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SECTION VI. PRACTICAL INSTRUCTIONS AND WARNINGS, FOLLOWED BY A CONFESSION AND A PROMISE (Isaiah 58:1-14; Isaiah 59:1-21.).
FORMALISM REBUKED AND INSTRUCTIONS GIVEN WITH RESPECT TO FASTING. As in the last section, so here, the prophet's eye seems to rest upon his contemporaries rather than upon the exiles; and to note the vices of the time, which have a general resemblance to those rebuked in Isaiah 1:1-31. The whole Law seems to be in force, and the People to make a show of keeping it, and to complain that they are not properly rewarded for their religiousness. God tears the mask from their face, and shows the difference between true religion and the pretence of it.
Cry aloud; literally, cry from the throat; "a plein gosier," as Calvin says. The command is addressed to the prophet by Jehovah, who will have him warn the people in such sort as to compel their attention. Lift up thy voice like a trumpet (comp. Hosea 8:1; Joel 2:1). The trumpet gives a note of alarm. Show my people their transgression; i.e. "show them how they are especially offending me at this time" (see Micah 3:8).
They seek me daily, and delight to know my ways (compare the picture drawn in Isaiah 1:11-15). We have there exactly the same representation of a people honouring God with their lips, but whose hearts are far from him—zealous in all the outward forms of religion, even making "many prayers" (Isaiah 1:15), but yet altogether an offence to God. They are not conscious hypocrites—quite the reverse; they are bent on "doing righteousness," on not forsaking God's ordinance, on continually "approaching" him; but they are wholly without a proper sense of what religion is—they make it a matter of outward observance, and do not understand that it consists in the devotion of the heart. That did righteousness, and forsook not; rather, that hath done righteousness, and hath not forsaken. The righteousness is, of course, forensic legal righteousness-the offering of the appointed sacrifices, the abstaining from unclean meats, the avoidance of external defilement, the payment of vows, the observance of the one appointed fast, and the like. They ask of me the ordinances of justice. Either "they claim at God's hands righteous judgments on their enemies" (Delitzsch); or "they demand of God a fidelity to his covenant engagements correspondent to their own (assumed) fidelity to theirs." They take delight in approaching to God. So the LXX; the Vulgate, Calvin, Vitringa, and Kay. Others prefer to render, "they desire the approach of God" (Knobel, Delitzsch, Cheyne); i.e. they desire that he will come to help them against their foes.
Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? The fasting' spoken of is probably that of the great Day of Atonement. the only fasting commanded in the Law (Leviticus 16:29, Leviticus 16:31). Other fasts were from time to time appointed by civil or ecclesiastical authority (1 Kings 21:9, 1 Kings 12:2 1 Kings 20:3; Joel 1:14; Joel 2:12, Joel 2:15); but they were rare, and do not seem to be here intended. Still, the lesson is general, and would apply to all occasions of fasting. The Jews of the time expected, it would seem, some special definite result, in the way of victory or relief, to follow from their observance of the Atonement fast. As it did not follow, they regarded themselves as ill used, and accordingly made complaint. Their feelings approached to those of the Vedic worshippers, who regarded their religious observances as "not merely pleasing. the god who was the object of them, but as laying him under a binding obligation, and almost compelling him to grant the requests of the worshipper". Afflicted our soul These are the exact words of Leviticus 16:29, Leviticus 16:31, by which the fast of the great Day of Atonement was instituted. And thou takest no knowledge; rather, no notice. In the day of your fast ye find pleasure. Delitzsch and Mr. Cheyne render, "ye carry on business," which accords better with the clause which follows. The great Day of Atonement was, like the sabbath, a day on which no work was to be done (Leviticus 16:29). The Jews, while priding themselves on their observance of the day, did not really observe it in this particular. And exact all your labours; i.e. "require of your servants and subordinates all the services that they have to render on other days." Days of religious observance, even under the Law, were always intended to be days of kindly forbearance towards the poor, of the remission of burdens, or even of the actual giving of relief.
Ye fast for strife and debate. Delitzsch explains, "When fasting, they are doubly irritable and ill tempered; and this leads to quarrelling and strife, even to striking with angry fists." This is quite a possible explanation. Or there may have been two parties, one for, the other against, fasting; and those who practised fasting may have done it, as some preached Christ, "of envy and strife" (Philippians 1:15)—to provoke the opposite side. Ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high; i.e. "ye must not fast as ye do at present, if ye would have your voices heard in heaven." God will not hear the prayer of which such a fast is the accompaniment.
Is it such a fast that I have chosen, etc.? Do you suppose that such can be the fast commanded by me in the Law—a fast which is expressly called "a day for a man to afflict his soul"? Is afflicting one's soul simply bowing down one's head as a bulrush, and making one's couch on sackcloth and ashes? Surely it is much more than this. (On the employment of "sackcloth and ashes" in fasting, see Esther 4:3; Daniel 9:3; Jonah 3:6.)
Is not this the fast that I have chosen? This passage, as Dr. Kay observes, "stands like a homily for the Day of Atonement." Such homilies are found in the uninspired Jewish writings, and are conceived very much in the same spirit. The Jews call the true fast "the fasting of the heart." To loose the bands of wickedness. To set free those whom wicked persons have wrongfully imprisoned or entangled. To undo the heavy burdens; literally, to untie the thongs of the yoke. The liberation of a man's slaves, or of Jews captive among the heathen (Nehemiah 5:8), is probably intended. To let the oppressed (literally, the bruised) go free. Remission of debts and restoration of pledges (Nehemiah 10:31; Ezekiel 18:7) are, perhaps, the acts pointed at.
Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry? In the early Christian Church almsgiving was connected with fasting by law. It was also accepted as a moral axiom that "fasting and alms were the wings of prayer." Cast out; or, homeless ἀστέγους LXX.). That thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh. Their "flesh" were not merely their near kindred, but their countrymen generally (see Nehemiah 5:5).
Then. When thou hast taken this advice to heart, and adopted it, and made it the rule of thy conduct. Upon such a change in thee, all good things shall follow. Thou shalt have no more to complain of unanswered prayers or covenant promises left in abeyance (see the comment on Isaiah 58:2 and Isaiah 58:3). Shall thy lightbreak forth; i.e. thy glorious, time shall begin (comp Isaiah 50:1). Thine health—rather, thine healing; the "healing of thy bruise," or thy recovery from the low estate to which thy sins have brought thee down—shall spring forth speedily; i.e. shall soon manifest itself; and the result will be twofold:
(1) thy own righteousness will go before thee—will be, as it were, thy vanguard; and
(2) The glory of the Lord; i.e. the glory which he will confer upon thee, will follow thee up, and be, as it were, thy rearguard (comp. Isaiah 52:12).
