not more essential parts of religion than acts of the internal worship of God. It must be observed that what is asserted in the doctrine, is that they are more essential or important than external or outward acts of worship, not the internal. The internal acts of worship, or the worship of the heart in inward acts of love and fear of God and trust in God, are the most essential and important of all the duties of religion whatsoever. Christ teaches us this; he tells us that the first and great command of the Law is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, {and with all our soul, and with all our mind} (Matthew 22:37-38). This is the very essence of all true religion, the most fundamental part, the source.

But moral duties towards men— such as being chaste and temperate and meek in our behavior, observing trust between man and man, showing mercy to others when acts of mercy towards 'em are required, and living honestly and charitably, and behaving ourselves humbly and contentedly amongst men, avoiding contempt among or coveting what is our neighbor's— such duties as these are of greater importance in religion than going to public or private meetings, attending outward acts of prayer or the ordinances of worship. For though no duty is to be made light of— no one is to be neglected; when we do some we ought not to leave others undone, but our obedience should be universal; and he that offends on one point is guilty of all; and every sin as committed against God deserves eternal death— and though neither one duty nor the other is of any value in the sight God unless performed in sincerity, yet that don't hinder but that there are some matters that are weightier matters of the law than others, as most certainly there are by Christ's own testimony in the twenty-third [chapter] of Matthew, v. Matthew 23:23. There are three things that are there mentioned as weightier matters of the law: judgment, mercy and faith. The two first are moral duties towards men, viz. judgment and mercy, or, in other words, acts of justice and charity. And that these moral duties towards men are indeed weightier matters of the law than acts of external worship towards God, is what I now proceed, as was proposed in the

II. [Second] place, to prove to be true. For though indeed the text alone is sufficient to prove it, yet because there is a great aptness in men to entertain such a kind of notion of religion as the Pharisees and other Jews in Christ's time did— that the most of religion consists in external acts of worship towards God— and to place religion chiefly in such things to the neglecting of much weightier matters of the law, I will take notice of the additional evidence that may be brought to prove the truth of the doctrine.

First. Moral duties towards men are much more insisted on, both in the Old Testament and New, than the other. 'Tis true both are required; but the former are abundantly more insisted [on] in the Word of God. They are so in the Old Testament, when the church was under a dispensation wherein the externals of worship were much more insisted on, than under the New Testament, which is a dispensation of the Spirit and wherein especially men are called upon to worship God in the Spirit. Yet even under that old legal dispensation, how much more did the prophets insist on moral duties towards men, such as walking uprightly, working righteousness, speaking the truth every man to his neighbor, despising the gain of oppressions, shaking their hands from holding of bribes, stopping their ears from hearing of blood, seeking peace and ensuring it, executing true judgment, showing mercy and compassion every one to his brother, not oppressing the widow nor the fatherless nor the stranger nor the poor, not imagining evil against their brother in their hearts. 'Tis impracticable now particularly to show you, unless I should read over all the Prophets to you; but all that are acquainted with the Scripture know that the Prophets do much more insist on these things than the others.

And so in the New Testament, when the Jews came and inquired of John the Baptist, “What shall we do then? He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise” (Luke 3:10-11). And Jesus Christ, when he was on the earth, did abundantly more insist on such duties than on the duties of external worship, as you may see if you read over Christ's Sermon on the Mount. That sermon is mostly filled up with moral precepts respecting our neighbors and brethren, and comparatively very little said about external acts of worship. And the same may be observed in Christ's discourses from time to time.

And when we look into the writings of the apostles, external acts of worship are indeed in some places mentioned and required, but they are in no measure insisted on as moral duties towards men are. As in the epistles of the apostle Paul particularly, 'tis observable that Apostle in his epistles commonly observes this method: that in the former part of his epistles he insists on doctrinal matter, but in the latter part he comes to what more immediately relates to practice and the duties that are required of Christians.

