Mere Ceremonial an Offense to God
Isaiah 1:11-13
To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to me? said the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams…

What a painful sight it would be to see some of our houses with the fronts off! - to look into the abodes of vice; to witness the impurity and profanity, and wretchedness and wild license, and seething corruption of our large towns! That sight we may escape, but we must see ourselves with the fronts off - those false fronts with which self-worship hides the truth from view. We must look behind the gaily painted scenes of a decent moral life and conformity with outward social laws. We must know our souls if we would know ourselves. Isaiah seeks to lay bare to the view of Israel their transgressions, by lifting off them that covering of religious service under which they tried to hide the truth of their moral state. That is the burden of this first chapter. The people drew near to God with the lip, but their heart was far from him. Their relations to the worship of God in the temple were anxiously maintained, but with that they thought to he satisfied; and, while keeping up the ceremonials, they "followed the devices and desires of their own hearts." Jehovah declares that the merely formal service of the impure is an abomination unto him. Those very sacrifices and offerings which were his delight, became hateful to him when offered with unclean hands, and when no loving, trusting, obedient hearts found expression through them. "I cannot away with iniquity and the solemn meeting."

I. THE POSSIBILITY OF UNITING TOGETHER INIQUITY AND THE SOLEMN MEETING. At first it may seem as if that were not possible. Surely conscience will prevent men from joining in religious worship who are indulging in open sin. Perhaps this is the real reason why so many people around us stay away from worship. But it is a fact that many of the worst men have kept, all through their lives, in outward association with religious worship. In the times of the old monasteries you might have listened to the solemn services and heard the monks breathe out strains of holy music set to holy words. You might have seen priests in gorgeous garments waving incense and uplifting the symbol of the Redeemer. They were precise in all prayers, minute in all ceremonial. And many of them were faithful and true men. But History writes one of her saddest pages about many of them. They were given over to gluttony, drunkenness, and immorality, and were uniting "iniquity and the solemn meeting." This is even a possibility for our own times and for ourselves. Many of us, if we were conscious of heart-sins and life-sins cherished and loved, would only become more exact in religious formalities, trying to cover up the wrong and hide it, as far as possible from our own view. We do religiously somewhat as Cain did when he hid his murdered' brother in the ground, and then set vigorously to work in his fields, trying, by sheer earnestness in work, to persuade himself and to persuade others that he knew nothing whatever of his brother's blood. We are not, however, so likely to unite the open forms of iniquity with the solemn meeting as we are the more secret forms, the inner heart-sins, which may be cherished without disgracing us before God; such sins as:

1. The unforgiving spirit. To fail to forgive is to sin.

2. Backslidings and lustings of heart: proud, selfish, sensual, corrupting thoughts. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." And the God to whom we offer worship is the Heart-searcher, the Thought-searcher.

3. Openness to the vanities of the world.

4. Occasional yieldings to temptation and self-indulgence. Many indulge the idea that, if their indulgences do not become habitual, they need not interfere with their religious worship. Plead the Divine requirement as given in Psalm 24:3-5.

II. THE VIEW GOD TAKES OF UNITING INIQUITY AND THE SOLEMN MEETING. "I am weary to bear." "I cannot away with." "It is an abomination to me." We should clearly distinguish what it is which is thus hateful to God. It is not the sacrifice, or the offering, or the solemn meeting. God takes delight in those places and in those services in which his Name is recorded. They are the highest things that can engage human attention, the seasons in which man transcends the earthly and anticipates the hallowed occupations of heaven. They are the times in which man ought to be the truest, the most sincere, the most himself; all cloaks, all hoods, all masks, all pride, ought to be laid aside whenever we pass the threshold of God's sanctuary. Naked, guileless, open souls alone may stand before the all-holy Lord. The thing which is so hateful is the separation between a worshipping and an obedient heart. God has encouraged outward worship, that it might express, and strengthen while it expresses, the love and trust of an obedient heart. The husk becomes worthless when the worm of self and pride has eaten out the kernel. The dress is hideous which no longer clothes a warm living body, but covers, and scarcely hides, the skeleton of rebellion. The voice is hateful that is only a voice, and utters no joy, no trust, no love of the heart. Be true in thy worship, be spiritual, and God will look down on thee with delight and acceptance. Be formal, be insincere, and God will frown thee from his presence; from thine hands he will reject the costliest sacrifices and the grandest show of devotion. Our cherished sins will as surely be an offence to God as were those which are referred to in this chapter. Ours, indeed, are not sins of violence and blood, but rather sins of secret indulgence. We have seen the light of the sun as effectually hidden by thin light mists as by black thunder-clouds. And God's face has often been hidden by the mists of little transgressions. He notices sins of will. He observes sins of inadvertence. He sees sins of neglect. He reckons sins of nourished evil thoughts. More souls have died away from the love of God through the subtle plague-breath of little heart-sins than have fallen under the strokes of temptation in open conflict with evil. And what shall we do, if it is revealed to us that secret evils have come in upon our souls, and that the devil's work of woe has been progressing in us, and the work of God's grace in us is flagging and failing? What shall we do if we can detect stains of secret disobediences, unforgivings, and self-indulgences? Let us not stay away from worship; but let us at once obey in this: "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well." - R.T.

Parallel Verses
KJV: To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.

WEB: "What are the multitude of your sacrifices to me?," says Yahweh. "I have had enough of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed animals. I don't delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of male goats.

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