The Offence of Merely External Religiousness
Isaiah 58:2
Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God…

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 Psalm 40:6-8; Psalm 51:16, 17; Proverbs 15:8; Isaiah 1:11, 12-16; 66:3; Jeremiah 7:22, 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.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God.

WEB: Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways: as a nation that did righteousness, and didn't forsake the ordinance of their God, they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God.

Religious, But Unsaved
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