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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Isaiah 58

 

 

Verse 1

UNSPARING REPROOF

Isa . Cry aloud and spare not, &c.

Faithful dealing always objected to: called fault-finding, indulging in personalities, &c. The old cry is still heard, "Prophesy unto us smooth things." O for the prayer (Psa ).

I. ISRAEL'S SINFULNESS. A whole catalogue of sins (Isa ; Isa 57:5; Isaiah 59). In the face of these appalling sins and fiendish cruelties and wrongs, they profess themselves saints (Isa 58:2). The sham and hypocrisy of all this is emphasised by the word "yet," which strikes a contrast between their religiousness and their sins, and declares their religiousness a sham (Isa 58:5; Isa 57:12).

What a striking parallel between the state of Israel then and of England now.

1. We pose as a righteous nation! Yet look at our national sins.

(1.) Social wrongs, greed of place and wealth, so that the state to which the needy has been reduced has been declared to be one in which "we sit on a volcano."

(2.) Social impurity, with its abounding immorality and fiendish crime.

(3.) Murder as a trade. It may be slow, but sure; and, as in Israel's case, it is the slaying of children!

(4.) Intemperance. It is computed that we have 800,000 drunkards, and that for every 1 we spend on Christian missions, we spend 130 in drink!

(5.) Idolatry. Everything being sacrificed to worldliness, fashion, custom, public opinion, &c. No nation sins with more determined step, or with more brazen face!

2. Not only is our national religiousness deceptive, but there is also very much that is sham in the Churches of our land. Formalism, cant, rant, self-delusion. Many seem to be righteous, and think they delight in religious duties, &c. What wilful blinking of the truth! What religiousness without religion! No wonder that to many religion is a synonym for sham—keenly noticed by the worldly, and a grievous hindrance to those who would join God's people, &c.

II. ISRAEL REPROVED.—Israel's sins must be reproved plainly, earnestly, faithfully, fearlessly, and publicly. So with us to-day.

1. Sin must be reproved plainly. Show transgressions and sins—point them out, show how they abound, &c. Some say "No," you only make it worse; you emphasise sins, quicken the imaginations, and fire the heart with it. So in the Church. Some harm, but much good. Must reprove with Bible-plainness—call by right names; with Bible-clearness—speak of awful consequences. Examples: Elijah, John the Baptist, Christ, Luther, John Knox, Wesley, &c.

2. Faithfully. Spare not. Some object that we hurt the feelings, offend, frighten, &c. But we must not spare high or low, &c.; we must probe deep, wound, fill with anguish, &c.

3. Earnestly. "Cry aloud." Let men feel that every Christian feels it his commission to reprove sin, &c. Fearlessly. Regard no consequences. Be not timid, hesitating, daunted, for such reprovers never give conviction.

5. Publicly. Like a trumpet of proclamation, loud and authoritative, that the sound of the reproof may be deep and stirring; go far and wide, and create and sustain public opinion in reference to these sins. There is much apparent boldness around us, but alas! how much shirking of the solemn duty.

6. In the true prophetic spirit. Under the burden of souls as David (Psa ; Psa 119:136); Jeremiah; Christ weeping over Jerusalem; Paul, &c. In the spirit of wisdom and power (Mic 3:8). We must catch the mantle of Elijah! We must possess the tongue of the Baptist! In the spirit of saving grace (Isa 61:3). Not only all preachers of the Word, but Sunday-school teachers, tract distributors, fathers and mothers—all must "cry aloud," &c.

The gracious conclusion God makes to this matter (Isa ; Isa 65:1; Isa 65:15). Spoken to the same people, and by the same God. Spoken to us as well. The painfulness of the probing of Divine truth is only to prepare for the removal of sin, and the pouring in of healing balm. "Let us search our ways," &c. "Return to the Lord," &c. (Lam 3:40).—D. A. Hay.


Verse 2

FORMALISM

Isa . Yet they seek Me daily, and delight to know My ways, &c.

One of the most wicked things that Machiavel ever said was this: "Religion itself should not be cared for, but only the appearance of it; the credit of it is a help; the reality and use is a cumber." Such notions are from beneath; they smell of the pit; for if there is anything about which the Scripture speaks expressly, it is the sin and uselessness of mere formalism. The Jews were especially liable to this evil. They so rested in the outward observances of the law as to lose its spirit. They were indifferent to the practical forms of godliness, without which religion is but a name and a form. In this chapter we read that they sought God, &c.; and all the time there were grievous sins which they were living in the daily practice of, and of which they were content to be ignorant. As a consequence, they were without the special manifestation of the Divine favour, and were ever ready to upbraid God for unfaithfulness. But God requires "truth in the inward parts." The passage suggests—

I. THE RATIONALE OF FORMALISM.

A form of religion includes—

1. Theoretical religious knowledge. Attach high importance to a well-digested system of truth, but remember you may subscribe to every article of the Christian faith with a sincere and hearty ascent, and yet be destitute of spiritual religion, &c. A creed however scriptural is not vital religion.

2. The practice of moral duties. These are not to be disparaged, but morality is not the love of God.

4. Membership in the Church. In the Church, but not "in Christ." The day is coming when union with the Church will not be worth the paper on which it is written, if there is no real spiritual union with Christ.

5. Party zeal and external philanthropy. The piety of Israel at this time seems to have been anything but inactive: it was very busy. Indeed it would seem that they were divided into religious parties or factions, some professing to be more orthodox than others. There was a rivalry, therefore, in their devotion; one tried to excel the other, and the competition ran so high that they began to "smite each other with the fist." Formalism is ever full of denominational zeal. Much is said, and done, and given for man in this age of philanthropy, in the spirit of partisanship.