If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke (comp. Isaiah 58:6). The putting forth of the finger. The pointing of the finger at any one in scorn. And speaking vanity; rather, speaking evil, or plotting evil, against others.
If thou draw out thy soul to the hungry; i.e. not merely giving him bread, but giving him sympathy and compassion with it. Then shall thy light rise in obscurity (comp. Psalms 112:4, "Unto the godly there riseth up light in the darkness;" and see above, Psalms 112:8).
The Lord shall guide thee continually; i.e. "direct thee in all thy paths—teach thee the way that thou shouldst walk in." In drought. In time of spiritual depression and weariness. Make fat thy bones; i.e. sustain thy strength. Thou shall; be like a watered garden (comp. Jeremiah 31:12).
They that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places. Thy descendants shall restore all that has fallen into decay in Israel, whether it be cities or customs. They shall restore "breaches" of every kind, and bring back the old paths for thee to walk in. The restoration of the ruined cities of Judah may be glanced at, but is far from exhausting the writer's meaning (comp. Isaiah 61:4).
Isaiah 58:13, Isaiah 58:14
A STRICT OBSERVANCE OF THE SABBATH ENJOINED. While the fasting of the day only required to be spiritualized, the sabbath observance needed both spiritualizing and increased strictness. From 2 Chronicles 36:21 we learn that the sabbatical years had been little observed during the later Jewish kingdom; and it would Seem from the present passage (comp. Jeremiah 17:21-23) that even the observance of the sabbath itself had been neglected. Not that the neglect was total. The sacrifices proper to the sabbath were duly offered—the "solemn assembly" was duly called and attended (Isaiah 1:13); but during the rest of the day business flowed in its usual course—the complete sanctification of the entire day was set aside. We find a similar laxity prevalent after the return from the Captivity (Nehemiah 10:31; Nehemiah 13:15, Nehemiah 13:16).
If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath; i.e. treat it with reverence, as if it were "holy ground" (Exodus 3:5; Proverbs 4:27). From doing thy pleasure; rather, from doing thy business—the same expression as in Isaiah 58:3. It is by "business," not by pleasure, that the sabbath was polluted both in the time of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 17:21-23) and of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10:31, etc.). And call the sabbath a delight. This is the spiritualization of the sabbath—"to call" and feel it "a delight," a real satisfaction to the soul, not a weariness (Amos 8:5), as it was to many. And shalt honour him; rather, and shalt honour it; i.e. the sabbath, which is made masculine here, as in Isaiah 56:2. The sabbath was to be honoured by men not pursuing their own ordinary ways, or engaging in their regular business, or even carrying on their ordinary everyday talk. Literally, the command is, not to "speak words;" but no Jews were ever such strict sabbatarians as to understand this as prohibiting all speech on the sabbath. Some have held that sabbatical talk should be scanty, limited, restrained as much as possible; but even for this there is no warrant. It is the quality, rather than the quantity, of the words uttered that is of real importance.
Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord. Then shall communion with Jehovah become a real pleasure to thee. The acts of worship shall not be done merely from a sense of duty, because commanded, but because they are congenial to the soul of the worshipper. A right use of the sabbath will help to form in men habits of devotion, which will make religion a joy and a delight to them. I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth; i.e. "I will give thee a prominent position in the earth, and cause thee to occupy its high places, and hear rule over many nations." Something more than a "taking triumphal possession of Palestine" is evidently pointed at (see Deuteronomy 32:13). And feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father. The world itself was the "heritage of Jacob," since in him and his seed "all the families of the earth were to be blessed" (Genesis 28:14). Israel, having laid aside its formalism, and turned to God sincerely. keeping fast and sabbath as God would have them kept, not in the letter, but in the spirit, would enter upon the promised heritage, and occupy the position originally assigned to it. Israel's rejection of the gospel made the mixed Christian Church the inheritress of the old promises.
Rightful and wrongful fasting need to be carefully distinguished.
Among wrong kinds of fasting may be noticed the following.
I. PURELY FORMAL FASTING IS WRONG. The fasting that consists in mere abstinence from food, without any accompaniment of prayer or meditation or almsgiving, has in it nothing religious, and is an indifferent act, unless it be viewed as in some sort a pious exercise. Viewed in this light, it is a delusion and a snare—an encouragement to men to make all their religion formal, and to trust in mechanical acts as having a power to justify and to save. That which was indifferent in itself becomes wrong through the ill results to which it leads.
II. FASTING FOR OSTENTATION'S SAKE IS STILL MORE WRONG. In the time of our Lord's ministry there were persons among the Jews who, when they fasted, purposely made themselves "of a sad countenance, that they might appear unto men to fast" (Matthew 6:16). Their sole object was to attract attention, and obtain a reputation for asceticism in religion beyond their contemporaries. They looked to making a gain out of godliness, and were so far successful that our Lord says, "They had their reward." Men accounted them holier than others, and respected them accordingly, whereas their ostentatious fasting deserved no respect.
III. FASTING FOR STRIFE AND DEBATE IS ALSO WRONG. Wherever the practice stirs up "strife and debate," it is for men to ask themselves whether such "strife and debate" are their incentives for maintaining it or no. If they fast for other, sufficient. reasons, it may well be that there is no call upon them to relinquish the practice, because it calls forth opposition—even violent and bitter opposition. Christ declared that he "came not to bring peace on earth, but a sword" (Matthew 10:34). Whatever is good is sure to be evil spoken of. But, on the other hand, opposition may be courted, may be the real end and aim of those who head the movement. The Jews in Isaiah's time "fasted for strife and debate;" it is not impossible that Christians may do so now. But if they do, this is certainly not such a fast as is acceptable to the Almighty, or such as will cause the voices of those who keep it to be heard on high.
Rightful fasting—such fasting as both the Old and the New Testaments allow and require—has also certain tolerably distinct characteristics.
I. RIGHTFUL FASTING MUST BE UNOSTENTATIOUS. "Thou, when thou fastest," says our blessed Lord, "anoint thy head, and wash thy face, that thou appear not unto men to fast." There must be no desire to obtain the praise of men by the observance; there must be no parade of it; so far as possible, it must be done "in secret." Then, and then only, will the "Father, which seeth in secret, reward it openly" (Matthew 6:17, Matthew 6:18).
