Religion: its Semblance, its Substance, its Reward
Isaiah 58:1-12
Cry aloud, spare not, lift up your voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.…

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 (ver. 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 (ver. 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 (ver. 4), it weighs nothing whatever in the balances of heaven (ver. 5). Those who have the form of piety without the substance may consider themselves to be of the number of the faithful (ver. 3); but they are miserably mistaken. God decisively and peremptorily rejects such empty formalities (ver. 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 (ver. 4).

2. Justice: loosing the bands of wickedness, letting the oppressed go free, etc. (ver. 6).

3. Kindness: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc. (ver. 7); practical recognition of the claims of the suffering humanity which we can pity and can succour (ver. 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 (Leviticus 10:25, 37; Romans 12:20, 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 (ver. 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 (ver. 8).

3. Divine guidance and protection. (Vers. 8, 11.)

4. Communion with the living and present Saviour (ver. 9).

5. Fruitfulness; ourselves being as a "watered garden" for beauty and productiveness (ver. 11); and our work resulting in moral and spiritual restoration (ver. 12). - C.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.

WEB: "Cry aloud, don't spare, lift up your voice like a trumpet, and declare to my people their disobedience, and to the house of Jacob their sins.

National Sins Protested Against
Top of Page
Top of Page