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“ Deal thy
fast coming to a final issue. Either they, or God, must yield on the point of selfishness. They were intent on comfort, and He was intent on the welfare of the poor and the perishing. To be cheered was their object : to make them benevolent and kind was His object. bread to the hungry; bring the poor that are cast out to thy house ; When thou seest the naked, cover him; then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy health shall spring forth speedily, and thy righteousness shall go before thee, and the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thon shalt cry, and He shall
say, Here I am,” verses 7, 8, 9. We are not well instructed in the mysteries of the kingdom, if we see or suspect in all this, any thing like legal or meritorious conditions of mercy and comfort. No man of common sense can imagine that these comfortless people were inattentive and uncharitable to their poor neighbours, from any fear of self-righteousness, or of substituting works of grace. They did not live to themselves, lest they should be betrayed into the Pharisaic spirit of working for life. It was to save themselves, from trouble and expense, not to escape legality, that they stood aloft from the claims of suffering humanity and neglected immortality. No wonder, therefore, that God stood out against both the urgency of their prayers and the zeal of their worship. Indeed, He was consulting ing their true comfort in doing so: for no comfort can last long to a selfish spirit. Besides, had they gained their object without a sacrifice of selfishness and sloth, what a light it would have placed religion in, before all the
poor and the afflicted? Well might they have said had they seen men, without charity or sympathy, rejoicing in the salvation and presence of God—can that religion be holy and true which makes such men happy ?
Thus, you see that the very truth of the doctrines of grace would be brought into doubt, if the comforts of grace could be established in unfeeling or unfriendly hearts. But God
never perils the character of His salvation, nor perplexes the minds of the poor, by any such anomalies. He declares (whoever it may offend or affect) that “if a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar.” In like manner, of all who have this world's goods, and yet shut up their compassion from the needy, He denies that the love of God dwells in them, 1 John iii. 17. This is not putting a price upon the water of life in the wells of salvation, nor on the "joy" of drawing and drinking it; but simply, guarding it from abuse, and sustaining its character.
This way the real secret, and the practical reason, of His distance, towards the comfortless, in the time of Isaiah. God told them that, for the iniquity of their covetousness, he had hid His face from them. They, however, would not believe Him. They would not allow that their care of their own money, or their dislike of trouble, or their attending only to their own interests, amounted to covetousness. They did not trouble others, and therefore they did not choose to be troubled about others. They carried personal religion much farther than many, inasmuch as they were both devout and thoughtful; and this care for their own souls, they thought quite enough to secure their own comfort. When they found, however, that it did not, and that the darkness continued, notwithstanding all their visits to the closet and the sanctuary, they tried another experiment. They "fasted and afflicted their souls." Thus they had recourse to extraordinary means of grace, so intent were they upon enjoying a sense of the Divine
presence, and possessing a good hope through grace.
In this step, they seem to have been influenced by a feeling very natural to a soul alive to its own value and peril, viz., a fear that its humility and penitence before God had never been deep enough. They evidently suspected that, although they had prayed often and earnestly, they yet had not gone so thoroughly into all their own case, as true repentance required. Accordingly, they set apart a
day or days for the express purpose of going every length in confession and humiliation. And, that their mind and conscience might be in full exercise, and free from all carnal bias, they fasted as well as prayed. This looks well. It was also well meant. Indeed, as penitential humiliation, it was not treated by God as hypocritical or superstitious. As feeling—no fault is found with it. And yet, no good came from it. Their extraordinary prayers were as unsuccessful as their ordinary prayers. This both surprised and staggered them. “Wherefore have we fasted say they, and thou seest not? Wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge ?" They were not prepared for this disappointment. They had evidently calculated that they would obtain "the oil of joy for mourning, and the garments of praise for the spirit of heaviness." But although they thus fondly looked for light, behold darkness still!