And there we may find that he insists ten times so much on moral duties towards men as the external acts of worship. So in the epistle to the Romans, the eleven first chapters of that epistle are taken up in matters of doctrine. But in the beginning of the twelfth chapter he comes to practice. And there we may observe that in the twelfth and following chapters, where the Apostle sets himself to urge the duties that Christians should attend, that such moral duties towards men are abundantly more insisted on than the duties of external worship.

The same is to be observed in his epistles to the Galatians and Ephesians and Philippians and Colossians. And so it is in the epistles of the other apostles, James, Peter and John.

Second. Where these two kinds of duties are spoken of together, moral duties toward men are plainly preferred before the external act of worship.

So in the first chapter of Isaiah, first God speaks of that sort of duties that consist in acts of external worship. Verses Isaiah 1:12-15, “When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.” And then, in v. Isaiah 1:17, God speaks of the other kind of {duties}: “Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow”; which plainly manifests how much he gives the preference to the latter.

So God shows very plain how greatly he gives the preference to the latter in Amos 5:21-24. “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer me burnt-offerings and your meat-offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols. But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” There God speaks of the external acts of worship; and then, in v. Amos 5:24, he speaks of moral duties towards men and {gives preference to the latter}.

So these two sorts of duties are compared in Micah and the preference plainly showed. In Mic 6:7-08 {we read}, “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 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?” Here the two former of these, the things marked in v. Mic 6:8 which God so much gives the preference to, are works of justice and charity towards our neighbors.

So in the fifty-eighth chapter of Isaiah, in the fifth, sixth, and seventh verses. There a particular kind of acts of God's external worship are mentioned, viz. keeping days of fasting externally to humble themselves for their sins, and this is compared with duties of righteousness and charity towards our neighbors. And God shows how greatly the latter are preferred. “Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?”

And when messengers came from the Jews in Babylon to inquire of the Lord whether they should keep up such and such outward observances of God's worship or, particularly, whether they should keep up their fasts that had of late been used amongst [them], as we have an account in the seventh chapter of Zechariah at [the] beginning— “When they had sent unto the house of God Sherezer and Regemmelech, and their men, to pray before the Lord, And to speak unto the priests which were in the house of the Lord of hosts, and to the prophets, saying, Should I weep in the fifth month, separating myself, as I have done these so many years?” [vv. Zechariah 7:2-03]— God so little regarded their fasting in comparison of duties of righteousness and charity towards their neighbors, that he would not give 'em any other answer but that, that they should perform those latter kind of duties. Verses Zechariah 7:8-10, “And the word of the Lord came unto Zechariah, saying, Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and show mercy and compassions every man to his brother: and oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, not the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart.”

So in the seventh chapter of Jeremiah, vv. Jeremiah 7:2-04. There God speaks of the external acts of worship that used to be performed in the temple. And then, in the fifth, sixth, and seventh verses, the other kinds of duties toward our neighbors are spoken of, and it [is] showed how greatly {God prefers the latter}: “For if ye thoroughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor; if ye oppress not the stranger, and fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever.”

So in the fifteenth [chapter] of Matthew, vv. Matthew 15:3-09. There men's offering their substance as a gift devoted to God's worship is compared with a moral duty towards men, viz. maintaining or providing for parents that need, and the preference given to the latter: “For God commanded, saying, Honor thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honor not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition” [vv. Matthew 15:4-06].

Third. Sometimes a professing people abound in acts of external worship when 'tis a very corrupt time among them, but not in duties of righteousness and charity towards their neighbors. When there were very corrupt times in Israel, there were many that abounded in the former but were notoriously deficient in the latter, as appears by Isaiah 58:1-04. “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God. Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labors. Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.”