6. Sanctimonious solemnity (Isa ). If men are in deep sorrow it is natural for them to droop their heads. In the east men wore sackcloth, as we do crape, to indicate their grief. But with the formalist all this is pretence—theatrical sadness and gloom. True religion is joy inspiring, and ever manifests itself in cheerfulness and sunshine. But the mere formalist cannot be happy, hence he robes himself in garbs of sadness, and produces the impression that religion is characteristically grave, &c. Such sanctimoniousness has done untold damage.

What is the character of your religion? Is it formal or spiritual, conventional or Christly—form or heart?

II. THE DEFICIENCIES OF FORMALISM.

1. It tends to form and foster intolerance. "The people of the Lord, the people of the Lord are we." In the name of religion men have committed and still commit some of the greatest enormities on which the sun ever shone.

2. It fails to yield the solid happiness found in spiritual religion. It is impossible in the nature of things. True religion is an inward principle (1Sa ; Rom 2:28; 1Co 7:19; Gal 5:6; Gal 6:15). A painted fire cannot warm, a painted banquet cannot satisfy hunger, and a formal religion cannot bring peace to the soul.

3. It is directly opposed to the spirit and precepts of the Gospel.

4. It is injurious to its possessor and to others (Isa ). It warps the judgment, it deadens the conscience, it hardens the heart, it awakens false hopes, and it will put to shame at the last day. Its influence upon others is most pernicious and destructive. It misrepresents religion, &c. Let every minister cry aloud, spare not, lift up his voice like a "trumpet" against this common foe, this bane of Christendom.

5. It is an insult to Almighty God. If this formalism were so odious to God under the law—a religion full of ceremonies, certainly it will be much more odious under the Gospel—a religion of much more simplicity, and requiring so much the greater sincerity (Eze ; Mat 15:8, and others). He peers into the heart, He sees the sham, and abhors the sacrifice, where the heart is not found.—A. Tucker.


Verse 4

PERIODICAL FASTS

Isa . Ye shall not fast as ye do this day.

Periodical fasts, such as the Ritualists would have us keep in Lent, instead of being well pleasing in the sight of God, are offensive to Him.

I. THEY ARE BASED UPON A FALSE CONCEPTION OF THE CHARACTER OF GOD. Their promoters say: "This is to be a season of special religiousness; therefore it is to be a time of mortification, fasting, and gloom. This is a season in which to do special honour to God; therefore let His altars and priests be clad in sad vestments, and let His people weep and lament." This view makes God find a pleasure in the self-inflicted grievance of His creatures. It implies that blessings which He has lavishly scattered around us are given rather as tests of our faith and self-denial; that they are here, not for us to rejoice in the works of His hands, but by renouncing them to show our love and loyalty to Him. How is such a view at all reconcilable with the love of the Divine Father? Is it thus that we should deal with our children! Is it credible that any parent, of true and loving heart, would take a studious son into a library of books, every one of which were calling to him to come and enrich himself on its treasures; or a child with rich and cultured musical gifts into a room where were exquisite instruments from which he longed to draw forth strains of sweet melody; or a daughter with a passionate love of flowers into a garden which was one blaze of beauty, and then say, "These are yours; but you will please me best if you do not gratify the desire which would lead you to use them? It is not that you would thus impoverish me, for I could easily supply the place of any you might appropriate; but it will please me if you look at them, long for them, and yet abstain from them. I know it will be a great trial; I have little doubt it will make you miserable; but it is that which will please me." No father, worthy of the name, would be guilty of such heartlessness. Yet it is just this which men ascribe to God, when they fancy that He is pleased if we afflict our souls, bow down our head like a bulrush, and spread sackcloth and ashes under us.

II. THEY ARE BASED UPON, AND PROMOTE FALSE VIEWS OF HUMAN DUTY.

1. Their evident tendency is to encourage the old notion of the sinfulness of the material world, the body, and all by which it is nourished and refreshed. It is true that in the New Testament "the flesh" is represented as the natural and deadly foe of the spirit; but "the flesh" denotes not the bodily nature, but the passions and lusts of an unrenewed heart. No doubt these are inflamed by the bodily senses; and if a man finds that fasting helps him to subdue them, let him fast. But to fast under the idea that the body is sinful, and that the more we can mortify it the better—to fast at the cost of physical health and energy is something more than a mistake; it is a sin to sacrifice that health which is one of God's most precious gifts, and which is so essential to enable us to do the service in the world which He requires at our hands.

2. They lead to a substitution of an outward and bodily for an inward and spiritual service. Bodily fasting is put in the place of that spirit of moderation, self-conquest, and self-sacrifice, which the prophet describes as the true fast. To their selfishness, passion, and worldly pride, the misguided religionists add the pride of self-righteousness, and so their last state is worse than the first. Let us use all aids which can advance us in likeness to Christ, and remember that all religious services which have not this result, whatever else they may have to recommend them, are but as "sounding brass and a tinkling cymbol."—J. G. Rogers, B.A.: Christian World Pulpit, ii. 145-148.


Verse 6-7

A PLEA FOR THE DISTRESSED

Isa . Is not this the fast that I have chosen? &c.

In the former verses of this chapter we have a description of the state of heart of the Jewish people in the course of their mysterious preparation for destruction.… They are in a condition of all others the most appalling—the condition of the self-deceived (Isa , &c.). The Lord therefore defines in His own vindication what is the sort of humiliation which alone He will accept and honour. There is no contradiction here of the doctrine that is taught in other passages of Scripture, in which the fast is divinely decreed, and the solemn assembly ordered by Divine command. There are occasions which justify, nay, which even require national prostration and sorrow; and there is no sublimer spectacle than the spectacle of a great people moved as by one common impulse to peniteuce and prayer. But in the case before us there was both a lie in the mouth and a reserve in the consecration; there was self-righteous satisfaction in the act, and there was a dependence upon it for the recompense of the reward. There is nothing new in the occasion which has brought us together. We meet under the shadow of a great calamity. There is something in the magnitude of the calamity for which we plead which removes it altogether out of the routine of ordinary charity.… Only once in a lifetime is it possible that such a crisis as this will occur. It is the cry of thousands stricken with the blight of famine from no fault of their own, &c. The present, therefore, is an occasion of national calamity and concern and sympathy; and they especially who have learned at the feet of Jesus are bound to be helpful in their measure, in order that their good may not be evil spoken of, and in order that their religion, in its very comeliest development, may shine forth before the observation of men.

