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In all life's necessary contact and inevitable contest with reality, nothing is more needed than the uplifted eye with its power of vision, which is the power of purity. To see 'also the Lord' is alike the secret of steadfastness and the guarantee of that knowledge in the midst of perplexity, which alone liberates from fretful anxiety and unbelief, and leads to right choice and wise action.
I. In connexion with duty, how indispensable is the sight of the ever-present Lord. The supremacy of duty is one of the insistent facts of life. Its calls are clamant and will not be denied, and its claims are often tyrannous. As the sunlight falling upon common objects gilds them with a beauty not their own, so the knowledge of God's purpose transmutes the base metal of an ordinary life into the gold of His glory and transforms duty into delight. For to see Him thus as the Lord of all duty is to see Him also as the Lord of all power. He has appointed you. He is hence committed to the responsibility of equipping you with strength both to endure and to do.
II. Again, with regard to the discipline by which alone any one can be made holy, we need to see 'also the Lord'. Otherwise the providences by which He-seeks to teach and bless us will be misinterpreted, and we shall lose their value. The cup of bitterness is only acceptable when we know that it is 'the cup which my Father hath given me to drink'. To sea Him as the Lord of love and wisdom, and to know that 'He doth not willingly afflict the children of men,' will alone serve to interpret His doings to the stricken heart and give 'songs in the night'.
III. In our joys, too, we need to see 'also the Lord,' or we are almost certain to be led astray by means of them into mere selfishness. All that is bright and beautiful in the world is one's to use and to enjoy, and its withdrawal is only made necessary when absorption in the gift disturbs our relationship with the Giver.
IV. The same need of seeing 'also the Lord' is obvious also in the realm of our desires. What a gulf there often is between our intentions and our attainments. The desire for holy living may possess us while the power for its realization is lacking, and consequently action is paralysed. He Who works in you 'to will' also works in you 'to do' of His good pleasure, and your desires are hence not weights but wings.
J. Stuart Holden, Redeeming Vision, p. 1.
There was a political crisis in Israel at this time After years of privacy and suffering King Uzziah died of leprosy, and a royal funeral had just taken place. Jotham, his son, was elevated at once from the regency to the throne, and swayed his sceptre over the temporal destinies of Israel. It was at this juncture that the magnificent vision described in this morning's lesson was vouchsafed to the Prophet. The design of it was that the Prophet should reveal it to the people.
I. The Vision. There are three things about the vision which passed before the Prophet that we may well ponder.
1. It transpired in the temple. Isaiah knew that, according to His covenant pledge, God would be there to meet him at this critical period. Nor was he disappointed. As he stood by the altar, and poured out his full soul, he heard the Divine voice, and his cares were at once removed. 'It is good to draw nigh unto God at all times,' but especially when the shadow of a great trial clouds the soul; for then God not only scatters the darkness, but causes the sunshine to come in its stead. Yet anxious souls are sometimes exceedingly reluctant to go in their sorrow to the temple, to meet and talk with God concerning it.
2. It revealed the Lord. As the Prophet remained by the altar only a mortal and sinful man the veil of the Holy of holies was drawn aside, and he beheld a throne of burning splendour, the seat of authority, from which the laws of the universe issued and its interests were administered. It was 'high and lifted up,' indicating its pre-eminency over all other thrones. And on it 'the Lord' was seated in calm, sublime majesty, as a monarch to govern and a judge to condemn or approve. His retinue was great and glorious, consisting of all ranks of celestials seraphim, and other holy and happy spirits. And 'His train' corresponded with His throne and attendants. Whatever its textures, the robe was of unsullied purity and dazzling effulgence, such as became the perfection and dignity of the wearer. But who was He? Jesus the Second Person of the adorable Trinity (St. John 12:41 ).
3. It inspired the angels. As they flew and clustered round the throne, and saw, with the Prophet, the glory of the Lord of the throne, they rendered befitting homage to Him; they covered their faces with their wings in adoring reverence, and seraph responded antiphonally to seraph 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!' Thus rapturously they sang, until the whole temple was one mighty wave of harmonious praise, and its pillars trembled with the sound of their voices. More 'the house was filled with smoke' the symbol and proof that Jehovah-Jesus was there. Such worship is in the temple above the stars (Revelation 4:0 ); and in this we hope one long and blissful day to take our part (1 Peter 1:3-5 ; Revelation 7:9-17 ).