So God complains in the sixth chapter of Jeremiah, v. Jeremiah 6:13, that the people were, every one of them, from the least to the greatest, given to covetousness and falsehood in their conversation one towards another; and yet, at that very time, they kept up their external acts of worship, as appears by v. Jeremiah 6:20: “To what purpose cometh there to me incense from Sheba, and the sweet cane from a far country? your burnt-offerings are not acceptable, nor your incense sweet unto me.” And so many other places might be mentioned that show the same thing. That it is thus is an evidence that the keeping up those duties of justice and charity one towards another, is a greater token of the reality and flourishing state of religion than the outward acts of worship and, consequently, that they are duties of greater importance.

Fourth. Hypocrites and self-righteous persons do much more commonly abound in the outward acts of worship of God than they do in the duties of righteousness and mercy towards their neighbors. Thus it was with those notorious, self-righteous hypocrites in Christ's time, viz. the Pharisees. They very greatly abounded in the external acts of worship, such as prayers and fasting, and reading and teaching the law, and making proselytes, and tithing mint and anise and cumin [Math. Matthew 23:23], seemed to spend almost all their time in acts of worship of God, so that the people had an extraordinary opinion of their holiness; but yet were notoriously negligent of acts of righteousness and mercy, as appears by Matthew 23:14. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.” So they were guilty of great oppression and extortion, as you [can see in] v. Matthew 23:25: “within they are full of extortion.” And instead of behaving themselves charitably to God's people, they were very cruel to them, as appears by v. Matthew 23:34: “wherefore I send to you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them ye shall scourge in your synagogues, and persecute.” This shows also that those duties are of greater importance, as they more usually accompany sincerity.

Fifth. 'Tis evident that duties of righteousness and charity {are a more important and essential part of religion than external acts of worship of God}, because when the Scriptures direct us to show our faith by our works, it is principally the former that are intended. The apostle James says, in James 2:18, “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.” And it is there works of mercy and Christian behavior towards men that he chiefly means, as appears by all the context. For he had before been insisting on this kind of works only, as in the last verse of the foregoing chapter: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” So in all this chapter from the beginning of it, but we will begin in v. James 2:8: “If ye fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well”; and then upon this comes in the Apostle's direction of showing our faith by our works: “I will show thee my faith by my works.”

So when the apostle John says in the first epistle, ch.1 John 2:3, that “hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments,” he means especially this sort of commandment, as he explains himself afterward, vv. 1 John 2:7-11: “Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which he had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning. Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.”

Sixth. We shall be judged at the last day much more by our moral behavior towards men {than by our external acts of worship of God}. When we are told in Scripture that we shall, at the day of judgment, be judged by our works, our moral behavior towards men are much more intended than {our external acts of worship of God}. This matter is particularly explained in the twenty-fifth [chapter] of Matthew. There such works as these are mentioned as those by which persons shall be judged: vv. Matthew 25:35-36, “I was an hungered and you gave me [meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick; and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me].”

But, on the other hand, we are expressly taught that the other kinds of works, viz. outward acts of worship, are what they will not be judged and approved by. For we have an account that many will then plead this sort of works, and yet their plea be rejected as vain and no evidence for 'em. Matthew 7:22-23, “Many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then I will profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Luke 13:26-27, “Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence you [are]; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.”

Now if it be so, that persons will be judged at the last day much more according to their moral works among men than according to their outward acts of worship, certainly that is a clear demonstration that the former are of much the greatest importance.

But before I dismiss this part to proceed to the reasons why the doctrine is so, I would briefly take notice of an—

Objection that may probably arise in the minds of some against it, viz. that the external acts of worship have an infinitely greater object than duties of justice and charity towards men. Why therefore should not they be of greater importance? Surely God is a being of greater importance than men. Men are but worms of the dust. All the men in the world before God are as nothing, and less than nothing, and vanity. In—

Answer to this I would say:

1. That I have already observed that the internal acts of worship towards God are of greater importance than moral duties {toward men}. The internal acts of worship, consisting in {the inward actings of love to God, and inward fear and reverence towards God, acts of inward trust in God and submission to him, and the like,} are the very essence of all religion and the foundation of all other acts of religion.