II. RIGHTFUL FASTING MUST BE NOT MERELY OUTWARD, BUT ALSO INWARD. "Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness," etc.? Unless fasting be with a spiritual object and accompanied by distinctly spiritual acts, it is absolutely vain and idle. Its natural spiritual concomitants are
(1) repentance (1 Kings 21:27; Nehemiah 9:1, Nehemiah 9:2; Joel 2:12, Joel 2:13; Jonah 2:5-10, etc.);
(2) prayer (Daniel 9:3; Joel 2:17);
(3) almsgiving, and other acts of charity and mercy towards our fellow-men (Isaiah 58:5-7). To neglect such acts, and to regard the mere opus operatum of fasting as having any spiritual efficacy, is a most dangerous delusion, and one akin to the heresy of Montanus.
Rightful and wrongful keeping of the sabbath need to be distinguished.
I. The more worldly among the Jews were inclined to a mere perfunctory keeping of the sabbath. They shut up men's religious duties on the day within the corners of the Levitical enactments; and considered that, if the legal sacrifices were offered, and the "holy convocation" held and duly attended, the rest of the day might be employed exactly as they pleased. They pursued their secular occupations on the sabbath day with all freedom—bought and sold, carried their corn, trod the wine-press, conveyed commodities from place to place, and engaged in every form of traffic and merchandise (Nehemiah 13:15, Nehemiah 13:16). This was the lowest theory of sabbath-observance propounded by any, and it received direct and severe condemnation from Jeremiah (Jeremiah 17:21-23) and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 13:15, Nehemiah 13:16).
II. A second form of observance added to the Levitical enactments with respect to sacrifices and the "holy convocation," an abstinence during the rest of the day from work of every sort—an abstinence which was sometimes pushed to excess, as when it was interpreted to forbid self-defence in war (1 Macc. 2:34-38). These religionists were content to remain in a negation, and, so long as they preserved the sabbatical rest unimpaired, were fully satisfied in their consciences. Something of the same spirit, it is to be feared, still pervades certain parts of Christendom. Mere abstinence from work—a negative "folding of the hands" appears to be thought acceptable to God; and the sabbath is given a morose aspect by the disallowance of occupations which are innocent, which conduce to cheerfulness, and which are in no way at variance with piety.
III. The third and only rightful form of observance, here touched by Isaiah, and more fully taught by our Lord (Matthew 12:3-13), consists, in the first place, in "making the sabbath a delight." It should be made a delight, both to ourselves and to others. God's people should look forward to their sabbaths as times of refreshment and of "joy in the Lord"—oases in the wilderness of life, glimpses and foretastes of heaven. Music should ]end its charm to them, intensifying and elevating devotion; the aid of other arts should be called in; churches should be aglow with floral beauty; preaching should be warm and heart-stirring; and the highest act of Christian worship should be viewed as the crowning perfection of the feast-day. In the next place, our Lord's example should be followed, and his words remembered, "It is lawful to do good on the sabbath day." Acts of mercy and loving-kindness to our fellow-men are pointed out by him as our best employment on the sabbath; it is the special day on which to visit the sick, to clothe the naked, to give our bread to the hungry, to relieve the oppressed, to carry the glad tidings of the gospel to the poor and ignorant. It is also a day part of which may well be devoted to the strengthening of family affection by oral or written communications with relations from whom the business of life commonly separates us, and also for kindly talk with our neighbours and friends. Without in any way secularizing the sabbath, we may give it a cheerful, kindly, friendly aspect, and cause it to be regarded in our families, not as a "dull time," with difficulty to be "got through," but, as it was intended to be, the crown of the week—the special "day which the Lord hath made," to the end that we should "rejoice and be glad in it" (Psalms 118:24).
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
True and spurious fasting.
Loudly, with all the strength of throat and as with trumpet-voice, the prophet is to cry and denounce the rebellion and the sins of the people.
I. THEIR FORMALITY AND HYPOCRISY, They consult Jehovah daily; they apply to the prophet or the oracle; they offer prayer. They profess to desire to know God's ways, his commands, and his dealings with his people. Just as if they were a holy people, and were not really far in heart from God, they demand of him "judgments of righteousness;" i.e. manifestations of his pleasure as the God of the covenant, his approach as the God of justice. They adhered to the forms of religion, but the heart was not in them. Relying on those forms, they were surprised the Divine favour was not vouchsafed to them. "A hypocrite has no true and real delight in the service of God or in his truth; but, at the same time, there may be a great deal of professed interest in the ways of God. A great deal of busy and bustling solicitude about the order of religious services, the external organization of the Church, the ranks of a clergy, the claims of a liturgy. There may be a great deal of pleasure in theological discussion, in the metaphysics of theology, in the defence of what is deemed orthodoxy. There may be much pleasure in the music of devotion, in the pleasant voice of a preacher, in the triumphs of party, the advancement of our sect. But true religion is delight in religion itself—in the service of God as such, and because it is holy. It is pleasure, not even in the triumph of Christianity as a mere party measure, but in God as he is, his holy service and truth" (Barnes).
II. SPURIOUS FASTING. Formal fasting appears to have increased from the time of the Captivity. Another phrase for it was "humbling the soul" (Leviticus 16:29, Leviticus 16:31; Leviticus 23:27, Leviticus 23:32; Numbers 29:7; Numbers 30:13). In connection with this outward observance, they keenly pursue business ends, exacting the full tale of tasks. "Like Shylock, they demand the pound of flesh, at the same time that they may be most precise, punctual, and bigoted in the discharge of the duties of religion. If we desire to keep a fast acceptable to God, it should be such as shall make us kind, mild, benignant; such as shall take effect in the unbinding heavy burdens from the poor, and relaxing the rigidness of the claims we have on others." Moreover, the fasting is connected with strife and contention; and so their prayers cannot rise to the seat of Jehovah (Isaiah 57:15). "Thou hast covered thyself with clouds, so that prayer may not pass through" (Lamentations 3:44).
"Their words fly up, their thoughts remain below;
Words without thoughts never to heaven go."
The inclination of the head, the sackcloth and the ashes,—these make not the fast in the eyes of Jehovah. "It is not a mournful expression, a solemn dress, or a thin table that God so much regards. It is the heart, and not the stomach, that he would have empty; and, therefore, if a man carries a luxurious soul in a pining body, or the aspiring mind of a Lucifer on the hanging head of a bulrush, he fasts only to upbraid his Maker, and to disgrace his religion, and to heighten his final reckoning, till he becomes ten times more the son of perdition than those who own their inward love of sin by the open undissembled enmities of a suitable behaviour. Let a man not count himself to have fasted to any purpose, if by it he has not got ground of his corruption, in some measure supplanted his sin, and estranged his affections from the beloved embraces of sinful objects" (South).
