Here are precious promises for those to feast freely and cheerfully upon by faith who keep the fast that God has chosen; let them know that God will make it up to them. Here is,
I. A further account of the duty to be done in order to our interest in these promises (Isa. 58:9, 10); and here, as before, it is required that we both do justly and love mercy, that we cease to do evil and learn to do well. 1. We must abstain from all acts of violence and fraud. “Those must be taken away from the midst of thee, from the midst of thy person, out of thy heart” (so some); “thou must not only refrain from the practice of injury, but mortify in thee all inclination and disposition towards it.” Or from the midst of thy people. Those in authority must not only not be oppressive themselves, but must do all they can to prevent and restrain oppression in all within their jurisdiction. They must not only break the yoke (Isa. 58:6), but take away the yoke, that those who have been oppressed may never be re-enslaved (as they were Jer. 34:10, 11); they must likewise forbear threatening (Eph. 6:9) and take away the putting forth of the finger, which seems to have been then, as sometimes with us, a sign of displeasure and the indication of a purpose to correct. Let not the finger be put forth to point at those that are poor and in misery, and so to expose them to contempt; such expressions of contumely as are provoking, and the products of ill-nature, ought to be banished from all societies. And let them not speak vanity, flattery or fraud, to one another, but let all conversation be governed by sincerity. Perhaps that dissimulation which is the bane of friendship is meant by the putting forth of the finger (as Prov. 6:13 by teaching with the finger), or it is putting forth the finger with the ring on it, which was the badge of authority, and which therefore they produced when they spoke iniquity, that is, gave unrighteous sentences. 2. We must abound in all acts of charity and beneficence. We must not only give alms according as the necessities of the poor require, but, (1.) We must give freely and cheerfully, and from a principle of charity. We must draw out our soul to the hungry (Isa. 58:10), not only draw out the money and reach forth the hand, but do this from the heart, heartily, and without grudging, from a principle of compassion and with a tender affection to such as we see to be in misery. Let the heart go along with the gift; for God loves a cheerful giver, and so does a poor man too. When our Lord Jesus healed and fed the multitude it was as having compassion on them. (2.) We must give plentifully and largely, so as not to ta 55e8 ntalize, but to satisfy, the afflicted soul: “Do not only feed the hungry, but gratify the desire of the afflicted, and, if it lies in your power, make them easy.” What are we born for, and what have we our abilities of body, mind, and estate for, but to do all the good we can in this world with them? And the poor we have always with us.
II. Here is a full account of the blessings and benefits which attend the performance of this duty. If a person, a family, a people, be thus disposed to every thing that is good, let them know for their comfort that they shall find God their bountiful rewarder and what they lay out in works of charity shall be abundantly made up to them. 1. God will surprise them with the return of mercy after great affliction, which shall be as welcome as the light of the morning after a long and dark night (Isa. 58:8): “Then shall thy light break forth as the morning and (Isa. 58:10) thy light shall rise in obscurity. Though thou hast been long buried alive thou shalt recover thy eminency; though long overwhelmed with grief, thou shalt again look pleasant as the dawning day.” Those that are cheerful in doing good God will make cheerful in enjoying good; and this also is a special gift of God, Eccl. 2:24. Those that have shown mercy shall find mercy. Job, who in his prosperity had done a great deal of good, had friends raised up for him by the Lord when he was reduced, who helped him with their substance, so that his light rose in obscurity. “Not only thy light, which is sweet, but thy health too, or the healing of the wounds thou hast long complained of, shall spring forth speedily; all thy grievances shall be redressed, and thou shalt renew thy youth and recover thy vigour.” Those that have helped others out of trouble will obtain help of God when it is their turn. 2. God will put honour upon them. Good works shall be recompensed with a good name; this is included in that light which rises out of obscurity. Though a man’s extraction be mean, his family obscure, and he has no external advantages to gain him honour, yet, if he do good in his place, that will procure him respect and veneration, and his darkness shall by this means become as the noon-day, that is, he shall become very eminent and shine brightly in his generation. See here what is the surest way for a man to make himself illustrious; let him study to do good. He that would be the greatest of all, and best-loved, let him by humility and industry make himself a servant of all. “Thy righteousness shall answer for thee (as Jacob says, Gen. 30:33), that is, it shall silence reproaches, nay, it shall bespeak thee more praises than thy humility can be pleased with.” He that has given to the poor, his righteousness (that is, the honour of it) endures for ever, Ps. 112:9. 3. They shall always be safe under the divine protection: “Thy righteousness shall go before thee as thy vanguard, to secure thee from enemies that charge thee in the front, and the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward, the gathering host, to bring up those of thee that are weary and are left behind, and to secure thee from the enemies, that, like Amalek, fall upon thy rear.” Observe, How good people are safe on all sides. Let them look which way they will, behind them or before them; let them look backward or forward; they see themselves safe, and find themselves easy and quiet from the fear of evil. And observe what it is that is their defence; it is their righteousness, and the glory of the Lord, that is, as some suppose, Christ; for it is by him that we are justified, and God is glorified. He it is that goes before us, and is the captain of our salvation, as he is the Lord our righteousness; he it is that is our rearward, on whom alone we can depend for safety when our sins pursue us and are ready to take