II. Its Effect on the Prophet. 1. He was overwhelmed with fear. No wonder: like as Moses did, he was looking on God. Such fear was natural. It was like that which Moses felt; but we ought never to feel it (Hebrews 12:18-24 ).
2. He was conscious of defilement. The splendour and excellency around the Prophet led him to introspect himself, and as he beheld the awful contrast between his inner self and that outer glory he exclaimed, 'Woe is me! for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts'. The lip of the seraphic choristers were clean, because their hearts were clean; and Isaiah felt that he and Israel needed lips and hearts pure as theirs before he and they could praise God as He was then being praised. So he despaired; and yet his very despair, arising from an overwhelming sense of his own and his people's defilement, showed that he had a God-enlightened mind (1 Corinthians 2:9-10 ).
3. He was restored to purity. For a little while he was 'in heaviness,' until, indeed, one of the seraphim took a live coal with his sacred tongs from off the altar, and laid it on the lips which had confessed their uncleanness, and, as God's representative, said unto him, 'Lo! this hath touched thy lips, and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged'. That moment salvation was his, and heaven too! So now: no sooner is the precious Blood of Jesus brought by the Holy Spirit into touch with the soul of the penitent believer than all its defilement is cleansed, and it becomes whiter than snow.
References. VI. 1. J. E. Macfadyen, The City with Foundations, p. 107; J. H. Jowett, Meditations for Quiet Moments, p. 125; see also Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxvii. 1890, p. 81. J. E. Roberts, Studies in the Lord's Prayer, p. 47. C. H. Wright, The Unrecognized Christ, p. 167. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Isaiah, p. 24. VI. 1-3. Hugh Price Hughes, Essential Christianity, p. 217. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon-Sketches, p. 156. R. C. Trench, Sermons New and Old, p. 98. W. J. Hocking, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. 1893, p. 86. VI. 1-7. W. M. Punshon, Isaiah's Vision, p. 527. W. Baxendale, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxviii. 1890, p. 187. V. S. S. Coles, Advent Meditations on Isaiah I.-XII. p. 43.
The Discipline of Awe
We cannot contemplate the spectacle which Isaiah describes if we deal truly with ourselves without feeling our eyes grow dazzled and our hearts tremble But the description is given to us for this very purpose. We all need the discipline, the inspiration of awe. Wonder this fear of the Lord is always the beginning of wisdom. And we specially need the discipline, the inspiration now.
I. There is, I think, great danger lest the realism, the externality, the earthliness which have spread over modern life and thought should dominate our religion. We are tempted to treat Divine things with a strange familiarity, to use human modes of conception and feeling and representation not only as provisional helps towards the formation of spiritual ideas, as we must, but as the measures of them. We draw sharp outlines which can have no existence in the brightness which is about the throne. So it comes to pass that symbols, outward acts, formulas, the Holy Sacraments themselves in many cases, tend to confine and narrow the devotion which they were designed to elevate and enlarge. But we cannot rest with impunity in that which is of this world. So to rest is to lose the highest. To pierce through the outward is to find a new world. Isaiah felt this when the eyes of his heart were opened. The whole aspect of the temple service, august as it was, was changed for him. When the veil was withdrawn, he saw not what he looked for the Ark and the carved cherubim, and the luminous cloud but the Lord in His kingly state, and angels standing with outstretched wings ready to serve, and the earth full of His glory as an illimitable background to the marvellous scene. Something like this it is which we must strain the eyes of our heart to see, and having seen to interpret to our people. For the Incarnation, which is our message, has made the prophetic vision permanent.