2. We are speaking now only of such moral duties to men as done in obedience to God. That also you may remember we observed in the beginning, for the right understanding of the doctrine, that religion was the exercise or expression of respect to God; and that we spoke of no other acts of justice and mercy to men but only such as belonged to religion, that is, more performed with conscience towards God and with reference to his command that requires [it]. So that you see that God is the ultimate object of both these kinds of acts, both acts of external worship and also acts of justice and charity to men; for we are speaking of neither but only as parts of religion.

The thing that God requires is obedience. 1 Samuel 15:22, “To obey is better than sacrifice.” Jeremiah 7:22-23, “I spake not unto your fathers […] concerning burnt offerings nor sacrifices. [But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you.]”

But a man does as much obey God in doing acts of justice and charity as in external {acts of worship}, so that God is the object in one case as well as the other. Yea, obedience to God consists a great deal more in performing those moral duties to men in this respect: that thus thereby obedience is performed to commands that God insists much more upon and is much more in commanding than the other.

The will of God is obeyed in both, but much more obeyed in moral duties to men than in {external acts of worship}, in this respect: that although God wills both, yet he wills such duties to men much more than he does external acts of worship.

I have already observed a distinction between acts of obedience to God and acts of worship. Acts of justice and charity to men, though they [are] not, in the ordinary way of speaking, so properly acts of worship to God as the other, yet they are as much acts of obedience to God; and God in his Word prefers this kind of acts of obedience before the other. And therefore the question is not who shall be served first, God or man. As they are both parts of religion, so they are both testimonies, or pretended testimonies, of respect to God. And God prefers that way of showing respect to him— by obeying his moral commands in our behavior towards men— than in offering him external worship. Of which I now proceed, in the

III. [Third] place, to give the reasons.

First. External worship is of no use but only as a sign of something else, viz. a sign of internal worship. But doing deeds of justice and charity is the very matter of moral righteousness. God says in the first [chapter] of Isaiah, v. Isaiah 1:12, “When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand”? I.e. “I have never required this for its own sake; your appearing before me is of no use for itself, but only as a sign of something else.”

Bowing or kneeling before God in men is of no more use, unless as a sign of inward reverence, than the same postures would be in a wooden statue. And so of other external expressions of worship. But doing deeds of justice and mercy towards [men] is in itself the very matter of moral righteousness. Indeed, they may want the right form, as they may want sincerity, but the deeds themselves are the matter of moral righteousness. When a man does an act of justice, though if it ben't done in sincerity 'tis not acceptable to God, it is of some use and significancy in itself, because thereby right takes place. So when a man deals truly and faithfully.

When a man does an act of mercy, it is of significancy in itself, for it is to do good. The act carries that in its own nature, viz. doing good.

As to external worship, the only design of it is to be a signification of something else, not that it contains anything in its own nature and of itself of any manner of significancy. 'Tis what the Apostle calls “bodily exercise,” that he says profits little (1 Timothy 4:8). And hence,

Second. Doing external acts of worship is but an expressing respect to God in profession. But when men express respect to God, they express it in deeds. To express respect to God in acts of external worship, whether it be bodily actions, such as bowing, kneeling, partaking of a sacrament, or in words, is no more than expressing it in profession. As was said just now, all these things are appointed only as signs of respect, and therefore making the signs is but making a profession.

If a man that has heretofore been a heathen, to outward appearance turns Christian and is baptized, his submitting to that sacrament of baptism is but only a profession of Christianity. And if afterwards he continues amongst Christians, goes to their assemblies and attends their worship, and attends that other sacrament of the Lord's Supper, still 'tis but continuing his profession. And if a man often prays to God, his external prayer is no more than making a profession to God. All the parts of external prayer are only parts of profession. If in prayer he externally confesses his sins, says that he is a vile creature and deserves God's wrath, that is no more than making a profession of repentance and a sense of his sins before God. If he externally asks for mercies of God, this is but professing before God that he depends on him for such mercies. If he in his prayers in words gives thanks for such and such mercies, this is only a professing to God that he is thankful for such mercies. And so of all the external acts of worship. If a man very much abounds in such external religious duties of worship, if he be very strict in them all, this amounts to no more than making a fair profession. 'Tis true, 'tis our duty to make a fair profession of religion, and is part of what is required of God and so is a part of religion itself; yet making a profession of religion is the least part of religion, though we are required to make such profession and we obey God in so doing.

