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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Contrite Spirit Better Than Outward Seeming

By Urian Oakes (1631–1681)

[Sincerity and Delight in the Service of God. 1682.]

MEN may do many duties and yet do none of them well, and consequently do none at all in God’s estimation. Men may go the round of duty and plod on in a course of religious performances, and yet do nothing the while to any purpose. In all the duties of worship, it is not the bare outward action, but the manner of performance that gives the denomination and is regarded especially of the Lord. Hence Luther’s saying, that adverbs are of more account with God than verbs, meaning that the manner of our performances (which is commonly denoted by this or that adverb) is more available with God than the bare performance of duty, which is usually expressed by some verb or other. There are many necessary requisites to, and essential ingredients in the true worship of God, which, if they be wanting, the external performance of it is as a thing of naught in God’s valuation. Though the worship be materially good, not idolatrous, superstitious, uncommanded, or unlawful in itself, but such as God hath instituted and enjoined; yet it may be formally evil and want such conditions and qualifications as would render it acceptable to God. Men may pray, hear, receive sacraments, be much in duties of worship, and yet do nothing from a principle of grace, in obedience to God, with a due respect to his glory. And is not all this (think you) as good as nothing in point of acceptation with the Lord?

A man may be doing every day, and yet do nothing in religion. All his prayers may be nothing else but the lazy wishings and wouldings of sinful sloth, the babblings of formality, the cravings, inordinate, selfish, greedy cravings of his lusts, the discontented murmurings and grumblings of the flesh, or howlings in a time of affliction. Yea, as the plowing of the wicked is sin, so is his praying also. “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,” Prov. xv., 8. God looks with a gracious aspect on him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at his word: but he that, without these inward, holy dispositions of spirit, slayeth an ox, is as if he slew a man. etc. Of so little account with God is external worship without the internal, as He will hardly allow it the name of invocation and worship, but gives it very hard names, importing that such invocation is indeed a great provocation of God. All the use that I would make of it is in these words:

This may serve to check the pride and petulancy, to beat down the confidence and conceit of hypocrites, that glory in their performances and reckon God indebted to them for their services, that think they have done some great matter when they have prayed, fasted, heard God’s word, done these or those duties, and bear themselves high upon the frequency of their external devotion, and think God doth them great wrong, if He doth not consider and reward their diligence and dutifulness. No hypocrite acts beyond the sphere of the covenant of works, but thinks to win it and wear it, and is (whatever he professeth) of a mercenary spirit, and quarrels with God, if He do not hear his prayers and reward his services. So those supercilious, proud hypocrites: “Wherefore have we fasted” (saith they) “and thou seest not? Wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge?” Thus they fly out and expostulate with God, because their external humiliations and hypocritical performances wore not regarded and rewarded according to their mind. There is this saucy spirit in all hypocrites. Ah! poor proud man, thou mayest boast of thy prayers and duties, and quarrel with God that He doth not hear and reward, but thou hast no reason; for take this home with thee: thou hast never prayed in thy life, never called upon God to this day, thou has done much in a way of duty, in thy kind and fond opinion of thyself, but as good as nothing in God’s account. Thou hast more reason to admire the patience and mercy of God, for not punishing thee for such simple, as well as insignificant performances, than expostulate with him and question his justice and faithfulness, because He hath not rewarded them.