II. No one of us would question in words our Lord's immutable Deity. No one would question that He came to us in the Father's name, to reveal the Father to us. Yet is it not true that we are tempted to substitute Him for the Father to whose presence He leads us? Is it not true that our faith in consequence is in peril of becoming unmanly, sentimental, fantastic, unbraced by the generous discipline of reverence, un-purified by the spiritual fire of awe? Such questions cannot be answered hastily. But at least they may lead us to try ourselves. Let us cling, cling to the last, to the true humanity of our Saviour and our Advocate, but let us follow Him in reverence where He is, follow Him to the glory which He had before the world began, follow Him to the throne of the Father, His Father and our Father. So will a holy fear the most elevating of all emotions mingle with adoration as we bow ourselves before the One only God, seen, as Isaiah saw Him, in His glorious majesty.
B. F. Westcott, Peterborough Sermons, p. 267.
References. VI. 1-8. R. J. Campbell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxiii. 1903, p. 273. R. S. Candlish, Sermons, p. 86. A. B. Webb, Principles of Missions, S.P.C. Tracts, 1897-1904. VI. 1-13. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Isaiah, p. 18. VI. 2. Ibid. p. 29. VI. 3. S. R. Driver, Sermons on Subjects Connected with the Old Testament, p. 28; see also The Anglican Pulpit of Today, p. 456. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, part iii. p. 38. J. Stalker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. 1893, p. 387. E. H. Eland, ibid. vol. lxv. 1904, p. 375. B. F. Westcott, The Anglican Pulpit of Today, p. 234. J. Baines, Twenty Sermons, p. 241. C. Hargrove, Our Reasonable Service, p. 3. J. Keble, Sermons for Ascension Day to Trinity Sunday, p. 364. VI. 4. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. i... p. 33.
The Vision of God
I. The Vision of God is, the Call of the Prophet- No where is the thought presented to us in the Bible with more moving force than in the record of Isaiah's mission.
II. Isaiah's Vision, Isaiah's Call, are for Us also, and Await from Us a Like Response. What Isaiah saw was, St. John (12:41) tells us, Christ's glory.
III. The Prophet's Teaching Must be the Translation of His Experience. He bears witness of that which he has seen. His words are not an echo but a living testimony. The heart alone can speak to the heart. But he who has beheld the least fragment of the Divine glory; he who has spelt out in letters of light on the face of the world one syllable of the Triune Name, will have a confidence and a power which nothing else can bring.
IV. The Vision of God is the Chastening of the Prophet.
B. F. Westcott, The Contemporary Pulpit, vol. v. p. 363.
Isaiah's Vision (For Trinity Sunday)
Isaiah was worshipping in the temple court; and as he knelt he beheld in ecstatic vision the way lying open to the Holy of holies.
The temple on earth became the miniature of the temple in heaven. A wonderful access to God was granted to the Prophet.
Other worshippers saw the outward ritual, the Shekinah, the carved figures of the angels, the vapour of the incense; he saw what their eyes could not see, the King of Glory clothed in His Majesty, the row of adoring seraphim, the future intercession of the Redeemer, and the prayers of the saints in His Name.
I. The effect of the vision on the Prophet. Not what we might have expected not joy, or satisfaction; but, at first, consternation, a sense of his own sinfulness. (So St. Peter, 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord'; and St. Paul at Damascus.) Isaiah sees his own sinfulness and that of others, as he had not seen it before; and the cry of anguish is wrung from his heart: 'Woe is me! for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts'.
And then there came to the humble and contrite spirit the message from the altar of Divine Love, the live coal touching his lips, the assurance of mercy and pardon: 'This hath touched thy lips, thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged'.
He is ready now to go forth in obedience to the will of God. To him there came the call to work: 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?' It is the voice of the King. Isaiah asks no questions about the mission; he hesitates not; he is ready for instant service. 'Here am I; send me; ready to speak Thy word; to do Thy work.'
II. What does this vision say to us Today?
It speaks to us of a new view of life, a new view of truth, presenting a new ideal.
( a ) Our lives are shaped by the ideal which presents itself to us; and there are many ideals.
With some, the ideal is the life of pleasure self-indulgence is the keynote of their lives.
With others, the ideal of life is ambition. To rise, that is the point: to rise in social position, in influence; to make a good marriage; to belong to a smart set.
With others, the ideal of life is gain. Everything is made subservient to this to the acquisition of something they can touch, and hoard; it involves one advantage, hard work; but the result is the same self is the centre.