III. THE TRUE FASTING. There was elaborate and merciful legislation for the protection of Hebrew slaves (Exodus 21:2; Deuteronomy 15:12; Leviticus 25:39); yet it appears to have become a dead letter, which called for severest castigation (Jeremiah 34:8, etc.). "To loose the bands of wickedness," to release those borne down by exactions contrary to the Law, to "untie the thongs of the yoke" (to free those detained beyond the legal time), to raise up the "crushed" (in the spirit of him who cherishes the crushed reed, Isaiah 42:3; Cheyne), this was the chosen fast of Jehovah. It was "to break bread to the hungry, and to bring miserable outcasts to their home" (cf. Ezekiel 18:7, Ezekiel 18:16). It was "to clothe the naked, and not to hide one's-self from one's own flesh." It is known that from time to time, both in the Jewish and the Christian Churches, alms-giving has been exalted into a religion and a morality, instead of remaining the expression and fruit of a pure heart. None the less it may be true that at certain times the duty may stand in the forefront of piety, and the neglect of it leave the reproach of "worse than the infidel" on the conscience. Righteousness is not coincident with almsgiving; but almsgiving, like any other external act, may be perverted into a formalism (as we see from Matthew 6:14). Charity must begin at home. The outcasts (Joel 3:2-8; Nehemiah 5:8), and those of the same flesh (Nehemiah 5:5), are especially those of one's own house and country. "The condition of a truly religions fast is that it be attended with alms and works of charity. Amongst our other emptinesses, the evacuation of the purse is proper to this solemnity, and he that inflicts a thorough penance upon this, stops the fountain of luxury and the opportunities of extravagance. Charity is the grand seasoning of every Christian duty; it gives it a gloss in the sight of God, and a value in the sight of man; and he fasts properly whose fast is the poor man's feast, whose abstinence is another's abundance. God here roundly tells his people what is truly a fast and what is no fast in his esteem—not to abstain from bread, but to deal it to the hungry; "this is properly to fast. Not to wrap ourselves in sackcloth, but to cover and clothe our naked brother; this is to be humbled. Alms have so much the pre-eminence over prayer, that one is a begging of God, the other a lending to him" (South).
IV. PROMISES TO THE OBEDIENT. "Thy light shall break forth as the morning" (cf. Job 11:17). Like the spreading welcome light of" rosy-fingered dawn," prosperity will come to gladden their hearts. "Thy new flesh shall quickly shoot forth." Old wounds shall be healed, and the vital forces, which have been checked, shall resume their activity. "Thy righteousness shall go before thee." Personal rectitude (Isaiah 1:27; Isaiah 33:5, Isaiah 33:6) shall be as a leader, conducting them in the paths of prosperity and peace; and in the rear of the host shall be Jehovah's glory (Isaiah 52:12). Here, then, is joy, vigour, confidence, all connected with rightness; this rightness found, where alone it can be found, in mind and heart conformed to the Divine will. Prayer will be heard and answered (contrast Isaiah 58:2, Isaiah 58:4). A God distant and exiled will give place to one so near that a cry will bring his presence and his help. As the last note of despair is, "Where is our God?" the highest point of faith is reached by those who hear him say, "Here I am!" But God would ever be near, were it not for the "thick cloud" of sin between the heart and him. Only let the oppression and the contumely and the defilement of the tongue, reflected in the defilement of the mind, cease, and the better springs of the inner life will rise. When they rise, there will be blessing around one, and other lives will be gladdened; and, when this shall be, then "thy thick darkness shall be as noon;" life shall be a progress under Divine direction; there shall be refreshment, comfort, exhilaration, and restoration of the ruins of the past.—J.
Isaiah 58:13, Isaiah 58:14
The claims of the sabbath.
I. THE HOLINESS OF THE SABBATH. "The prophet regards the fast-days as forms without authority and significance. All the more strict is his view of the claims of the sabbath" (Cheyne). It is emphatically a consecrated day, and the foot is to be turned aside from it as if it were holy ground, like that where Moses put the shoes from his feet (Exodus 3:5). The foot, as instrument of travel, is to be "removed from evil" (Proverbs 4:27), and its "path is to be pondered" (Pro 4:1-27 :29). Selfish, merely human business, is not to be done on that day, which may be viewed as a part of that great duty of sacrifice which runs through the Law. The day was to be peculiarly Jehovah's own. A particular temperance and modesty of the tongue was suitable to its observance. Falsehood (Hosea 10:4; Job 15:13) would especially desecrate it. Scripture is especially strong on the significance of words. For they express the soul, and reflect in their expression influences of good or evil on the soul again. There should be reserve and economy of speech (a lesson disregarded too much in modern times), for an element of sin is certain to find its way into excessive loquacity (Proverbs 10:19; Ecclesiastes 5:3). A "tonguey man" almost means the same as a malicious talker (Psalms 140:11). The regulation of the tongue may, therefore, in great part, be taken as the measure of spiritual self-control and sobriety, as the expression of the living sacrifice of the heart.
II. THE BLESSING ATTACHED—SPIRITUAL DELIGHT. Joy in Jehovah, the Eternal, is manifested to men in grace, in proportion as they approach him in obedience. "You shall no longer be left to barren ordinances and to unanswered prayers. No one has ever properly observed the sabbath who did not find as a consequence that he had increased pleasure in the existence, character, and service of Jehovah" (cf. Job 22:21-26; Psalms 37:4, for the illustration of the principle involved). Triumphant possession of the land of promise. (For the phrase, see Deuteronomy 32:13; cf. Habakkuk 3:19; Psa 18:1-50 :83; Amos 4:13. For the idea, see Isaiah 65:9; Ezekiel 34:13, Ezekiel 34:14; Ezekiel 36:1-12.) The hills and fortresses of Palestine, so greatly beloved by the patriot-hearts of the prophets, shall be recovered by the people, once following the righteous moral lead of Jehovah.—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
Delight in God.
"Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways." Religion is little if it is not delight in God. This is its true touchstone. It is what we love that constitutes an abiding test. If we do not feel at heart the blessedness of religion, we may discover that we are only seeking it for selfish safety, or for the world's approval of a respectable name.
I. THE DAILY ORISON. We seek that which we desire; and how ingenious is love in finding words of communication and opportunities of intercourse of heart with heart! A look may carry with it prosperity and hope. Prayer is not in words, nor, let us remember, is it in thoughts; it is what we desire that we really pray for. Our wishes are our supplications. What your heart is eager after is the devotion that God sees. "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts." "They seek me daily." Communion with God is not a cry in danger, or a beseechment in hours of special anxiety and necessity; it is an Enoch-like life—a "walk with God."