The one point I want especially, without any sort of formal or elaborate treatment, to impress upon you now, is the point which lurks in the last verse of the text; there is my claim—"from thine own flesh."

God has made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell upon the face of the whole earth. This is the announcement of a grand fact which has never yet been successfully disproved—the essential underlying identity of the human race, however chequered by the varieties of clime and of language—one deep, constant, ineradicable identity which links man to man all over the world. The old Roman could say, "I am a man: nothing, therefore, that is human can be foreign to me." And Christianity takes that sentiment and exalts it into a surpassing obligation, and stamps upon it the royal seal of heaven. Of course this general law must be modified by minor and smaller varieties, or it will be practically useless. The sympathy that goes out after the world gets lost in the magnitude of the area over which it has to travel; and the very vastness and vagueness of the object will of itself tend to fritter away the intenseness of the feeling. That is a very suspicious attachment which clings to nobody in particular, which rejoices no heart with its affection, which brightens no hearthstone by its light. Hence private affections are recognised and hallowed and commended as the sources from which all public virtues are to spring. There is nothing in them inconsistent with the love of the entire race; they prepare for it, and they lead to it, and they scoop out the channels through which its tributaries are to flow. Who shall sympathise so well with the oppressed people as the man who rejoices in his own roof-tree sacred, and in his own altar-home? &c. Now, these two obligations—the claim of private affection and the claim of universal sympathy—are not incompatible; but they fulfil mutually the highest uses of each other. God has taught in the Scripture the lesson of universal brotherhood, and men may not gainsay the teaching. I cannot love all men equally; my own instincts, and society's requirements, and God's commands, all unite in reprobation of that. My wealth of affection must go out after home, and friends, and children, and kindred, and country; but my pity must not lock itself in them; my regard must not confine itself within those narrow limits merely; my pity must go out farther. Wherever there is human need, and human peril, my regard must fasten upon the man, although he may have flung from him the crown of his manhood in anger. I dare not despise him, because, in his filth and in his sin, as he lies before me prostrate and dishonoured, there is that spark of heavenly flame which God the Father kindled, over which God the Spirit yearns with intensest yearning, and which God the Eternal Son spilt His own heart's blood to redeem. There is no man now that can ask the infidel question of Cain, "Am I my brother's keeper?" God has made man his brother's keeper; we are to love our neighbours as ourselves; and if, in the contractedness of some narrow Hebrew spirit, we ask the question, "Who is my neighbour?" there comes the full pressure of utterance to enforce, and to authenticate the answer, "Man is thy neighbour; every one whom penury has rasped or sorrow startled—every one whom plague hath smitten or the curse hath banned—every one from whose home the dearlings have vanished, or around whose heart the pall has been drawn" (P. D. 2387).

I observe further that, as it is now, so in every age since the earliest, there have been distinctions of society in the world. It must be so in the nature of things; it is part of God's benevolent allotment, as well as part of God's original economy. A level creation, if you ever come upon it, is not the creation of God, &c. And so it is in society. It is of necessity a union of unequals; there could be no mutual cohesion, or mutual dependence, if we were one perpetual level. God has never made it so; in the nature of things, it could never continue so; and if by the frenzy of some revolutionary deluge all the world were submerged into one level of waters today, you may be sure that some aspiring mountain tops would come struggling through the billows to-morrow. It must be so; it is perfectly impossible, in accordance with God's known laws, and in accordance with the nature of things, that there should be equality of society in the world. "God hath set the poor in his place," as well as the rich, for He has said expressly, "He that despiseth the poor reproacheth"—not him, but—"his Maker." And the announcement of the Saviour, "The poor ye have always with you," is not only the averment of a fact, but it is a commendation of them, as Christ's clients, to the succour and to the help of His Church. This benevolence, moreover, is claimed for them, specially enjoined on their behalf, because of their abiding existence as a class of the community (Deu ). Hence the Saviour has especially commended them unto those who bear His name and who feel His affection shed abroad within their hearts, and He has commended them by the tenderest of all possible ties—"Inasmuch," &c. And, moreover, the class from which the poor is composed will always be the largest class in society—must be so. The poor compose the army, gather the harvest, plough the waters, construct and work the machinery, and are the stalwart purveyors for all the necessity and comfort of life. Who shall say that they have not a claim upon the resources of the state they serve—aye, and in seasons of special need and in special emergency, upon the charity and upon the justice of the many who are enriched by their toil? Once recognise the relationship, and the claim inevitably follows. A sense of service rendered, and of obligation thereby, will deepen that claim into a closer and closer compass; and religion, attaching to it her holiest sanctions, lifts the recognition of the claim into a duty which the Christian cannot violate without sin. "I will have mercy and not sacrifice." "Whosoever seeth his brother in need," &c. Nay, as I said before—and I return to it because no appeal can be so inimitable in its tenderness and so omnipotent in its power—Christ Himself, once poor in the travail of His own incarnate life, and touched therefore with the feeling of their infirmities, adopts them as His own peculiar care, and, pointing to them as they shiver in rags or perish with hunger, gives them to the care of His Church, that they may be warmed and fed, pronouncing at the same time the benediction which in itself is heaven, "Inasmuch," &c.