No wonder : all this never once touched the grand point at issue between God and them. It was, in fact, an evasion of that cardinal point. He had not found fault with either their prayers or their penitence, so far as these regarded other points. It was not incincerity, nor formality, nor immorality, He was contending against; but against a selfish spirit which gave nothing to the poor, against a slothful spirit which did nothing for the distressed, against an unfeeling spirit which cared nothing for the souls of others : and as all this was unlike His own paternal spirit, and as He will have his children resemble him in mercifulness, He did not yield even to the agonizing cries of their fasting prayers, but stood out immoveably on the original point : “ Is not this the fast, that I have chosen ? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke ?” verse 7. In connexion with thus doing good to others, God said, " Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily.”
Now has this connexion ever been dissolved by God? It is an old connexion : so old that it is proverbial in the Bible. There, light and a liberal spirit towards the poor and the perishing, are connected like the Sheckinah and the mercy-seat. Nor is this rule confined to the Old Testament. The New Testament also is full of the principle, and of the illustration of it too. The “ gladness of heart” which prevailed among the first converts at Pentecost, was evidently both increased and confirmed by the liberal spirit which they manifested under the outpouring of the Holy Ghost. They did not shut themselves up in solitude, nor sit down to brood over the workings of their own minds, but blended with a glad reception of the word, a free distribution of their property ; and the consequence was, that "great grace was upon them all,” Acts iv. 32, 33. They were not inattentive to doctrine, fellowship, sacraments, or prayer: in all these " they continued steadfastly,” Acts ii. 42; but they combined with all these devotional habits, friendly intercourse, benevolence, and public spirit.
In like manner, the Apostles invariably called on all the churches, “to do good and communicate," because “ with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” And when they did communicate to “the poor saints,” the Apostles were not slow in assuring them that God would not be unmindful of their spiritual comfort. “Do,” says Paul, whatsoever things are lovely, and whatsoever things are of good report,” as well as the things which are
honest and pure,” "and the God of PEACE shall be with you,” Philip. iv. 8, 9. All this implies, what all scripture and experience abundantly verify, that a selfish spirit is not a temple in which the Holy Ghost will dwell as a Comforter, nor an earthen vessel which God will fill with the heavenly treasure of strong consolation or steady peace. No wise or good man can wonder at this. It is just as unlikely that God would comfort a selfish or slothful spirit, as that He would lift up the light of his countenance upon an impenitent or unbelieving spirit. The one is as much opposed to both His nature and will as the other.
This will hardly be disputed, when selfishness takes the harsh form of miserliness, or sloth, the cold form of pride, towards the
poor and the perishing. Even the world reckons him a wretch, who gives nothing, and feels for no one. Against such selfishness, therefore, we do not need much warning. It is too mean and monstrous, to be ensnaring to us. Is there, however, no danger of that kind of selfishness in religion which concentrates all our time, and attention and prayers, and solicitude, upon ourselves ? Alas, it is both very natural and plausible, to reckon this spirit equally prudent and necessary, and any thing but a wrong spirit. Nothing seems more reasonable, at first sight, than that we should confine our attention to ourselves, whilst we are confined to the rack of suspense, or to the stocks of despondency. It even seems cruelty or mockery, to propose to us any plan for the good of others, whilst we ourselves are walking in darkness. But whatever this proposal may seem, it is really kind and wise. It is not like asking the captives in Babylon to sing one of the songs of Zion, whilst their harps were on the willows and their hands in chains; and, therefore, it ought not to be met by the mournful
question, “ How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land ?” We can sympathize, although we cannot sing; and “remember Jerusalem," as the captives did, although far from all its joys.
Is, then, a good hope through grace" so dear to us, that there is nothing we would not try, in order to be enabled to obtain and maintain it? It can only be acquired by “ looking unto Jesus," as the sole and all-sufficient ground of hope, as the end of the law for righteousness, and the alone sacrifice for sin. In vain we look to any other quarter for peace or hope, or try any other experiment for relief. All our looking must be to Him, if we would be saved. There must be no cavilling nor questioning on this point. It is, however, a wise and necessary question to ask ourselves—where and how may we best behold the Lamb of God for ourselves ? From what points should we look chiefly, in order to “see Jesus ?" Now it is certain that