Others have no ideal at all, but are simply drifting through life; acting only on the impulse of the moment; whose lives begin, continue, and look as though they might end, in nothing.
Others have indeed set before themselves an ideal, a high one, which they have struggled to attain, but fallen far short of their aspirations; their efforts futile, their lives anything but lofty; and they have been tempted to abandon the effort.
( b ) What shall arouse us from these false, degrading, and selfish ideals? One thing only a new view of life; a vision of some great truth hitherto hidden, now borne with overwhelming force upon the soul.
This was the turning-point in Isaiah's career; one moving idea possessed and stirred the depth of his spirit: 'Mine eyes have seen the King'. Henceforth all is changed. New aims, objects, desires, rise to beckon him on; he is transformed; the old self dies; he is a new man.
So it will always be with the man who sees the true vision. In his unrenewed state he owns no supreme ruler, he follows natural impulse, he obeys his lower nature. But when once truth, the light of God, dawns upon his heart, his eyes are opened; he learns that earthly hopes die down, earthly pleasures fail to satisfy; that man is small, that God is all in all; that 'life is real and earnest'; that henceforth his life shall be ruled by a Personal Will a Will that has claims on his soul's best affections.
III. 'Mine eyes have seen the King.' St. John tells us that it was the glory of Jesus Christ: 'These things said Esaias when he saw His glory' the glory of the enthroned Christ.
What he saw in shadow we have seen in historic presence. God has entered into fellowship with humanity lived, toiled, and suffered here; now He reigns in Human Form on high. When this truth permeates the heart, heaven is opened and religious truth becomes real. We see that God has a plan laid down for us; that Christ's will should be our law; that He has a personal knowledge of, love for, and claim upon, each of us.
The effect of the 'vision,' of religious conviction, will be
1. A personal sense of sin moral failure: 'I am a man of unclean lips'; the lips symbolizing the inward life, which needs purification. The conviction of failure and sin is sure to force itself upon the man who can say 'Mine eyes have seen the King'.
2. Unhappiness about others. We are all members of one another; so we read and think and profess, though we do not always act up to the truth. It is impossible not to become more or less alive and sensitive to the moral tone of others; the personal is bound up with the social sense of sin: 'I dwell among a people of unclean lips'. This lies at the root of all missionary and philanthropic effort. If a man has seen the 'King,' the sense of others' wretchedness cannot but press upon his heart.
IV. The call to service, and the response.
After the vision of enlightenment, and the fire of love, came a voice: 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us? 'The voice is sounding now; all about us, at home, abroad. Who will go? It appeals to all, but especially to the young and richly endowed, to stand out as witnesses for Christ and the Truth.
This is the great present-day need a new, higher, nobler, purer view of life, its meaning, destinies, ends. May God open our eyes to see things as they are; may He kindle in us love for Christ, that we may count it all honour to serve Him in serving the brotherhood.
References. VI. 5. Archbishop Thomson, Lent Sermons, 1868, p. 55. W. Howell Evans, Sermons for the Church's Year, p. 151. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Isaiah, p. 36. VI. 6, 7. G. Body, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. 1893, p. 161. R. J. Campbell, ibid. vol. lvi. 1899, p. 360. J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Prophets, vol. i. p. 17.
The Divine Call
I. If there be in faith, in work, in character, a living response to God's love and truth, life becomes a lesson of His teaching, an interpretation of His will, a reflection of His love to the age in which we live, to those for whom we are called to work. The call, the appointed work, will not be the same for all. 'There are... many kinds of voices in the world,' each with its own signification, each with its own power to tell out the praises of God; if one be silent, God's self-revealing is less than perfect.
II. Consider some of those through whom God's purpose of the ages has had its fulfilment. We may learn helpful lessons of life from them.
Abraham, accepting his high vocation with a courageous faith that made him 'the friend of God'.
Moses at the Bush, conquering his fear and hesitation, and proving worthy to stand alone as the one prophet 'whom the Lord knew face to face'.
The child Samuel answering the Divine voice, 'Speak, for Thy servant heareth,' and through his innocent-hearted obedience becoming 'established to be a prophet of the Lord'.