I just want to remind you for a moment or two of some of the peculiar circumstances which make this claim more pressing in connection with the liberality of the Churches now. You may meditate, if you please, for a moment upon some of the circumstances of the poor man's lot, in order to enforce the appeal which Scripture and which reason unite to announce and to commend. I might remind you, for example, of the nature of the occupation in which so many are obliged to pass their lives. Their life is for the most part one dreary monotony of labour. His condition is like that of a traveller in the desert, going on and on through the stifling and interminable sand, with hardly an oasis breaking the wilderness, with hardly an Elim in which to quench his thirst. Day after day, through a cheerless round of drudging duties, must the poor man go—constantly the same—the mouth always demanding the labour of the hands. The family grow up around him, and the children are clamorous for bread. The task must be performed. Ceaselessly the wheel goes round. A strange failing comes upon the heart, but he must work; the lion limbs lose their suppleness, but he must work; the eyes get dim. and troubled with a confusion of age, but he must work—until at last, perhaps, a strange paralysis seizes him, and he reels and dies, leaving his wife to the cold bufferings of the world, and his children to the stranger's charity, or perhaps to an early and a welcome grave. And then I might remind you of the circumscriptions of the poor from many of the sources of human enjoyment. They do not start fairly with their fellows in the world of intellectual acquirement. To them the sciences are sealed. Rarely can they kindle before a great picture, or travel to a sunny landscape, or be thrilled beneath the spell of an orator's mighty words. Not to them are the pleasures of sense—the ample board, the convenient dwelling, the gathered friends, and all the appearances of comfort, with which wealth has carpeted its own pathway to the tomb. Theirs is a perpetual struggle between the winner and the spender, and unless they are blest at home, and happy in the consolations of religion, life will be to them a joyless birth—a weariness that ceases not; or if their does come a brief respite, it will be one that gives no leisure for love or hope, but only time for tears. Then I would remind you, too, of the pressure with which ordinary evils—evils to which we are all liable—fall upon the circumstances of the poor. There is no part of the world where the curse has not penetrated. Man is born to trouble everywhere, but all these common ills of life fall with heavier penalties upon the poor. They have to bear the penalties in their condition as well as in their experience. They cannot purchase the skill of many healers, the comforts which soothe the sickness, the delicacies which restore the health; and when the wasting sickness seizes them, they have no time to recover thoroughly. And then the maintenance of the poor—the bare maintenance—depends often upon contingencies which he can neither foresee nor control. If labour fails, bread fails, and homes fail. The more provident and thrifty may struggle against the coming calamity for a while, and live upon the results of their thrift and their care; but you can trace, as you may this day if that famine is protracted, the inevitable progress downwards. One by one the comforts are obliged to be parted with, until there is extremity of desolation. And then that is not all. The sickness comes. The fever follows hard upon the famine; through the noisome court the hot blast sweeps, and the pure air flees away at his presence. Comfort has gone; strength has gone; hope has gone. Death has nothing to do but take possession. And this is no fancy; it is no picture. There are thousands of the homes of your fellows—of "your own flesh," where this ruin is enacting to-day. And then I might remind you again, of the temptations which come especially and more fiercely in connection with the poor man's lot. The poor man must struggle for quiescence when he sees that the crumbs "from the rich man's table" wasted, would furnish him not only with a meal but with a banquet. The poor man must have a stern fight to be contented when he sees, striving all his life as he does to be honest, that he is splashed with the mud from the carriage where fraud and profligacy ride. Hence it is that in times of distress, in times of discontentment, grievances are multiplied; there is a cry that is difficult to repress against those above them; they are denounced as selfish, tyrannical, proud. What more shall I say? It remains now surely that you address yourselves to the duty. Your pity, your philanthropy, your patriotism, and your religion have opportunities of charity to-day which they have very rarely had before. Let that charity flow as it ought—undiminished by any solitary misgiving, waiting to settle apparent discrepancies, or to rail at apparent apathy, or to solve economical problems—waiting to do all that until the famine is driven off from the heart of the hungry, and until the strickeu and sorrowful can again look up and smile. The duty is one from which none are exempt. God forbid that it should be an offering of the rich alone! Desolate homes, starving children, patient women from whose hollow eyes the worm looks out already, men smitten from their manhood into feebleness until they have lost almost all remembrance of the bold and brave beings they were—these are our clients. "Inasmuch," &c.—that is our never-failing argument. "Ye know the grace," &c.—that is our example. "She hath done what she could"—that is our measure. "Light breaking forth as the morning, health springing forth speedily, righteousness going before you, the glory of the Lord your reward, light rising in obscurity, darkness as the noonday, the satisfaction of the soul in drought, the land like a watered garden and like a spring of water whose waters fail not,"—there, Divinely spoken, is our "exceeding great reward."—W. M. Punshoa, LL.D. (in aid of the Fund for the Relief of the Lancashire Distress): Sermons.

Isa ; Isa 58:10-11. BENEVOLENCE.

I. Is a Christian duty.

II. Has its seat in the soul. Is the expression of the soul. Finds its demonstration in practical fruits.

III. Must be associated with humility.

IV. Is specially acceptable to God.

V. Its reward.

Light in the soul—on the path—on the condition (Isa ).—Dr. Lyth.


Verse 8

A HEALTHY CHURCH

Isa . And thine health shall spring forth speedily

I. ESSENTIALS OF A HEALTHY CHURCH.

1. A scriptural constitution. As Noah built the ark, Moses the tabernacle, and Solomon the temple, according to the Divine instructions; so a healthy church is formed according to the teaching of the New Testament and pattern of the churches planted by the apostles. The foundation must be well laid, otherwise the superstructure cannot but fall.

2. Nutritious food. As the body requires to be fed with a sufficient amount of wholesome food, so the soul must be fed with the bread which came down from heaven. Truth in its purity, without any adulteration, should be the soul's spiritual diet (1Pe ).

3. Pure air. The man who breathes in a polluted atmosphere sows the seed of disease and death in the human body. So the soul which lives in an impure moral atmosphere greatly injures itself. The spirit of worldliness, and the society of evil companions, should be most carefully avoided.