II. THE DELIGHTFUL KNOWLEDGE. "Delight to know my ways."
1. That they may follow God.
2. That they may see God in everything.
3. That they may please God.
4. That they may be prepared to live in him and with him for ever.—W.M.S.
"As a nation that did righteousness." No word occurs oftener in the Bible than this word "righteousness." It is the granite foundations of God's government. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" And it is this which is the salt of a nation. "Righteousness exalteth a nation." There may be much sentimentality in human beings without the cardinal virtues; but, wanting these, all else is meretricious and hollow.
I. THE GLORY OF ISRAEL. They were not a large nation, nor were they in the strict sense a military people. But they had this high vantage-ground of influence—the God-given laws of Sinai, and the prophets of the Lord of hosts to counsel and reprove them. But their glory was not simply that they had the Law, or knew the Law, but that they did righteousness. And this was their true guerdon. Whilst they so lived they were safe, honoured, and happy. Their fall was from within. The armies of Rome only overthrew them because the nation's heart was corrupt. The rotten fruit drops—the storm only expedites its fall.
II. THE GLORY OF ANY NATION. This, and this alone, is glory. Not vast fleets and imposing armies, not a full exchequer and extensive colonies, but righteousness.
1. Equity in jurisprudence.
2. Honour in trade.
3. Justice to all and for all.
4. Purity in morals, or a right government of the passions.
5. Fairness to all other nations.—W.M.S.
A religious fast.
"Is not this the fast that I have chosen?" Which? The contrast is seen in the inclusive words from the fourth to the ninth verses. God does not delight in outwardness. The mere mannerism of religion, or the head bowed as a bulrush, with sackcloth and ashes beneath, is hateful to the Most High.
I. FASTING IS TO BE REALLY RELIGIOUS. It is to "loose the bands of wickedness"—to free one's own soul from the last shackles of lust and selfishness, and to aid in liberating the souls of others. Religious effort is to deal directly with character, and not with the countenance; with the habits of evil, and not the ritual of ceremonies.
II. FASTING IS TO BE DEEPLY HUMAN. It is to care for our brethren in the world.
1. Many are heavily burdened. Care writes its lines on the anxious brow, and often the heart is grey while the hair is yet black.
2. Many are oppressed. Justice is the subject of bribery, and wealth lords it over poverty; moreover, slavery existed then, and has done till recent years, and the war against slavery has come from religious men.
3. Many are under varied yokes. Yokes of intemperance and pernicious habit—of selfishness in its worst forms of cruelty to others.
4. Many are helplessly poor. Not through crime, or faults of their own, such as indolence and inebriety, but through sudden calamities and severe illnesses. We must feed the hungry and cover the naked.
5. Many are neglected by their own. The workhouse has received to its dull shelter those connected with the well-to-do and the well-born; or "relatives" have never been inquired after, sympathized with, or succoured. "And that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh."
These words in Isaiah teach us that the ancient Law was not simply legal and ceremonial, and outwardly sacrificial, but social, moral, and religious in the highest degree. Such Law Christ came not to destroy, but to fulfil.—W.M.S.
The break of day.
"Then shall thy light break forth as the morning." The hindrances to progress in God's Church are not in Divine limitations, but in human perversions.
I. THE LIGHT IS THERE. We hide it under the bushel of our formalism and worldliness. Divine revelation gives it—yea, keeps it alive; and it' we remove the obstacles to its glory, it will burst forth. Many blame religion for the faults and formalities of nominally religious men.
II. THE REVELATION OF THIS LIGHT IS A MORNING. Mornings have often come alike in Jewish and Christian history. Isaiah awakened the Hebrew nation to a new life. Mediaevalism with its dark superstitions, the inquisition with its abhorrent cruelties, did not destroy Christianity. What has been well called the "morning of the Reformation" came. Look back now to Savonarola, and you will see what one man can do to herald a better day in darkest times. Then! Not by an accident in history, nor by an arbitrary decree of God; but by obedience to his Word and by the baptism of his Spirit. And beautiful as are all mornings, when the sun touches the clouds with gold, and fills the earth with splendour, and makes dancing sunshine on the sapphire sea, none are so beautiful as the mornings of new moral life for the world.—W.M.S.
The sabbath ideal.
"Call the sabbath a delight." It cannot be a holy day unless it is a happy day. For only souls that joy in God are really devout. Unless religious exercises have a charm for the soul, they are only routine; they are not religious.
I. A SEEMING CONTRADICTION. "Turn away thy foot … from doing thy pleasure." And again, "Not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure." But there is no real contradiction. Many things are rightly enough pleasant to us in daily occupation and association; but things right in themselves may be wrong if indulged in under improper conditions; and the sabbath is to be holy unto the Lord—and in the Christian dispensation it is called "the Lord's day." This is to dominate everything. Those who seek worldly pleasure upon this day hinder others from fellowship with God, and keep from that constancy of vision on heavenly things by which alone they can be indelibly impressed on the mind and the heart.
II. A SOLEMN OBLIGATION. It is a day that should be made pleasant, not merry nor mirthful, but full of all the highest and best enjoyments. Praise is pleasant—it awakens a remembrance of mercy. Fellowship is pleasant—it nerves the fainting soldier's heart to look at his companions in arms, and it cheers the weary to hear of "the rest that remaineth." Christian parents should take heed to this. Dulness and moroseness are not religion. Literature is none the less Christian that is well illustrated, and written with all the charm of an attractive style; and the church of God is none the less the house of the Lord and the gate of heaven, that the service is in itself cheerful and bright. There is no memory more potent for good than the remembrance of the happy sabbaths of our childhood. And service for others helps our joy; to call the sabbath a delight, we must be, if possible, givers as well as receivers—like Nehemiah, "cup-bearer of the King," handing the living water to others.—W.M.S.
Religion: its semblance, its substance, its reward.
I. THE SEMBLANCE OF RELIGION. It argues nothing whatever against religion that there is a great deal of hypocrisy in the world; indeed, the absence would be a more formidable argument than the presence of it. For men imitate that which is most worthy of esteem, and if nobody-pretended to be religious it would be fair to conclude that religion itself was of very small account. Imitation implies the respect, and indicates the value, which is attached to anything which is copied. It speaks well, therefore, for religion that men more often affect to be religious than they pretend to any other excellency. There may be:
1. Acts of devotion. "Seeking God daily"—"Approaching him" in the attitude and engagement of "prayer," whether in the secret chamber, the family circle, or in the house of God.
