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And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God ?-Micah vi, 8.
JHE consummate result of all education consists in
the power of applying a few scientific principles. All the possibilities of literature are enfolded in the alphabet. The most abstruse and bewildering calculations, ciphering up in columns and platoons of figures, are only the combination of familiar units. Out of one clear rule or method spring all the products of this branching and luxuriant science. So the highest art and achievement of man's life is but the flowering of one or two germinal truths. Stately philosophies and complex creeds may be reduced to a proposition that can be written in the palm of the hand. So far as they are genuine, so far as they have any real force to help us concerning the great end of our being, this is the sum and substance of them all; they are reducible in the last analysis to this : “Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.”
These, you will see at once, are requirements very easy to understand—worth whole tons of sermons and dissertations. These, the wayfaring man, though a fool, may comprehend. And yet, my friends, these are precepts which whole tons of sermons and dissertations, somehow or another, have not yet made practical in the hearts and lives of men. It is the application of the theory that is requisite; for there is a vast difference between principles to be applied, and the power of applying principles; just as there is a difference between the alphabet and the Iliad of Homer; between the first signs in algebra and the calculations of Leibnitz; between the school-boy's lesson and the achievements of Newton. Anybody can read the propositions in the text, but who converts them into flowers of the soul, and products of daily life? Words easily said are these, but what is the essence of them, and what do they call upon us to do? I maintain that they unfold and point out the entire essence of religion -vital, evangelical religion.
Some people seem to 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. The moment it is put in plain and simple words like these in the text, they begin to suspect it of being merely natural religion, or theology--at best, only good morality. They miss the vitality of religion, as they call it. There is nothing in these words, for instance, concerning terms of salvation, or faith in the atonement. There is no peculiar phraseology which covers up and envelops what to many seems to be the very essence of religious teaching. But we may be pretty sure that all the essence and vitality of religion is here. What right have we to add anything to it? For “what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God ?” What else? If any one misses in these words any of the necessary elements of a religious life, he may be sure the fault is in himself, and not in the capacity of the teaching in the text. 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 ?
I repeat, this is religion—its vitality, its essence, and its power, set forth in this simple proposition. And, my friends, what an advantage there is in having religion set before us in a simple proposition ! For I am inclined to think that one reason why people are not more practically religious is, that they do not absolutely comprehend what religion is. It is covered up to them in the vagueness of technicalities. It is like a science; they do not enter into it because they can not get over the bristling terminology that stands around it. They feel that in order to do so they must climb up between these thorny propositions and dogmas; and therefore seeing it thus fenced up and covered over, they do not get into its heart and life. Could they feel how real it is, how it strikes upon the thought and want of the heart, how it comes to them in its plain, substantial garb in the Bible, I think there would be more practical religion.
I say, what an advantage there is in having such a condensed statement of religion! It is a pocket edition of God's truth that we can wear nearest to our hearts, and look at with a glance. When men are perplexed and confused, as they often are about duty; when they do not know which way they should go ; when they begin to be curious, prying into their own souls, working down with probes of introspection into the depths of their own hearts, starting spiritual problems that scare them, it is a good thing to stop a moment and put the question to themselves, “ What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God ?" 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. And so when men get mixed up with speculations, when they think it behooves them to have every possible dogma of the intellect set straight; when they are anxious to see exactly how things are, to have all the great truths of God and the universe linked by a chain of logical
sequence in their minds; when they begin to ask themselves questions about the origin of matter, freewill, Divine necessity, and the sin of Adam, and get tangled up in these things, as if the life of religion depended upon deciding such questions - how good it is again to stop a moment and inquire, What is my practical duty here on earth? What are my relations to God and my fellow-men? It may be very well, as an exercise of the intellect, to enter into these speculations and inquiries, but it is a more practical and useful question, “What doth the Lord require of me to-day?" You can do this if you can not settle the question of free-will, Divine sovereignty, and all those perplexing dogmas. Here is a plain, substantial truth ; and is it not good sometimes to have such an arrow of God as the simple question of the text sent right into the heart and conscience ?
But, at the same time, we must remember that the words of the text set forth no light affair for our performance. As in other departments, so here the grandest results are but a combination of a few simple elements. If you will observe what is actually contained in these words, you will find what the essence of all right doing, right feeling, and right living is. The text expresses nothing less than all morality, all philanthropy, all religion. I think, therefore, I am right in saying that it expresses the essence of all vital religion, and the highest spiritual life.
In the first place, I say, that all morality is ex