4. Regular exercise. Physical exercise is one of the conditions of health, and is the means of saving many a doctor's bill. In like manner, Christian work and the faithful discharge of religious duties is conducive to sound spiritual health.

II. CHARACTERISTICS OF A HEALTHY CHURCH.

1. Health is sometimes known by outward appearances. The rosy cheeks, the sparkling eyes, the sonorous voice, all testify to health. One invalid in a family puts everything out of sorts. A healthy church may be known by its prayer-meetings, contributions, missionary spirit, &c.

2. Health is known by tastes. A sickly man's taste is bad. Unwholesome dainties are preferred to strong meat. So with regard to an unhealthy church. Its taste is bad. Silly anecdotes are preferred to good scriptural teaching—thinks much of forms and ceremonies, &c.

3. Contentment of mind. An unhealthy man is peevish, querulous, and difficult to please. So an unhealthy church. It is a fault-finding church. Never pleased with its ministry, with its officers, with its choir, &c. It fancies that matters are managed better everywhere than at home.

4. Work. Sickness disables a man for labour. Health stimulates to work. A healthy man cannot be idle. A healthy church may be known by its labour. It teaches the young, visits the sick and needy, supports the missions, &c.

III. THE DESIRABILITY OF A HEALTHY CHURCH.

1. A healthy church is one of great comfort to itself. Though a man has wide estates, baronial castles, chariots innumerable, and though he be rolling in wealth, if health fails, his chief comfort departs. So with a church. Though it may have a beautiful chapel, a crowded congregation, a large endowment; if lacking in spiritual health, its consolations are indeed small.

2. A healthy church will survive through many trials. The healthy man is heedless of easterly winds, and furious hurricanes. So a healthy church. It survives through persecutions, imprisonments, and martyrdom. Like the bush of old fires cannot destroy it.

3. A healthy church is attractive. Healthy neighbourhoods entice visitors. So healthy churches attract men into their communion, and make all who come better and holier. People shun unhealthy churches as they do fever dens.

4. A healthy church is one likely to live. Sickness is the precursor of death. When a church becomes morally sick, people will begin to speak of its death, funeral, and grave. But a healthy church will live. Its chapel may become dilapidated, its members may die, but the healthy church lives on.

LESSONS.—

1. A morally sick church is a great curse to a neighbourhood.

2. The sooner the better that many a church should apply to the great Physician for spiritual healing.

3. The church will by and by become perfectly whole.

4. When perfectly whole, diseased persons will no longer be admitted into its fellowship (Rev ).—J. Williams, Newcastle-Emlyn: "Cofiant."


Verses 10-12

THE REWARDS OF BENEVOLENCE

Isa . If thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, &c.

The Bible has one grand and peculiar character,—it is the book of goodness; it everywhere recommends and extols the principle of benevolence; its two grand precepts are love to God and love to man. It never dispenses with either. Knowledge, gifts of tongues, and even faith without works is dead. Of all the striking exhibitions of the beauty and value of this cardinal quality, none can excel the one given by the evangelical prophet in the text. Notice—

I. The objects of benevolent regard. These are described in two forms.

1. The hungry. Those who have craving appetites and no means to satisfy them. Such is, indeed, a pitiable condition, yet not by any means rare. This state, painful in itself, is often aggravated by surrounding plenty. It is difficult to hunger in time of famine; but where there is enough, what a temptation to steal! So thought Agur (Pro ).

2. To the afflicted. This is much worse than poverty alone. Health gone; strength gone; resources dried up; thrown upon the bed of languishing, wearisome days and nights, &c. What wretched scenes are often discovered, &c. Often, too, this state is the reverse of their former condition in life. Often, too, poor friendless children have to suffer; and often there is a worse disease than that of the body,—a guilty spirit, a defiled conscience, and dreadful fears of a future state. Dwell upon such objects of misery. Think that it may be your lot.

II. The nature of benevolent regards. We are to exercise—

1. Tender compassion and sympathy. Not be heedless and careless of such; not neglect; not be callous. Investigate, inquire, excite our best feelings; cherish soft and benevolent passions; annihilate selfishness; crucify self; labour after generosity and true charity; not wait for opportunities of doing good. There may be many things having a tendency to close our hearts. The improvidence of the poor, and ingratitude; cases of imposition. But we must not forget how miserable we should be if God gave us our deserts, &c.

2. Kind and suitable aid. Sympathy without this is mockery. God deems it an insult to Himself, and to His image, which man bears. Our assistance must be in proportion to our means. It should be timely,—in season; with kindness of manner; with prayer for God's blessing; from purity of motive,—not for show and ostentation; but out of love, &c., to the glory of God.

III. The rewards of benevolent attention to the poor and afflicted.

1. It shall be followed by a dignified reputation. No title or distinction equal to that of goodness.

2. Such shall have the gracious guidance of God. How necessary is this, how desirable, how preeminently precious to have the providential interpositions of God, and the guiding influences of the Spirit. Guide rightly, graciously, to the end, even to a city of habitation.

3. They shall have internal happiness and satisfaction. When others are lean and comfortless, they shall be prosperous and happy (Psa ).

4. They shall have abundant spiritual prosperity. Comforts, &c., shall not fail. God is the fountain; and as such, He never changes, &c. This reward is often the consolation of the benevolent in this life (Job ).

5. The full recompense shall be given at the last day (Luk ; Mat 25:40, &c.).

APPLICATION.—Put not benevolence in the place of experimental piety. Yet, that is not genuine which does not produce benevolence.—Jabez Burns, D.D.: Sketches of Sermons for Special Occasions, pp. 209-212.


Verse 11

A HAPPY CHRISTIAN

Isa . And the Lord shall guide thee continually, &c.

