For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. (Hos. 6.6)
Jeremiah Burroughs, as Tony Reinke has noted, is known for "his warm devotional heart, keen exegetical eye, and sensitive perception to the sinful human heart." This especially shines through in his observations on Hosea 6.6. I want to highlight some of his observations for contemplation on this Lord's Day. It is not enough to go through the motions, even when one outwardly adheres to the ordinances of worship which God has commanded and abstains from offering strange fire. God requires that our heart be fully engaged to him, and such a heart puts a premium, as does God, on mercy, sweet mercy.
Jeremiah Burroughs, An Exposition of the Prophecy of Hosea (1643-1657), pp. 332-333 (2006 Solid Ground Christian Books ed.):
Obs. 1. Carnal hearts which make little conscience of their duties, and are very cruel in their dealings towards men, yet may be contented to submit to instituted worship. This very scripture, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice," is a secret rebuke to such people. Such were those in Jer. vii. 4, who cried, "The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord;" and yet were wicked in their dealings. Those hypocrites in Isa. lviii. could be content to submit to instituted worship, frequent in solemn duties of fasting and prayer, yet were such as did smite with the fist, oppress, and grind the poor. In Ezek. xxiv. 21, the sanctuary was accounted their strength, the excellency of their strength, and that which their eyes did pity, and yet were they very wicked; and, in the 25th verse, their minds were on it, their hearts did love it, yet they themselves were carnal.
Because men may be exercised in instituted worship without any power of godliness, the outward act of performance is a very easy work to flesh and blood, there is little difficulty in it.
Because it has the most show of the power of godliness; they seem to be as sincere as any in their worship, there is a great show in the flesh, in the outward man; whereas God's worship is inward, soul worship, which carnal hearts cannot endure, nor do they desire it, it is outside worship which they prize. Now God forbid that any should have low conceits of ordinances, because wicked men join in them.
Obs. 2. Carnal men think to satisfy their consciences by joining in outward ordinances. Thus did they in this place think to put off God and their own consciences, by living in the external acts of worship, while they continued in the love of known sin. What a deal of stir had the prophet to convince these hypocrites of this their wickedness!
Obs. 3. God and men's consciences will not be put off. God will despise both it and them. The heathen gods would not be put off with such outsides, in the judgment even of the heathen themselves. Plato saith, What a vile thing is it to think, that the gods will be put off with gifts! No, these are despised by them, they look that the soul should be just. And Seneca, It is not fat sacrifices, but inward performances, that God regards.
Obs. 4. The Lord has a high esteem of mercy; and it appears in this, that he will have it preferred before sacrifice, and this is called, a "sacrifice acceptable," and a sweet savour in God's nostrils, Phil. iv. 18. Chrysostom saith, that he had rather work a work of mercy than a miracle: and surely that must needs be high in God's eyes and esteem, which he pays so dear for.
O Christians! Imitate God in this, let your esteems of mercy be raised higher than ever before, from this that you have heard concerning its excellency. The works of mercy are glorious works, there is more in such than in those acts of religion which men think are more spiritual. I speak the more of this, because it is a scandal which is laid upon godly men by the men of the world, that they are miserable and close-handed; now in this we should labor to convince the world by the practice of mercy.
Obs. 5. It is the Christian's skill, when two duties come together, which to choose. This is a snare in which many Christians are caught and foiled; they think both must be done at the same time, whereas the one is the duty, the other is not.
Obs. 6. Though the object of an action be spiritual, yet it is not a sufficient ground to prefer it before another action, whose object may be but natural. The ordinances of God have God for their object, and the enjoying of communion with him; yet in the performance of other actions which may be only natural, I may show more obedience to God than in offering up of sacrifice.
Obs. 7. If God's own worship may be forborne in case of mercy, how much more men's institutions and inventions! Oh what a vile spirit is there in those men who will not suffer their superstitious vanities to give place to mercy! men must be undone in their bodies and estates, rather than their wills be disobeyed! The prelatical faction have themselves confessed, that the cross, the surplice, and the rest of that trash, were their own institutions; yet ministers must be silenced, bodies imprisoned, families starved, and thousands of souls destroyed, rather than their wills should not be fulfilled. What did these men's actions say but this, Let Christ never be revealed to thousands and millions of souls, rather than these ceremonies shall be omitted or neglected?
Obs. 11. The duties of the first and second table are to be joined together. Mercy and sacrifice, knowledge of God and burnt-offerings, when in their place, are acceptable, therefore let us take heed of separating that which God has joined.
Obs. 12. The knowledge of God is a most excellent thing. This is that which sanctifies God’s name, and manifests him to be very glorious in the world. Paul accounted all things but loss and dung in comparison of the excellency of this knowledge of Christ. Instruct then your children and servants in this knowledge, else how can God have his glory from them? How few are there which glorify God as God! And the reason is, because of the ignorance which is in their minds, Eph. 4:18.
Obs. 13. Men may be very diligent in instituted worship, and yet very ignorant. None so acted in their instituted worship as these people, yet none so ignorant as they.
That you are foward in instituted worship is your commendation, but take heed this be not your sin, to be ignorant of fundamental things....
Obs. 14. Soul-worship must be preferred before all other worship. We must not give God a carrion service, a carcass without a soul. Strong are the expressions in Scripture which are used against such outside, formal worship. Isa. i. 11-13, God professes of them, that he regards them not, he is full of them, his soul loathes them, they are iniquity, and a trouble to him, they are looked upon as a burden to him, such as God will hide his eyes from, and when they make many prayers he will not hear them. In this one scripture we have fourteen expressions against outside, formal duties, besides the four which we find in Isa. lxvi. 3. Thus you have the mind of God in this short but full sentence.Now God forbid that what hath been said out of this scripture should be sinfully abused to carnal indulgence.