2. Consultation of his Word. "Asking of God the ordinances of justice"—the regular and systematic reading of Scripture.
3. Special acts of piety. Like that of fasting, which was not enjoined by Mosaic Law (except on one day in the year); or observing certain particular days as days of humiliation and devotion, or ostentatious deeds of beneficence. Concerning these outward shows of piety, it has to be observed:
(1) That, begun in insincerity, they may become positively pleasurable to those who practise them. There are many who always go through religious rites with labour and weariness of spirit; but there are others who find enjoyment in the ceremonies and services in which they engage. They may be said to delight in them (verse 2). Love of the artistic, fondness for distinction, or other earthly considerations, may account for this; but it is also an undeniable fact that many who do not please God with their observances do greatly please themselves.
(2) That it is the solemn and urgent duty of the minister of Christ to show the utter insufficiency of these things. He is to "cry aloud, and spare not, to lift up his voice like a trumpet," to show those who pass for God's people that, if they have nothing better to bring to the heart-searching God than hollow phrases, formal services, outward actions which are not animated by inward feeling, they are living in transgression and in sin (verse 1). He is to. insist upon it with utmost earnestness, that only they can worship God acceptably who worship him "in spirit and in truth;" and that if the semblance of piety be divorced from a holy and useful life (verse 4), it weighs nothing whatever in the balances of heaven (verse 5). Those who have the form of piety without the substance may consider themselves to be of the number of the faithful (verse 3); but they are miserably mistaken. God decisively and peremptorily rejects such empty formalities (verse 5); nay, they are positively offensive in his sight (Isaiah 1:13-15).
II. THE SUBSTANCE OF RELIGION. The teaching of the text is that real piety is to be found in such fear of God as will manifest itself in doing his holy will in all the relations of human life; such reverence for the Supreme as will constrain men to do what is right and good in all their dealings with their equals and their inferiors; such piety as bears the fruits of:
1. Peaceableness: the exact opposite of strife and smiting (verse 4).
2. Justice: loosing the bands of wickedness, letting the oppressed go free, etc. (verse 6).
3. Kindness: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc. (verse 7); practical recognition of the claims of the suffering humanity which we can pity and can succour (verse 10). This is "the fast," this is the piety, which God has chosen—that love of God which shows itself in the love of our neighbour (Le Acts 10:25, Acts 10:37; Romans 12:20, Romans 12:21; James 1:27; James 2:14-26).
III. THE REWARD OF RELIGION. It is quite true, profoundly true, that real religion is its own reward. Well does the active servant of Jesus Christ beg to be continued in his holy work, saying-
"And I will ask for no reward,
Except to serve thee still."
But God offers to us, and even presses on our acceptance, his ample and generous rewards for our genuine and faithful service. These are, under Christ:
1. Spiritual illumination (verse 8); being made to be the children of light and of the day, walking in the light of Divine truth, receiving the communications of the enlightening Spirit.
2. Soundness of soul, wholeness of heart and character—"health" within (verse 8).
3. Divine guidance and protection. (Verses 8, 11.)
4. Communion with the living and present Saviour (verse 9).
5. Fruitfulness; ourselves being as a "watered garden" for beauty and productiveness (verse 11); and our work resulting in moral and spiritual restoration (verse 12).—C.
Isaiah 58:13, Isaiah 58:14
The day of sacred rest.
The institution of the weekly sabbath is certainly one of the "water-marks" of revelation. It is not possible to conceive of anything more wise and beneficent than this provision for our bodily and spiritual well-being. Who can calculate the material or the moral benefit which it has conferred on the human race? Who can estimate the blessing it will have proved to humanity when time has run its course? Whether we regard it in the lower or in the higher aspect of the question, its value is simply inestimable. We may look at—
I. THE GROUND OF ITS OBSERVANCE. The Jews had special reasons for honouring the day. Its observance was part of their statute law (Exodus 20:8-11). But all mankind have reason enough for giving it a conspicuous place in their custom and their commandment.
1. It has its commencement at the very dawn of human history (Genesis 2:2, Genesis 2:3).
2. It was inculcated in the most solemn form, and enforced by the weightiest sanctions on the Hebrew people; and although it is not, on that account, binding on us as a Divine enactment, yet the fact that it was made of so much consequence in the judgment of the Divine Legislator, and had so large a part in the training of the healthiest and purest people the world has ever known, is a very strong argument in favour of its perpetuity: we may surely elect to continue that which we are not formally bound to adopt. We find a powerful reason for so doing in the text anal in similar passages, where we have the significant fact that:
3. It finds a prominent place in prophetic utterance. Inasmuch as the prophets were the strong and even vehement opponents of ceremonialism, and (as in the previous verses of this chapter) made everything of the moral and the spiritual, their testimony concerning the sabbath day has peculiar value. It points to a Divine intention that it should not pass away with the local, the rudimentary, the temporary, but hold its ground with the abiding and the permanent.
4. It was stated by our Lord to have been "made for man" (Mark 2:27).
5. In the new form of the "Lord's day," commemorating the crowning work not of creation but of redemption, it was honoured by the apostles of our Lord. We may, therefore, conclude, in the exercise of our reason, that it is the will of Christ that we should observe one day in seven as a day of sacred rest.
II. THE TRUE SPIRIT OF OBEDIENCE.
1. The spirit of self-renunciation. The Hebrew saint was to "turn away his foot from the sabbath, from doing his pleasure on God's holy day;" i.e. he was to lay aside his customary labours, and to refrain from ordinary amusements on a day on which God asked for contemplation and worship. As Christians, we come to the conclusion that it is the will of our Saviour that we should give to him our homage, our docility, our sacred zeal; we therefore gladly forego the common engagements and enjoyments of our life, "not doing our own ways," in order that we may do his will and gain his good pleasure.
2. The spirit of devotion. The corollary of the cheerful renouncement of our own business is the adoption of God's worship and service as the appropriate engagement of the day. Quitting our home and shunning the mart and the place of amusement, whither should we go but to the house of the Lord, to the field of sacred usefulness? And how can we better spend our time or occupy our powers than in the manly, the lofty, the elevating engagements of devotion and sacred service? Then do we reach our highest mark, and most nearly attain the true standard of our manhood, the richest heritage of our race. Then do we "delight ourselves in the Lord;" then is God what he was to Abraham, and what he will be to us all when we receive the fulness of our inheritance—our "exceeding great Reward."
3. The spirit of sacred joy. We shall "call the sabbath a delight," shall find it so, and shall do our best to make it so—to the children, to the employed, to the lonely and the confined, who can be visited and cheered in the quiet home, in the sick-chamber.
III. ITS LARGE REWARD.
1. In immediate spiritual enjoyment; in the gladness of heart with which the worship of God is anticipated (Psalms 122:1); in the joy of holy fellowship and sacred song; in the happiness of domestic piety.
2. In the continuous spiritual blessedness to which it leads; for a true use of Christian privileges ends in the reconciliation of the soul to God, and in the possession of his abiding favour, in the lifelong friendship of Jesus Christ; there is daily, continual "delight in the Lord."