The portrait of what the Christian is in his happiest times. The setting is a framework of duties (Isa , &c.). These blessings are not promised unconditionally, but they are fenced in with terms. I must, therefore, address myself to those who are living in the faith, &c., while I depict their happy state. Five distinct features of their felicity are mentioned. They are described as enjoying—

I. CONTINUAL GUIDANCE. There comes to them, as to other men, dilemmas in providence. The path of doctrine, also, is sometimes difficult. Spiritual experience. The LORD shall guide thee—not an angel. "Shall." "Continually." Grasp it by faith.

II. INWARD SATISFACTION. It is a blessed thing to have the soul satisfied, for the soul is of great capacity. The Christian has got what his soul wants,—a removal of all that which marred his peace, blighted his prosperity, and made his soul empty and hungry—sin-pardoned, satisfied with God's dispensations, promises, &c. In the worst times of distress he is still satisfied.

III. SPIRITUAL HEALTH AND HAPPINESS. It is a grand thing when the soul is in spiritual health, when the bones are made fat. Spiritual sickness is the condition of many. Do not be content short of spiritual vigour, &c.

IV. FLOURISHING FRUITFULNESS. This figure of a garden is a very sweet and attractive one. Some professors are not like this. There is little evidence of diligent cultivation in their character. The contrast between an unwatered and a watered garden.

V. UNFAILING FRESHNESS OF SUPPLY. Provided in the covenant of grace.

I can only regret that my text can have no bearing upon some of my hearers, to whom it must be read in the negative. Tremble at this! Terrible is your present state, but more terrible is the future. But there is hope yet. Jesus is able to save to the uttermost, &c.—C. H. Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Nos. 735-736.

GOD THE GUIDE OF HIS PEOPLE

Isa . The Lord shall guide thee continually

The people of God are strangers and pilgrims on the earth; they "seek a better country," &c. He needs a constant guide. His path is one he has never before traversed. He is ignorant of the way, and, without a guide, his course would be uncertain, and very probable his end unattained. God graciously engages to conduct him.

I. THE GOOD MAN'S NEED OF A GUIDE. Necessarily arises—

1. From his ignorance. He is not in darkness, but he is at present the child of the dawn. His knowledge is so limited, that he cannot trust to it. He only knows the first elements of truth. He has entered on the path of life, but he feels it necessary to seek direction and guidance every step. For this he prays, &c.

2. From the diversified paths which surround him. Sin has a thousand treacherous paths, many of them apparently good, and most of them fascinating, &c. There are paths of mere morality, self-righteousness, &c. How necessary then to have a guide.

3. From the temptation to which he is subject. It is the work of Satan to allure and deceive, that he may ruin and destroy. He lays snares for the travellers' feet. He tries to turn them aside from the path of duty and safety, or to suggest that the way is tedious, embarrassing, and uncomfortable.

4. The tendency of our own hearts to evil. Only partially sanctified. Liable to err. Often willing to be deceived. Apt to turn aside (Heb ). Let us now inquire—

II. How GOD GUIDES HIS PEOPLE.

1. By the counsels of His truth (Psa ). Given to be the guide of our steps. Here is plainly and distinctively marked out the way we should go (Psa 119:5; Psa 119:9; Psa 119:32; Psa 119:35; Psa 119:59; Psa 119:104).

2. By the ministry of His servants. Of old He raised up Moses, &c. He also came to minister and to teach mankind in the person of His Son (Heb : &c). He has established the ministry of the Word with the Christian dispensation (Eph 4:11; 1Co 12:28).

3. By the teaching of His Spirit (Joh ; Joh 16:13).

III. WHAT KIND OF A GUIDE GOD IS TO His PEOPLE.

1. He is an infallible guide. Incapable of error. Knows everything connected with the travellers, the way, and the perils to which they are exposed. Knows all things.

2. He is patient and forbearing. Remembers they are but dust. Endures their provocations—slow advances, &c.

3. He is affectionate and tender. As the shepherd kindly leads his flock. As the mother aids her infant child to walk. He breaks not the bruised reed, &c.

4. He is constant and unfailing. Never leaves. Guides their youth and mature years, and casts "not off in the time of old age," nor forsakes when their strength faileth. He guides even to death, and conducts to glory.

CONCLUSION.—

1. Are you under the guidance of God? Have you yielded yourselves to Him, &c.?

2. Cherish a spirit suited to your character and condition—reverence and holy fear, confidence in God, fervent prayer, self-denial, &c.

3. Urge sinners to turn from the way of death and live.—Jabez Burns, D.D., LL.D.: Sketches on Types and Metaphors, pp. 112-115. (See p. 294, 296, 302.)

THE CHURCH THE GARDEN OF THE LORD

Isa . Thou shalt be like a watered garden

Sin blighted the moral creation of God, and turned the Eden of the Lord into a barren desert. Through the intervention of Divine mercy, God has set on foot a scheme of merciful renovation. United in the fellowship of the Gospel, the regenerate constitute His spiritual Church, and appear in our wilderness world as the "watered garden" of the Lord. As a garden the Church is—

I. SEPARATED FROM THE WORLD. Originally like the waste howling wilderness, now distinct and separated, called out of the world as to spirit and character. In, but not of it; not like it—separated. To be manifest—as unlike the world as the garden is unlike the barren heath.

II. SURROUNDED BY A PROTECTIVE FENCE. Otherwise it would be a prey to wild beasts; thoroughfare for every rude foot; would become a waste. Fenced round, as with a wall of adamant. God is its keeper and defence. He is round about in the energy of His omnific power (Psa ).

III. IN A STATE OF CULTIVATION AND IMPROVEMENT. For the Church's cultivation He sends His Word, messengers, and the benign influences of His benevolent providential administrations.

IV. DISTINGUISHED BY ITS TREES AND PLANTS. The good man is likened to a lofty cedar, the useful olive, the fruitful vine, the fragrant myrtle, the thriving willow, &c. May be compared to flowers—adorned with the graces of the Spirit. Are said to be the Lord's planting (Mat ; Psa 92:12-14).