To express respect to God in acts of justice and mercy towards men, is a more important way of expressing respect. Indeed, if they ben't sincere, if there be no respect to God expressed in them, then they are not acceptable to God. But if respect to God be expressed in it, 'tis expressed in a much more important manner than in the other, for 'tis not only expressed in profession, or in mere words and signs, but in deeds.

Now showing respect in deeds is always spoken of in Scripture as worthy of greater regard than only expressing in words and gestures and other mere signs. The Apostle, [in] 1 John 3:18, advises us not to love in word and in tongue only but in deed. Making a fair profession in the external acts of worship is only drawing near to God with our mouths, and honoring him with our lips, and with our mouth showing much love. But this is not a way of honoring God so important as bringing forth fruit to his praise. Making a fair profession is no more than saying “Lord, Lord”; but this is not equal to doing the will of our Father which {is in heaven} (Matthew 7:21).

Now this shows the reason of those things that were observed before. It shows us the reason why hypocrites and self-righteous persons do much more commonly attend the outward acts of worship than deeds of righteousness and mercy towards {men}.

For no wonder that hypocrites make a fair profession: for therein consists their hypocrisy, viz. in making a fair and false profession. No wonder their religion appears more in their professions than in their deeds.

This also shows the reason why that sort of worship that consists {in acts of righteousness and mercy towards men} are much more intended than the outward acts {of worship}, when 'tis said, we must show our faith by our works, and that 'tis much more by those that we shall be judged at the last day. For 'tis no wonder that our faith is not tried so much by our profession as by our deeds.

Third. To show respect to God in acts of righteousness and mercy towards men is more to the honor of God than performing the external act of worship, because there is greater self-denial in it. It is a way of showing respect to God that is much more contrary to men's lusts. Indeed, men's lusts are contrary to all religion; their sloth and their enmity against God tends to make 'em opposed to outward acts of worship.

But men's lusts are much more contrary to the other kind of duties. A man may be strict in coming to meeting, and attending ordinances, and with his mouth showing much love, and yet all the while live in the most gross indulgence of all manner of lusts. Men's lusts will bear ten times as well with those outward forms of worship as with strictness of life in their behavior towards themselves and their neighbors, as the Pharisees and many other such hypocrites found. If you will let wicked men enjoy their covetousness and their pride, and their malice and envy, and their revenge, and their sensuality and voluptuousness, in their behavior among men,7 they will be content to put on a religious face in the meeting house or at private religious meetings, and will submit to what forms of worship you please, and as many as you will.

This is manifest, by abundant experience, that it is [so] amongst the papists. The external acts of worship among them are many more, and much more burthensome, than of our religion. And yet there are multitudes of them are content to submit to all their ceremonies and burdensome rites, and seem to be exceeding strict in them, take vastly more pains in the outward form of worship as we do; and yet those men are under the power and dominion of their lusts.

So it is among the Mahometans. There is scarce any religion in the world more calculated to suit men's lusts than that, and yet they are commonly exceeding strict in the forms of their worship, much more than professing Christians commonly be; and their forms of worship are much more burdensome than ours are.

Men have always been inclined to take this course, to compound with God for the enjoyment of their lusts. Wicked men and false professors in all ages have shown themselves inclined to go about to pay for their enjoyment of their lusts in their behavior, and not to abound in deeds of religious worship. So do the heathen. They would offer up their children in sacrifice to pay {for their enjoyment of their lusts}. So did the ancient departed Jews in corrupt times. So did the Pharisees. And so do false Christians.