hold on us. Or, “God himself in his providence and grace shall both go before thee as thy guide to conduct thee, and attend thee as thy rearward to protect thee, and this shall be the reward of thy righteousness and so shall be for the glory of the Lord as the rewarder of it.” 4. God will be always nigh unto them, to hear their prayers, Isa. 58:9. As, on the one hand, he that shuts his ears to the cry of the poor shall himself cry and God will not hear him; so, on the other hand, he that is liberal to the poor, his prayers shall come up with his alms for a memorial before God, as Cornelius’s did (Acts 10:4): “Then shalt thou call, on thy fast-days, which ought to be days of prayer, and the Lord shall answer, shall give thee the things thou callest to him for; thou shalt cry when thou art in any distress or sudden fright, and he shall say, Here I am.” This is a very condescending expression of God’s readiness to hear prayer. When God calls to us by his word it becomes us to say, Here we are; what saith our Lord unto his servants? But that God should say to us, Behold me, here I am, is strange. When we cry to him, as if he were at a distance, he will let us know that he is near, even at our right hand, nearer than we thought he was. It is I, be not afraid. When danger is near our protector is nearer, a very present help. “Here I am, ready to give you what you want, and do for you what you desire; what have you to say to me?” God is attentive to the prayers of the upright, Ps. 130:2. No sooner do they call to him than he answers, Ready, ready. Wherever they are praying, God says, “Here I am hearing; I am in the midst of you.” He is nigh unto them in all things, Deut. 4:7. 6. God will direct them in all difficult and doubtful cases (Isa. 58:11): The Lord shall guide thee continually. While we are here, in the wilderness of this world, we have need of continual direction from heaven; for, if at any time we be left to ourselves, we shall certainly miss our way; and therefore it is to those who are good in God’s sight that he gives the wisdom which in all cases is profitable to direct, and he will be to them instead of eyes, Eccl. 2:26. His providence will make their way plain to them, both what is their duty and what will be most for their comfort. 6. God will give them abundance of satisfaction in their own minds. As the world is a wilderness in respect of wanderings, so that they need to be guided continually, so also is it in respect of wants, which makes it necessary that they should have continual supplies, as Israel in the wilderness had not only the pillar of cloud to guide them continually, but manna and water out of the rock to satisfy their souls in drought, in a dry and thirsty land where no water is, Ps. 63:1. To a good man God gives not only wisdom and knowledge, but joy; he is satisfied in himself with the testimony of his conscience and the assurances of God’s favour. “These will satisfy thy soul, will put gladness into thy heart, even in the drought of affliction; these will make fat thy bones, and fill them with marrow, will give thee that pleasure which will be a support to thee as the bones to the body, that joy of the Lord which will be thy strength. He shall give thy bones rest” (so some read it), “rest from the pain and sickness which they have laboured under and been chastened with;” so it agrees with that promise made to the merciful. The Lord will make all his bed in his sickness, Ps. 41:3. “Thou shalt be like a watered garden, so flourishing and fruitful in graces and comforts, and like a spring of water, like a garden that has a spring of water in it, whose waters fail not either in droughts or in frosts.” The principle of holy love in those that are good shall be a well of living water, John 4:14. As a spring of water, though it is continually sending forth its streams, is yet always full, so the charitable man abounds in good as he abounds in doing good and is never the poorer for his liberality. He that waters shall himself be watered. 7. They and their families shall be public blessings. It is a good reward to those that are fruitful and useful to be rendered more so, and especially to have those who descend from them to be so too. This is here promised (Isa. 58:12): “Those that now are of thee, thy princes, and nobles, and great men, shall have such authority and influence as they never had;” or, “Those that hereafter shall be of thee, thy posterity, shall be serviceable to their generation, as thou art to thine.” It completes the satisfaction of a good man, as to this world, to think that those that come after him shall be doing good when he is gone. 1. They shall re-edify cities that have been long in ruins, shall build the old waste places, which had lain so long desolate that the rebuilding of them was quite despaired of. This was fulfilled when the captives, after their return, repaired the cities of Judah, and dwelt in them, and many of those in Israel too, which had lain waste ever since the carrying away of the ten tribes. 2. They shall carry on and finish that good work which was begun long before, and shall be helped over the obstructions which had retarded the progress of it: They shall raise up to the top that building the foundation of which was laid long since and has been for many generations in the rearing. This was fulfilled when the building of the temple was revived after it had stood still for many years, Ezra 5:2. Or, “They shall raise up foundations which shall continue for many generations yet to come;” they shall do that good which shall be of lasting consequence. 3. They shall have the blessing and praise of all about them: “Thou shalt be called (and it shall be to thy honour) the repairer of the breach, the breach made by the enemy in the wall of a besieged city, which whoso has the courage and dexterity to make up, or make good, gains great applause.” Happy are those who make up the breach at which virtue is running out and judgments are breaking in. “Thou shalt be the restorer of paths, safe and quiet paths, not only to travel in, but to dwell in, so safe and quiet that people shall make no difficulty of building their houses by the road-side.” The sum is that, if they keep such fasts as God has chosen, he will settle them again in their former peace and prosperity, and there shall be none to make them afraid. See Zech. 7:5, 9; 8:3-5. It teaches us that those who do justly and love mercy shall have the comfort thereof in this world.