V. RICHLY WATERED BY THE BLESSING OF HEAVEN. Water is indispensible to fertility and growth, &c. The Spirit of God is often presented under this figure (Isa ; Joh 7:37; Isa 44:3; Isa 55:1; Isa 27:3). These communications are essential to our comfort, well-being, fruitfulness, &c. They keep the garden of the Lord ever verdant, and produce from the trees of the Lord an abundant increase.

VI. THE LORD EXPECTS A RETURN OF FRUIT FROM IT. All the labour and outlay of God's goodness is to produce the fruits of holiness. This He expects; and how reasonable is the expectation, and how important to us! Do we render to the Lord the fruits of righteousness, &c.?

APPLICATION.—Do we form part of the Lord's garden? Are we the plants of His right-hand planting? Are we flourishing, retaining our verdure, growing, yielding fruit to God? The impenitent, as briers and thorns, He will consume in the day of His fiery indignation.—Jabez Burns, LL.D.: Sketches on Types and Metaphors, pp. 208-211.

A similar idea is presented in Jer . It forms one of the touches in the beautiful picture which the prophets give of the restored happiness and prosperity of the nation after the rigorous season of captivity and exile. Their experience in Babylon was one of drought and decay. It was like being driven into a wilderness where everything becomes parched and barren. The people had been prepared for this, during their state of declension, by the faithful messengers of Jehovah (Isa 64:10; Jer 10:22; Jer 12:10-11; Eze 20:35). Yet we see throughout the history that bright hopes are blended with dark judgments, and the flock, though scattered, are followed by the loving purpose of God, who means to effect a great redemption. Even the wilderness is to be a scene of reconciliation and hope (Hos 2:14).

Our text, then, presents the pleasant picture of the restored, united, and prosperous community, after their season of correction; and the image may well be used as suggestive, also, of Divine experiences in the individual soul.

I. A well-watered garden indicates the presence of life. To speak of a garden without life would be unmeaning and absurd, however much may be done by art and skill to create a pleasing scene. This thought has a real application for human souls. We are too apt to confine our ideas of life to the outward and superficial aspects of mere existence. We see around us a great deal of the machinery and parade of life. But the suspicion will force itself upon us that much of this is but the fencing in of uncultivated regions—useless labour bestowed upon barren and unproductive spots which are not "rich towards God." There is the secret of the well-watered garden. Christ emphasises the life that is in it, and a life, too, which can be deep, and full, and abiding, only as it is centered in the Divine fulness itself. This suggests the value of the promise to ancient Israel. As long as they were a scattered flock, separated from God above all by their evil affections, they were losing life. Their spiritual strength was decaying, they were living in a wilderness where all their powers were parched and blighted, and they were doing what so many are doing now—they were losing their own souls in the mere materialism of a godless and undevout life. We may depend upon it that things are going badly, and even tragically with us, when the roots of a growth towards God are showing no signs. We are made for the achievements of faith: if that life of faith be not in us, "the world is too much with us." Only by being transformed as into "a watered garden" can our true life be secured.

II. "A watered garden" is suggestive also of beauty. In the operations of nature, life and beauty go together. It is no mechanical labour, causing a sense of weariness; much less can we ever think of it as ugly and repulsive. Nature always allures us by her tenderness and her charms, and though always at work with marvellous energy, is always arrayed in garments of beauty. What numberless examples we have of this. To confine ourselves to the more limited image before us, what beauty is displayed by a "watered garden," in the unfolding of its numerous forms of life.

This conception of beauty in life is not sufficiently pondered by Christian people. We have always been more ready to emphasise the sterner sides of religion than its tender aspects, &c. There has been considerable reason for this in the fact that the military and disciplinary elements of life are always very real with us. But this should be no excuse for driving out the sweeter elements that should give grace and beauty to character. Besides, we should remember that real strength, when rooted in the soil of love, is also beautiful. Our fault is in separating the graces as though they would not live together. But "strength and beauty are in his sanctuary." Many a well-meaning life is made harsh and repulsive because it has ruggedness and massiveness without tenderness and grace. How much more powerful and winning would the influence of our character be, if we would not persist in separating what God has joined together. Look into the garden of the soul, as it is presented in Christian teaching, and see what is expected to grow there (Gal ). And there is nothing which will give grace to the life which ought to be left out (Php 4:8).

III. Fruitfulness is another thought suggested by the watered garden. We naturally expect to see, not merely leaves and flowers, however beautiful, but also fruit. This idea is, of course, involved in the passages just quoted to enforce the need for beauty, but the thought specially intended here is that the religion of Christ shows itself in the form of active beneficence, working as a Divine leaven in the midst of human life. The life rooted in Christ feels itself to be related to others. It exists, not for its own selfish ends, simply to absorb and to keep, but loves by its very bountifulness to enrich others. It thus aims to be reproductive, by bringing others to repeat the same experiences as we ourselves enjoy, and upon still higher levels. Look around on your neighbours and friends, on the community, on the world: look with the eye of love, with the mind of Christ. Is there not room to impart some spiritual gift? (Rom ; Joh 15:8).

IV. I will put the thought in one other light. Our subject leads us to think of the need there is for cultured excellence. One of the main ideas suggested by such a garden as we have before our minds is, that it would be well tended and carefully cultivated, and therefore brought to yield the best of which it is capable. Weeds and noxious things, that only occupy valuable ground and prevent useful growth, are not tolerated: they are rooted up and cast out. The owner is not satisfied that it should yield anything less than its best. To this end he bestows upon it varied effort and ceaseless care. Ask any wise husbandman if he would care to risk a valuable garden by leaving it to the mercy of natural selection! Here we touch a point which ought to occasion us great searching of heart. Nothing can excuse indifference here, where it is to be feared our indifference is greatest. Do we suppose that no culture is needed for this garden of the soul, from which God is expecting so much? Look, then, on the one hand, at the results of life when it is recklessly left as a vineyard unkept—its ignorance, its grovelling sins, its animalism, its profanities, its vices. On the other hand, look at life in its higher and diviner forms—its watchfulness, its prayerfulness, its circumspection, its self-control, its heroisms. The weeds of life require no culture, the real fruits of life can be obtained only by highest care.