3. In the realization of the kindest promises of God. To Israel was offered the excellency of "riding on the high places of the earth," and being "fed with the heritage of Jacob." To us, if we truly seek God's face until we find his favour, is offered
(1) the guidance of an unerring finger and the protection of an almighty arm along all the path of life, whether along higher or lower levels;
(2) the exercise of a benign and gracious influence on human hearts—an influence which will live when we are gone;
(3) entrance into the heavenly kingdom.—C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
The offence of merely external religiousness.
"And [yet] me they consult daily, and to know my ways they desire: as a nation that hath done righteousness, and hath not forsaken the Law of God, they ask of me judgments of righteousness'' (Cheyne). "The words point, to the incongruous union, possible in the reign of Manasseh, but hardly possible after the exile, of the formal recognition of Jehovah with an apostate life. Every phrase rings in the tone of an incisive irony, describing each element of a true devotion which the people did not possess" (Dean Plumptre). External worship is insufficient, a change of heart is needed; God asks what we have, and what we can do, only because through these things hearts can find expression.
I. CEREMONIES AND SYMBOLS ARE GOOD. Within due limits. We cannot conceive the sort of religion that may suit angels or pure spirits. Perhaps it has no ritual. But our religion must be that of spirits working through human bodies, and therefore it must have form. For man God instituted or recognized sacrifices. For some men he appointed Judaism. Heart-feeling may be strengthened by expression, but capacity of feeling may be exhausted by expression. There is a measure of truth in the saying that, for many persons, religions truth needs to be set in the picture-teaching of ceremonial. They are not wise who refuse to see value in organization and ordinances.
II. OBEDIENCE AND HEART-SERVICE ARE BETTER. Because the thing expressed must be better than the expression. Ceremony can have no moral value apart from the heart and the will (see Psalms 40:6-8; Psalms 51:16, Psalms 51:17; Proverbs 15:8; Isaiah 1:11, Isaiah 1:12-16;Isaiah 66:3; Jeremiah 7:22, Jeremiah 7:23; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8). We should not be able to conceive of God as a moral Being, if we were not sure that he puts obedience first; a father does; a king even does.
III. TRUE HEARTS ENDEAVOUR WISELY TO BLEND BOTH. They find out the practical value of well-ordered and well-kept religious habits. Three things occupy serious attention.
1. How to get good religious habits formed.
2. How to keep the forms instinct with life.
3. How to keep the forms within wise limitations.
Every man finds out that the "seen" is constantly endeavouring so to satisfy him that he shall cease to care for the "unseen."
IV. IF WE CANNOT HAVE BOTH, WE MUST SACRIFICE THE FORM, NOT THE SPIRIT. There are times when it seems as if one must be sacrificed. The tone of an age may give extraordinary force to ceremonial; e.g. an age of decayed religion, such as the time of Christ; an aesthetic age such as ours is. Now it has become our duty to limit ceremonial to the efficient expression of spiritual life and feeling.—R.T.
Isaiah 58:3, Isaiah 58:4
Selfishness spoiling religious habits.
"Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure." That is, you make your religion a mode of pleasing yourselves. You really enjoy your fastings. Two points may be illustrated and enforced. As introductory, it may be shown that externalism is the special temptation of a people who have been cured of idolatry. Pharisaic formalism is the evil that threatens a nation that rebounds from the notion of many gods to the idea of one, spiritual God. "Self" becomes, in a subtle way, the idol of men's worship.
I. SELF-PLEASING IS AN END GAINED IN RELIGIOUS DUTIES. Those who give themselves heartily to the religious life do come positively to enjoy it. It is the Divine reward of their devotion that they find personal pleasure in their pious works and ways. What strikes us as a most marked contrast between the older and the new religious life is this—our fathers found their pleasure in their religion, while we find our pleasure in anything and everything but our religion. The irksomeness of religious services and religious works is the sure sign that we have little or no pleasure in these things. God does not give us this reward because our hearts and energies are not in such things. A kind of force and fear holds us to a round of engagement; relics of old association and of an old sense of duty, keep us to formal acts of worship; but when the heart is gone out of religious service joy goes too. The lost sense of pleasure is not the worst thing' in our spiritual condition, but it may be one of the signs of the worst. Self-pleasure is God's reward—is one of the proper ends of the pious life.
II. SELF-PLEASING MUST NOT BE THE END SOUGHT IN RELIGIOUS DUTIES. We need not dwell on the case of the hypocrite, who purposely seeks ends of his own in making his show of piety. It is more searching to deal with the case of the self-deceived, who mistakes the idea of religion, and thinks himself to be serving God when he is only gratifying himself; and with the case of those who act from divided motives, and are always in danger of making self-pleasing the ruling one. God is to be honoured, obeyed, and served for his own sake alone, no matter what a man may get or lose by his service. It is the sternest reproach of some professed followers of God, that "they feared Jehovah, but served their own gods;" it would adapt the expression to modern mistakes if we read it, "They feared the Lord, but lived for ends of self-pleasing." It may be shown that the teachings concerning the heaven which is to be obtained through a religious life are too often presented as an encouragement to self-pleasing. Illustrate by the calamity that befell Pliable, in 'Pilgrim's Progress,' who was going on pilgrimage for the sake of what he himself would get by it.—R.T.
Isaiah 58:6, Isaiah 58:7
God's idea of fasting.
It should be noticed, as giving special point to this reference to fasting, that, besides the regular fasts of the Jewish religion, there were, during the Captivity in Babylon, special fasts appointed as days of repentance and prayer for Israel. God complains that these fasts did not say to him exactly what those who fasted intended them to say, because he looked at the whole conduct of the men to see if it was in harmony with the fasting. The important principle is here illustrated that, if a man be right with God, he will be right also with his fellow-men. If a man does not forgive his brother his trespasses, he cannot be in such a state of mind as makes it any use to him for God to forgive his trespasses. If a man is harsh, exacting, violent, in his dealings with his fellow-creatures, God will take no notice of his sad countenance, fasting, and fine pretences of penitence. God is never deceived by the excellent appearance of our Sunday ways. He judges us by the records of all the week.
I. GOD'S IDEA OF FASTING IS NOT A FINE OUTWARD SHOW OF HUMILIATION. (Isaiah 58:5.) Bowed head. Starved body. Sackcloth dress. Ashes for a seat. That rooks fine, and men may be deceived by it, but not God. Compare our Lord's teaching in the sermon on the mount. "Be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast." "The prophet finds fault with the fasting of the Jews in two respects.
