Isaiah 58:3, 4
Why have we fasted, say they, and you see not? why have we afflicted our soul, and you take no knowledge? Behold…
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.
Parallel VersesKJV: Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.