The plea of Saul that he had preserved the cattle for sacrifice, when the Lord had bidden him destroy them, reminds us of the folly of those who imagine that religion lies in outward forms, and forget that it is a matter of the heart. To such persons the Lord spake by the mouth of his servant Isaiah, and said—Isaiah 1:10-20.
The mention of Sodom and Gomorrah was intended to be a warning to them of the certain punishment of their crimes. On account of their forms and ceremonies they reckoned themselves to be the favourites of heaven, but for their hypocrisy they were named after the most accursed of men.
They stopped at the outward shell, and never entered upon the kernel of real love to God; hence their religion was useless.
God wants not the superstitious to adore him, he has never invited them to his house. He seeketh those who worship him in spirit and in truth, and not mere formalists.
While they were cruel and oppressive, it was idle to offer elaborate ceremonies, devout postures, holy days and many prayers, for God abhors a heartless worship. Men who do not really believe in the Lord Jesus and obey the Lord’s will, might save themselves the trouble of attending upon sacraments, for they only make their case worse, and add to their sins.
Isaiah 1:16, 17
Repentance, practical and thorough, is a great gospel duty, and a grain of it is better than a ton of ceremonies.
Have done with the vain boast of your religiousness, and be indeed religious, spiritually and practically. Seek mercy of the Lord with humble heart, since he is ready to bestow it, for the vilest sins can be put away by Jesus’ blood; but mere ceremonies avail nothing.
To the same purport is that memorable passage in the book of Micah.
The true proof of godliness is not expensive rites, but hearty obedience; not a loud profession, but holy living; not large subscriptions, but a yielding up of the heart. Have we this vital godliness? Has the Holy Spirit wrought in us a change of heart?
Not streaming blood, nor cleansing fire,
Thy righteous anger can appease;
Burnt offerings thou dost not require,
Or gladly I would render these.
The broken heart in sacrifice,
Alone, will thine acceptance meet:
My heart, O God, do not despise,
Abased and contrite at thy feet