Therefore, it being so that those moral duties towards men are so much more contrary to men's lusts than {external acts of worship}, they must be more to God's honor, because there is greater self-denial in them. He that denies himself most for God, honors God most. And those duties must be of greatest importance

Fourth. As God is more honored, so more good is done to men by the performance of those duties than the other. For that is the nature of those acts: they materially consist in doing good to mankind. To show mercy to men is to do good to men, and to do acts of justice to men, we do good to mankind. Hereby we avoid doing others wrong, or doing injuries to them. So that both the great ends of religion are more answered by this sort of duties than the other.

Hereby more good is done to men's souls, because these duties are more to the honor of religion. Hereby our light so shines before men that {they may see our good works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven} [Matthew 5:16].

Men are much more convinced of the truth of a profession by seeing {acts of righteousness and mercy accompany it} than by seeing men abound in a show of religion in words and gestures. All men have that within them that approves [righteous behavior]. Romans 14:17-18, “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.” The two former of these things here mentioned are moral duties towards men.

Hereby also is more good done to men's bodies. Justice and charity are the great things by which the good of human society are maintained and promoted, and love to God and love to men both are expressed in them. As to external acts of worship, or “bodily exercise,” as the Apostle calls it, it profits little [1 Timothy 4:8]. It can't be profitable to God, nor is pleasing to him any otherwise than as a sign and expression of internal worship, nor does so much tend to the profit of men.

Seeing, therefore, more good is done by those moral duties, they are of greater importance, are more acceptable to God, as they are more agreeable to the merciful nature of God. What God seeks in the commands he gives us is our good and advantage, and not his own, for he is infinitely above any need of anything that we can do.


Use I may be of Instruction in several inferences:

First. What has been said confirms the divinity of the sacred Scriptures, that it lays the weight of religion on such things as it does. The Scriptures lay the main weight on the religion of the heart. We are often told here that God looks at the heart; and that “he is not a Jew,” that is “one outwardly” [Romans 2:28]; and that those tokens that are “highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God” [Luke 16:15]; and tells us that this is the first and greatest commandment: “thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” [Mark 12:30].

But next to the religion of the heart towards God, the Scripture lays the greatest weight on duties of righteousness and love towards men, and prefers those much before external acts of worship.

And we see that there is a harmony in the Scriptures in this respect. Old Testament and New agree on it. The ancient prophets, and John the Baptist, and Christ and the apostles all agree on the same thing in this respect.

By which it appears how agreeable to right reason what has been said under these reasons affords an answer to another

Objection that may be made. The objection is this: If the internal worship of God is more important than internal moral works towards men, then why should not external worship towards God, by equal reason, [be] more important than external moral duties towards men?

Answer: The principal reason is that our goodness and virtue extends not to God as it is does to men. We can't be profitable or hurtful to God as we may to men. Our virtue profits men.

All that we can do is but to profess our love to God. But as to our love to men, we can do more than profess that. If it was with external duty to men as 'tis with external worship towards God in this respect, that external duty to men consisted in nothing but professing our love to men without any proper deeds of love, as 'tis with external worship of God, then it would be so: then external worship of God would be more important. But our external moral virtue to men would be but little worth indeed, if that was all that it consisted in, that we professed love to men in words and gestures. But the case is far otherwise. Our virtue extends to men, and therefore, these are the most proper external fruits of our virtue. And seeing it can't extend to God, therefore God has been pleased to appoint us to show our love to him by expressing our virtue towards men, who are within our reach; which is a more acceptable way of doing of it than doing it only [by] professing it in words and gestures.

And how becoming is such a religion of the perfections of the Divine Being. How agreeable is such a revelation to the wisdom, holiness and goodness of God.

