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Isaiah 58:1 . Cry aloud, spare not; lift up thy voice like a trumpet. It is not doubted by the Jews, nor by St. Jerome, that Isaiah lived to the beginning of Manasseh’s idolatrous reign; nor that he was sawn asunder, while opposing idolatry. Against sins which ruin a nation, the ministers of God must raise their voice, and not keep silence.
Isaiah 58:3 . Wherefore have we fasted? The fasts of the Hebrews were many. Zechariah 7:3. The annual fast was on the tenth day of the seventh month. Leviticus 23:28. But the occasion of this fast, it would seem from Isaiah 58:14, was, that certain fortresses or high places were occupied by the Assyrians. After the fast, they expected some special deliverance, but none came. They were still in their sins; they asked mercy of God, without showing mercy to man. They remitted no debts, nor suppressed a single vice, as described in the following chapter; a portrait stained with the foulest crimes.
Isaiah 58:4 . Behold ye fast for strife, dragging the poor into vexatious suits before the elders.
Isaiah 58:13 . Nor finding thine own pleasure, on that holy day. The Jews were allowed to walk about a mile from the gate of the city; walks within the city appear nowhere to have been counted. This was thought sufficient for health; and health is the plea of London for crowding teagardens and publichouses; but teagardens and alehouses are the ruin of health, and the destruction of virtue. The liberal principle is there in full operation. They are sanctioned places of revolt, against the bible, against the church, and against the throne. Country girls come up to town to improve their condition, or otherwise, are on going home in an evening pushed into certain houses, and are ruined. Some of those cases have been exposed at the Old Bailey; and it is painful to add, that those authorities which reject all public enactments for the better observance of the sabbath, and who prefer travelling on that day, may see their error when it is too late. The sanctity of the sabbath in abstaining from all labour, and attending to the public duties of devotion, has a connection with national independence. “I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the land.” Habakkuk 3:18. Thy garrisons shall not be occupied by Assyrian troops. See on Ezekiel 20:0., and Genesis 2:0.
After so happy a reign as that of Hezekiah, and after the labours of so great a prophet as Isaiah, now grown grey with hoary age, we might have expected to find religion in a better state. Yet the man of God resolves to die in the contest, and gain the martyr’s crown. Isaiah having traced the horror and impiety of the idolaters, proceeds now with a high voice to make manifest the sins of those who still adhered to the Lord’s temple. Here he made the divine word resound with the energy and emphasis of the trumpets which called them to devotion. Vices long enrooted in the heart, and confirmed by habit, will not be eradicated by the mild addresses of an Eli to his profligate sons; and addresses of this description have been, for more than a century past, the too general character of our printed sermons. Isaiah saw his country on the brink of ruin. The worshippers of the Lord were either formalists, or wicked men; and the rest of the nation were gone after idols, and lolled out the tongue against the Lord. What was still more to be feared, the young Manasseh was rapidly introducing superstition into Judah, and even into the temple. Isaiah therefore seemed resolved not to outlive the departed glory. He resisted alike the wicked king, the apostate priests, and the degenerate people. He was indeed very old and greyheaded; yet when acting for God, he felt all the fire of youth; and so irresistible was the torrent of his sublime eloquence, that the revolting king ordered him to be sawn asunder. Well, he was taken from the evil to come: Isaiah 57:1. He entered into peace, having expired in the contest. But ah, on whom did his mantle fall? Where are the ministers raised up in his spirit? And how will the temporizing shepherds dare to meet his eyes, when his master, the Messiah, shall come in the clouds of heaven? See the second edition of four Sermons by the Rev. Dr. Thomas Coke; of ministers they deserve particular attention.
When the spirit of religion is lost in formality, it is a most dangerous omen to the church of God. From habits acquired in good Hezekiah’s reign, considerable numbers still assembled in the courts of the Lord, to celebrate his fasts and festivals, but they still retained their sins. They exacted labour of their servants, they oppressed the poor, and smote them with the fist of wickedness, not from any judicial sentence, but from wanton cruelty.
When an assembled nation seeks the divine clemency by fasting and prayer, they should first show mercy one to another. It is the highest insult to the majesty and holiness of God to ask forgiveness while we retain our sins. Hence of Israel it was required that they should relax something of rigour to the poor, should loose the bands of oppressive servitude, and not retain the poor for vexatious debts. They should feed the hungry, and clothe the naked; then the light of national and personal prosperity would break forth upon them as the morning. The country would then soon be full of people, as in Solomon’s time; and the waste and desolate places made so by the Assyrian and other wars, would soon be rebuilt. One tide of prosperity would overflow the land; yea, the Babylonian captivity, so long predicted, would, as in the case of Nineveh, have been avoided.
Another sin which frustrated all the good effects of fasting and devotion, was sabbath-breaking. If Israel would forbear journies of pleasure, ordinary work, idle talk, and bearing burdens on that holy day, then the Lord’s glory should dwell in the land. They should ride on their high fortresses, and display their banners: the heritage of Jacob in all temporal and spiritual good should be their portion, and the flag of an enemy should not insult their country. Learn then, oh my soul, to hallow the sabbath. This day was almost lost on the continent of Europe before the French revolution; and mark what christendom still suffers. This day is most shamefully profaned in England; and consequently, the cloud is but suspended over our guilty heads.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 58". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13