1. Because they did not combine fasting with works of righteousness.
2. Because they held the bodily exercise to be the chief thing." Outward appearances may speak for us to God, only we must take care that they have something sincere and true and worthy to say to him, from our hearts. "Rend your hearts, and not your garments;" "The Lord searcheth the heart."
II. GOD'S IDEA OF FASTING IS SELF-RESTRAINT IN ORDER TO GAIN HIGHER EFFICIENCY FOR SERVICE. And such fasting needs to make no show. The man who fasts in this sense may "anoint his head, wash his face," and look cheerful. The best signs of fasting are the good works which we can accomplish, which we gain power, through our self-restraints, to accomplish—loosing bands, freeing the oppressed, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, blessing all. Fasting, in the sense of a refusal of all food, belongs to ceremonial religion and had its origin in Eastern lands. Fasting in its most spiritual form, as personal self-restraint, will-mastery over habits and preferences, must ever be binding upon all Christians. As explained by an apostle, it is "knowing how to possess the vessel of the body in sanctification and honour."—R.T.
Conditions of answer to prayer.
Were these men, whose lives were spent for self, but who made a show of seeming to want God, proper persons to receive answers to their prayers? Let the Apostle James answer. "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts" (James 4:3). God wants signs of right character in those whose petitions he grants; for such character is the only guarantee that what he gives is rightly accepted and rightly used. Here with special reference to the particular sins of the age, we have these conditions laid down.
1. Ceasing from stern and cruel dealings with those who serve us. "Take away the yoke" (see verse 6).
2. Taunts of those who are recognized as the faithful servants of God, but de not make just the same expression of their piety that we do. "Putting forth the finger;" a gesture of derision. "Indicative of mockery and insolence towards the pious and persisting part of the nation" (Matthew Arnold).
3. Boasting. A spirit of self-satisfaction, which is quite inconsistent with any approach to God with expressions of need and fervent desires. "Speaking vanity." While these evils must be put away, it is made a further condition of answer to prayer, that he who prays shall be positively set upon doing good, caring for the hungry and the afflicted. As the immediate reference is to the prayers offered on the national fast-days, this homily may be made to hear specially upon national days of humiliation, Lenten times, etc. Such times are useful, and are necessary. They are called for by the Divine judgments. But the special danger of them is insincerity. The special condition of their acceptance with God is national turning from sin to righteousness and charity. Therefore, at such seasons, the work of God's ministers is to produce due convictions of national sins. Our Lord taught conditions of prayer for his individual disciples, in his sermon on the mount. "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you."—R.T.
Guided, provided, and refreshed.
"Guide thee;" "Satisfy thy soul in drought;… Make fat thy bones;… Make thee like a watered garden." These figures are all plain and simple, but the last of them gains point by some knowledge of Eastern sentiments. Van Lennep tells us that, in the East, "almost every house has more or less of a garden adjoining. There is neither system nor regular laying out. Trees are scattered about with little or no plan, and patches for vegetables are laid out as most convenient, onions and cabbages being the universal favourites. But the ornament most prized in a garden, one which all seek to possess if they can possibly afford it, is the marble tank—square, oblong, or octagonal—with a spout in the centre, always out of order. They would not give up that spout in the centre for a good deal, although it does not play once in a generation; but they sit there and think how fine it would be to see it work, and it is almost the same as if they did see it. These tanks are often very tastefully cut and ornamented. The ground around them is always well smoothed, and fine grass is sown in it, and kept fresh by frequent sprinkling." The immediate reference of the text is to the restoration of the exiles. Their journey they well might fear. Weariness, drought, peril, they could but expect. So the Divine assurances come meeting the three points of their special need. Their need is ours in the journey of life, our journey home to the new Jerusalem.
I. GOD PROMISES HELP FOR ALL THE MOVEMENTS OF LIFE. "Guide thee continually.'' We are very familiar with journeyings. We are always going to and fro. By land we are constantly within the flange or' a wheel of destruction. By sea only a plank or a plate of iron keeps us from foundering. Yet how securely we go! Is it human science or skill that we trust? Nay, God guideth. To every man the life-path is unknown. We have never gone the way heretofore. No matter. God guideth.
II. GOD PROMISES SUPPLY FOR THE NECESSITIES OF LIFE. "Satisfy" thee. Compare "Verily thou shalt be fed." Forty years in the wilderness Israel was fed. For months Elijah was fed. Through the long march the exiles were fed. Manna did not more truly come from God than does our daily supply. None of his people are left desolate.
III. GOD PROMISES RELIEF FOR THE WEARINESSES OF LIFE. Such as comes to drooping flowers in the garden when the soft rains fall. Such as comes to parched travellers when in the desert they find the living, sparkling spring. Who of us cannot recall sweet memories of Divine refreshings, winds of God, waters of life?—R.T.
The universal sabbath-law.
"Not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words." The peculiarity of the day, the essential thing about the day, is that it is God's day, not ours. We only keep it aright when we keep it for God. We misuse it when we fill it with any ends of our own. The one sabbath-work is a special effort to honour and obey God, and we shall surely find that the one-day effort helps us in establishing and confirming the everyday habit. Do only God's pleasure on the sabbaths, and it will be easy to put God's will and pleasure first every day. Importance attached to keeping the sabbath in Babylon, because it was the most prominent thing in which the people publicly witnessed to their separation from idolatry, and allegiance to Jehovah. Faithful observance of it was the test by which the faithful ones were known. Equal importance attaches to the keeping of the sabbath in our day. It is, as much as ever it was, the searching test that reveals all the humble and faithful followers of God. Still a Christian is known by the Sunday test, "Does he seek his own pleasure on God's day?" Henderson well says, "The observance of the sabbath has, in all ages, been found essential to the maintenance and prosperity of spiritual religion." Blackstone says, "A corruption of morals usually follows a profanation of the sabbath." It should be carefully noticed that this prophet, who is so stern against forms and ceremonies in religion, is thus severe in demanding loyalty to the day which is not ours, but God's. So familiar a subject needs no more than an outline of thought; illustrative material will readily be suggested.
I. WE MUST KEEP THE DAY. As a separate day. Showing its distinctness from other days in the change made in our life-habits and associations. Some illustrations may be taken from our keeping wedding-days or birthdays. At such times our minds are full of some particular persons—the days are kept in their honour. So we should separate Sundays for God.
II. WE SHOULD ENJOY THE DAY. Here is a paradox. We are not to do our own pleasure on the day, but we are to find our pleasure in the day. Sunday should be the brightest day of the week.
III. WE OUGHT TO HONOUR GOD ALL THE DAY. What precisely, in an age, a town, a community, a family, or a life, the best honouring of God is, the preacher must think out and present in his own way.—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 58". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13