And how far is it from being likely to be, as the deists suppose, that the religion that the Scriptures teach is the fruit of the inventions and imaginations of superstitious men, as the papist and the Mahometan religions are. Men's superstition don't tend to lay the greatest weight on such duties; but let us look where we will, amongst all nations, we shall see it always has a contrary tendency, viz. to lay the main weight on external acts of worship. So it has always been in all heathen religions everywhere, and so it is among the Mahometans, and so it is among the papists. The Christian religion, the religion taught in the holy Scriptures, is distinguished from all others in this: it lays the chief weight on those things that are indeed of greatest weight according to the wisest dictates of reason. 'Tis not likely that such a book as the Bible should be the fruit of men's corrupt minds. Men are exceeding prone to such an imagination that God will be most pleased when men abound in acts of external worship. The vain, self-righteous heart of man is very prone to run into such conceits as the Jews run into. They are ready to say, “Why, surely God will be more pleased with my praying to him, and keeping fasts, and showing great outward respect to him than, my showing mercy to men. God will choose to have such honor himself in the first place.”

How natural is it for men to argue, as the Jews did in Christ's time, that they might be excused from maintaining their parents if they offered that to God that otherwise might maintain them; and may say to their parents, it is “a gift, by all thou mightest be profited by me” [Mark 7:11].

The Jews did not doubt but they were in the right of it. They thought, “Surely God will be better pleased in my offering my goods in his worship than in offering them to my parents, or any men living.” The contrary doctrine of Christ seemed a mystery to 'em, that they knew not what to make of. And thus 'tis natural for the foolish heart of men to think. And if men had been to have contrived a religion and a book of feigned scriptures of their own hands, they would doubtless naturally have run into such a scheme of things as we see all feigned and false religions have done. But we see the Scriptures do directly thwart this folly and this vanity of the corrupt mind of man; which is an argument that the Scriptures have not vain, superstitious men for their author, but a wise and holy and good God.

Second. Hence we may learn what are the best evidences to others of persons' eminency in piety. The best evidences of all ben't visible to others. They are things that have their seat in the heart and are [out] of sight to any but God and their own souls. But the best evidences to others are not persons' abounding in outward acts of worship, in reading {the Scriptures}, hearing {the word preached}, or in shows of respect to God, to talk [much of the things of religion], or being exceeding strict and exact in these things, but their abounding in a Christian behavior, in deeds of righteousness, meekness, forbearance, peaceableness, love and mercy amongst men. These are the greatest evidences that men can have of others' eminency in religion, that is much to be preferred to man's being much in the religion of the tongue, as in external acts of worship.

Therefore when we see a professor of religion that savors in all his conversation amongst men of much of a Christian spirit, let us note that man for one that verifies his profession and for an eminent saint above others. Thus we shall do if we judge by Christ's rule in Matthew 7:16 and Matthew 7:20: “By their fruits shall ye know them.”

Third. This may teach us how we may best judge of the state of religion in a town. It looks well when there is a great deal of religious discourse in a town, at least if it be managed prudently and without any show of ostentation. It looks well if there be a great deal done at outward acts of worship. It looks well if a people are forward to come to the public worship, show a spirit to come seasonably to meeting and carry themselves devoutly in times of public worship. It looks well if a people are forward to embrace opportunities of outward worship, of going to private meetings. Such things look very well and gives ground to hope that there is a great deal of religion among a people.

But it looks yet a great deal better when a professing people do excel other people in a just and righteous, humble, meek, peaceable, quiet, loving conversation one among another, far from all revenge and ill will, all living in love, studying to promote one another's good, abounding in deeds of righteousness and mercy, apt to forbear with one another, apt to forgive one another, ready to deny themselves one for another, living together like a society of brethren in all Christian and holy behavior one towards another.

According as 'tis more or less thus among a people, so we may judge of the degree in which pure religion and undefiled flourishes among them, especially if they seem to behave themselves thus out of conscience towards God and regard to the precepts that Jesus Christ has given us in the gospel.

Use II may be of Exhortation in two branches:

First. If this be so, as we have heard, let us form our notions of religion and not place the external part of religion mainly in acts {of external worship}, but chiefly in an holy and Christian conversation amongst men. 'Tis of great import that we should so do. Christ seems to speak of it as a thing of importance, that we should know what that meaneth, “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.”

