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THE SIN OF REJECTING WHAT IS GOOD.
Hosea VIII. 3.
Israel hath cast of the thing that is good.
Almost all the charges that are brought against Israel in this book may be contracted into these two contained in the words of my text, as connected with the foregoing verse. 1. They were very hypocritical : “ Israel shall cry, My God, we know thee;" in which words, they both pretended an acquaintance with God, and claimed an interest in him, thinking thereby to recommend themselves to his favour and protection; whereas, thereby they exposed themselves to his greater wrath and indignation. 2. They were very wicked. That God whom in distress they pretended to seek, in prosperity they despised. The posterity of these very men, in our blessed Saviour's time, did the works of the devil, and yet called God their father; built and garnished the tombs of the prophets, and yet put the Lord God of the prophets to a cruel and ignominious death. “ Israel hath cast off the thing that is good.” Here it may be proper to inquire what may be understood by the good spoken of, what is implied in casting it off, and then take some notice of the evil of such conduct.
I. I am to inquire what may be understood by the good here spoken of; and it may refer,
1. To doctrine,--that form of sound words," as the apostle afterwards calls it, and to which it is not improbable that he has a respect when he exhorts the Thessalonians to "prove all things, and hold fast that which was good." Sound doctrine is good in itself, and esteemed so by the people of God. They receive much good from it, and sometimes, especially in sustaining a public character, do much good with it. Now this the children of Israel had cast off. “I have written to him the great things of my law, but they were counted as a strange thing;” unreasonable and unintelligible, hard to be understood, and hard to be performed. And is not this the case now? Are not the fundamental truths of Christianity placed in a ridiculous light by some, and virulently opposed by others ?—those truths which God has sealed by his Spirit, to the comfort of many, and which some of their ancestors have sealed with their blood. “ I marvel,” says the apostle to the Galatians, " that ye are so soon removed from Him that called you unto the grace of Christ, unto another gospel ;” and if that excellent preacher were now alive, and conversant with the former and present state of the British churches, he would no doubt express, if words could express, a greater astonishment than he does with respect to the Galatians. The foundations are shaken, dreadfully shaken; and if they were once removed, of which there seems to be a danger, what would the righteous do?
2. To worship; and that either the right object of worship, or the right manner of it. As to the object: they went a whoring after all the gods of the nations round about; and sometimes this, sometimes the other imaginary deity attracted their regard; but Baal, an idol of the Sidonians, seems generally to have been preferred to the rest. Some, however, supposed this to be a common name, which the inhabitants of those eastern countries, as well as the Sidonians, gave to any idol which, on account of some fancied superiority they ascribed to it, happened to have the chief place in their esteem. As to the manner of their worship, one of the inspired writers tells us, that they set up their threshold by God's threshold, and their posts by his posts; so that when they worshipped the true God, it was not according to order, or with that purity or simplicity which he required, but like the Scribes and Pharisees afterwards, with such a mixture of human devices as vitiated the service. Besides, the spirituality of worship, which alone can render it acceptable to that God who is a spirit, was wanting. There was only the exterior of religion, the shadow, the shell; with these they were contented; and, as it satisfied them, they foolishly imagined that it would satisfy God. But hear what he says: "Forasmuch as this people draweth near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, therefore I will proceed to do a marvellous work amongst them,” &c. Their services were heartless services, with no savour, no substance in them; no grace exercised, no assistance sought. All bodily exercise, which profiteth little; no elevation of the soul, no aspirations after God, no breathings after holi
The eyes of the body, perhaps, lifted up to heaven, but those of the mind wandering to the ends of the earth; and as they sometimes made too little of their duties, whence God calls them "vain oblations," so at other times they made too much of them; as they sometimes trifled in them, so at other times they depended upon them, and murmured against God, that he did not regard them as much as they did. “Wherefore have we fasted,” say they, "and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge ?"
3. To practice. A practice consonant to the word of God, and sincerely aimed at his glory. This, indeed, is good : “ The Lord hath showed thee, O man, what is good ;" good in itself, and good for thee. Does goodness sometimes imply pleasure? All wisdom's ways are pleasant; nay, pleasantness itself. Does it imply profit? “Godliness is profitable unto all things." Does it imply that which is right and just? “ The statutes of the Lord are right,” says
says Samuel. But wicked men pay no regard to that which is pleasant, profitable, or right, so that they may but gratify their lusts, and enjoy a momentary satisfaction. The words of my text imply, that the children revolted from God, not only in principle and affection, but also in practice; forsook the paths of truth, justice, holiness, and sobriety, and gave way to luxury, lasciviousness, and oppression. They pretended to know God, as in the foregoing verse, but they made no conscience of obeying him. They called him Lord, but did not the things that he commanded. And are not professing Christians now apt to forget that they are called to virtue as well as glory,—that faith without works is dead, and that gospel truths will avail but little without gospel holiness?
4. To comforts and enjoyments. God is the supreme good, the life, the joy, the comfort of the believing soul; but they rejected him; they followed after lying vanities, and thereby forsook their own mercies,—sought that help from, and satisfaction in, the creatures, which could only be afforded by, and found in the Creator. Hence that complaint which is ushered in in so solemn a manner : astonished, O heavens, at this, and be ye horribly afraid; be ye very desolate, saith the Lord: my people have committed two evils, they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." And thus it is, and ever will be, with the carnal and unregenerate part of mankind; not knowing wherein their true happiness consists, they take a great deal of pains to cheat themselves. They hunt after shadows, and neglect the substance; nay, though they have been disappointed a thousand times over, they still persist in the same course till death puts an end to their pursuits, or grace opens their eyes to see their folly. “Surely," says the Psalmist, “every man walketh in a vain show;" some in a vain show of truth, others of happiness, deceiving and destroying themselves, comforted in this world, and tormented in the next.
II. I am to open the import of this expression-" Israel hath cast off the thing that is good;" and it seems to imply three things.
1. That they had made some pretences to it; and that they had done so appears from the whole of their history, a summary of which you have in the declaration of God concerning them. “Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinances of their God. They ask of me the ordinances of justice, they take delight in approaching to God.” They had strong convictions, made splendid professions, and set about frequent reformations. But whatever alterations there might be at times in their practices, there was no change in their dispositions. They were like a deceitful bow, soon turning aside.
2. That notwithstanding their pretended approbation, they had the utmost dislike and aversion. To cast off is a very strong expression, and signifies the greatest degree of contempt; nay, the Hebrew word carries it as far as abhorrence and abomination. This perfectly corresponds with the character which the apostle gives of wicked men: haters of God, and consequently of every thing that is good. The more good there is in any thing, the more the carnal mind rises in opposition to it; and this enmity cannot be reconciled, though it may be destroyed.
3. It denotes also a determinate resolution. They cast off that which was good, as if they would have nothing more to do with it. They thrust it out of their minds, so as to forget it; and utterly discarded it from their practice, as to leave no traces of it in their actions. Their present conduct hardened them in their impiety, made them deaf to all remonstrances and admonitions; and because sentence was not speedily executed against their evil works, their hearts were fully set in them to do evil. Nay, say they, but we will do whatsoever goeth out of our own mouth. In a word, they seemed to be come to a point, were fixed in