Let us not be satisfied with the littlenesses of life. We are called and destined for infinitely greater things than we have yet reached. The garden of the soul needs to be more richly watered with heavenly influence and power, that the whole scene of our motives and activities may be so quickened and enlarged that our service may be a whole-hearted faithfulness to God and man. This, however, is to be secured by three things—

1. A rooting (Joh ).

2. A growth (2Pe ).

3. A discipline, called by Christ a pruning (Joh ). This is the process by which God designs to get out of us the fruits of the seeds He has first of all put into us.—W. Manning.


Verse 13-14

Isa . If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, &c.

The first religious ordinance instituted by God in this new created earth was the Sabbath; the day of rest after six days work. Most remarkable was the manner of the institution—by the example of Almighty God Himself (Gen ). Instituted by God between two and three thousand years before the law was given upon Mount Sinai as an ordinance for the Jews, it was designed to promote man's temporal as well as his spiritual good; on its due observance man's welfare, both here and hereafter, very mainly depends; by its neglect God is dishonoured, and man is wounded and hurt.

I. How THE LORD'S DAY IS TO BE SANCTIFIED.

1. By public worship. On that day especially we are to pay unto Him the worship due unto His name. Public worship is a debt we owe to God (Psa ; Psa 96:8); and we should be as careful to pay it as we are the debts we owe our fellow-men.

2. By private meditation and prayer. We are to regard it as a day of rest and cessation from the common business and occupation of life, as a season dedicated to God. Our conversation and our thoughts are to be directed, not to temporal, but to spiritual concerns. Let us reflect upon the things of which it reminds us—the creation of the world, the resurrection of Christ; and of that which it foreshadows—the everlasting rest which remaineth for the people of God.

II. THE BLESSINGS WHICH FOLLOW UPON A DUE OBSERVANCE OF THE LORD'S DAY.

1. We shall grow in wisdom and grace.

2. Even in this imperfect and troublesome world, we shall learn to delight ourselves in the Lord.

3. When the number of earthly Sabbaths is complete, we shall be found, by God's grace, meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.

III. THE EVIL EFFECTS WHICH ALWAYS FOLLOW PROFANED AND NEGLECTED SABBATHS.

1. The world, with its drying, withering influence, will take entire possession of the heart. Even when the Lord's Day is only occasionally neglected, the natural result does not fail to follow—religion is at a stand-still. But where it is habitually profaned, irreligion, hardness of heart, utter indifference and carelessness about the soul, about God, and about eternity, inevitably ensue.

2. The natural faults and corruptions of our nature, being never checked by the wholesome bridle of God's Word, will run away with us, and never stop until they have urged us into perdition. Sabbaths spent in idleness and bad company have often to young men and women, in the highest as well as the lowest walks of life, been the first links of a chain, of which the middle were vice, crime, shame, death; and the last link, the tormenting flame!

3. We shall find unbroken toil a sore burden.

4. Death, instead of bringing us rest, will increase our burden a thousandfold in the kingdom of darkness.—Bishop Hervey: Sermons for the Sundays and Principal Holydays throughout the Year, vol. i. 122-133.

The law of the Sabbath, as instituted at the creation, and subsequently inserted in the Decalogue, instead of being repealed, retains its full authority. The sacredness of the obligation of its observance is now transferred, with undiminished force, from the seventh day of the week to the first. The sanctification of the Sabbath is still required on the same principles, in the same spirit, and for the same purposes. The only difference is, that the motives which impel to its due observance have acquired an accession of strength. Most important, therefore, is the inquiry on which we are now about to enter: In what manner should the Sabbath be observed?

The due sanctification of the Sabbath requires,—

I. A cessation from the ordinary labours and occupations of life.

II. A consecration of the entire day to the spiritual engagements and delights which peculiarly belong to it. "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy;" that is, let the entire day be separated from the occupations of other days, and consecrated to the service and enjoyment of God.

III. The public acknowledgment and adoration of our God and Saviour, in acts of social worship.

IV. The conscientious and diligent discharge of the domestic duties of religion. With much prayer, tenderness, perseverance, and ingenuity, let Sabbath opportunities be used for the purposes of Christian education (H. E. I., 803-806). Let not your servants be neglected. They have many claims on your Christian regard. Let them have reason to bless God for entering your family. Consult and adopt the best means of promoting their eternal interests.

V. The performance of the works of charity and mercy.—H. P. Burder, D.D.: Sermons, pp. 426-448.

I. Our first object must be to see what God's Word tells us respecting the origin, meaning, and importance of the primitive Sabbath. I. How far do these things apply to us? Is it God's will that we should still set apart one day in seven as a season of holy rest? III. What are some of the purposes of the institution of the Lord's Day?—C. J. Vaughan, D.D.: Sermons, pp. 255-291.

I. The true Sabbath. II. Its obligation. III. Advantage.

I. In what light we should regard the Sabbath. II. How we should employ it. III. The benefits arising from its proper observance.

I. The proper observance of the Sabbath. Its rest, pleasures, occupations, conversation. II. The consequent blessings.

1. Delight in the Lord.

2. Exaltation—victory over enemies, freedom from all false systems of worship (2Ch ; Eph 6:12).

3. Prosperity—abundance of spiritual food (Deu ; Isa 49:9); assurance of final security (Psa 28:9). III. The confirmation. God is faithful, cannot deceive; He will do as He has said (Num 23:19; Psa 22:5; Job 23:13).—J. Lyth, D.D.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 58:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/isaiah-58.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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