Let us take heed, therefore, that we may understand well what it means and may have our notions of religion formed accordingly, and not run into the error that the Pharisees, that Christ said this to, did, who did not know what that meant— “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice”— but placed religion mainly in {external acts of worship}, which is the error the self-righteous hypocrites do commonly run into. 'Tis a very dangerous error to have such a notion prevailing among a people; tends to make hypocrites, and to soothe, and nourishes a self-righteous spirit exceedingly. It will tend to make professors very much like the Pharisees instead of being true Christians whose fruits testify for 'em.

I have insisted thus long on this lesson the rather because Christ speaks of it as a lesson so needful to be known— he insists several times on our learning what that meaneth, not only in the text, but in the ninth [chapter] of Matthew, v. Matthew 9:13: “But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance”— and because there is such an aptness in men to have other notions of religion, and because 'tis so common [a] thing in the Christian world for professors to appear very zealous with respect [to] that part of religion that consists in acts of worship, that are very sparing in Christian deeds towards their neighbors.

Second. Let us in this town, where there is so much of the profession of religion, be exhorted to abound in Christian duties towards men, doing to others in all things as we would that they should do to us, rendering to every one his due, that truth may spring up amongst us as it were out of the earth, and righteousness look down from heaven; that we may behave ourselves with an humble and meek spirit towards all, not rendering evil for evil, nor vanity for vanity but, contrariwise, blessing, forbearing one another and forgiving one another, retaining no grudge against any but heartily desiring and seeking everyone's good.

Let us all strive to [render] each other all the good that lies in our power, exercising pity one to another under all our burdens and being ready to bear one another's burdens, laboring all of us to be peacemakers, seeking the good both of each other's souls and bodies.

That is very evident, that there has been a great deal of the other kind of acts of religion amongst us, viz. those that consist in outward acts of worship. There has been a great deal of show of respect to God in words, both in speaking of God one to another and in speaking to God in prayer; and so there has been in attending religious meetings and other things of that nature— and so far it [is] well.

And 'tis manifest that there is still a great deal more of those things than there is in many other, if not most other towns, though we have declined with respect to that.

Let us therefore see to it, not only that these things may still be upheld and increased, but especially let us take care with respect to that other, more important and essential part of external religion that we have heard of.

This will give great credit to the other. This will make our religious talk and our external worship more beautiful and amiable in the eyes of others. This will make others believe that there is indeed something in our profession. It will have a greater tendency to convince the world about us of the reality of what we profess ten times than all our private religious meetings, and it will stop the mouths of them that ben't convinced. This will be the way to make others ashamed that are disposed to speak evil of us as evildoers, when they behold our conversation in Christ, agreeable to 1 Peter 3:16. Then not only our deeds but our religious talk will be accepted of God, and not only so, but approved of men. Then we shall [be] “commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God,” as the Apostle expresses himself in 2 Corinthians 4:2.

Then will strangers that are godly persons come amongst us from afar, having heard of great things that God has done for us and the great profession that we make, have their hearts rejoiced when they perceive what fruits there are appearing still of what God has done, and how amiably we behave ourselves, answerably to our profession. And they will go away with satisfaction in their hearts and with this testimony in their mouths: that it [is] a true report that they heard concerning our piety and the work that God had wrought amongst us.

The great things that have stumbled others about us, and that is the great stumbling block to this day, is those things that they have observed wherein we have been deficient in this kind of duties.

Let us therefore hearken to this exhortation. Let us apply ourselves to such duties as these. If you do truly love God, you won't be content not to express your love. Yea, you will want to express your love a great deal. You have now been told which is the most acceptable way of expressing love to God. Therefore seek to express your love much in this way, by being very much in such deeds of righteousness, faithfulness, mercy and love towards your neighbor. Christ delights to have his spouse show her love to him in such things as these, and these are the pleasant fruits which she lays up for her beloved.

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