Isaiah, gazing upon his glorious vision, hearing a call that was in itself a revelation of highest truth, and answering in all humility, 'Here am I; send me'.
The Blessed Virgin Mary, receiving with all womanly modesty, humility, and self-surrender, the annunciation of the honour and the mystery for which she is for ever called blessed.
St. John, living his loving life under the control and by the inspiration of the eternal truth that 'God is Love'.
St. Paul, blinded by the glory which shone from the presence of the Risen and Ascended Christ, crying, 'Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?' and yielding himself to do and to suffer with a lion-hearted courage and a quenchless faith.
III. Consider the facts and truths which have been in the past the vehicle or the interpretation of God's call to ourselves.
What directed us to our work? How were we called? Had we a strong unmistakable call such as those we have just now considered? Most of you have had no such call.
What we call the accidents and commonplace things of life are generally the vehicle, or the interpretation of a Divine call. Did your work lead to a discovery in yourself of power or capacity before unknown? Did it show you ways of glad usefulness, of wondrous self-realization, of sweet rewards? While it brings out your individuality, does it also make higher calls upon your being? Then God is calling you, through your work, to that ministry in which you may best glorify Him, and develop each your own peculiar baptismal gift.
G. Brett, Fellowship With God, p. 3.
References. VI. 8. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii. No. 687; vol. xxiii. No. 1351. F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxviii. 1890, p. 328. T. Allen, ibid. vol. lix. 1901, p. 315. H. H. Montgomery, ibid. vol. lxi. p. 281. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Holy-Tide Teaching, p. 218. A. Maclaren, Outlines of Sermons on the Old Testament, p. 169. VI. 8, 9. V. S. S. Coles, Advent Meditations on Isaiah I.-XII. p. 48.
I. The Wall of Obstruction. There is the terrible discipline of God's messenger! To be the bearer of a Divine mission is to find yourself, at once, faced by a blind wall of obstruction. It is so fixed and strong that there is nothing you can do against it. What appeal can you make to hearts that are too gross to be stirred, and have no faculties wherewith to understand?
The late Lord Salisbury came back from Constantinople, in the old days of black disaster in the East, to tell us why he had failed to achieve a single reform. 'The Turkish officials,' he said, 'simply have not the capacities to understand what we mean.' There is no getting over the preliminary difficulty. If the capacities to understand what we mean are not there, we had better go home at once.
And this was to be the bitter result, to Isaiah, of being sent by God. And worse. He was to find that it was his own message which deepened the damage. Man shuts up at the touch of the Divine message just as strange creatures that we find on the seashore withdraw their tentacles and feelers at our touch and disappear into the silence of their shells. Nothing now can get at them, or tempt them forth into the open again. If we had not touched they would be still open and visible. It was the touch that was fatal. So with the prophetic message.
If man is free, then of sheer necessity Divine manifestations cannot be made without giving him, without forcing upon him, a moral judgment. The tenderness of Jesus had to endure the sting of the dread confusion: 'For judgment I am come into this world'. 'If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloke for their sin.' We shudder at the moral truth.
II. The Light Beyond the Blackness. I want you to recognize the effect on the Prophet of recognizing that at which we shudder. Just because it is so hard, so terrifying, so black, therefore he knows that it is not all. The misery of such a disaster as that which has been portrayed would of itself prompt God to further action. The Prophet is utterly sure of this; sure of it by premonitory instinct; and, therefore, the dreadful result that is to follow his mission does but draw from him the expression of an unconquerable hope. Lord, how long, how long? Night bears in itself, as it were, the verdict of its vanishing. Through the darkness of the night we know what it is that we miss; and what we miss God will bring us. That is what the Jew in his prophetic optimism never ceased to assert. The fact that we miss it is a proof that it will come. Therefore, we have hope under the night.
III. So he spoke; and he was right. He had read God's mind. There was a secret behind, a secret hope. True, the immediate interval of judgment, he was told, was to be sharp and sweeping. Cities would be wasted, the land utterly desolate. There would be a great forsaking, but underneath all this fierce wrath the good residue would be saved; would be sifted out; would be disciplined; would be perfected. Underneath and behind the terror the Divine compassion would be at work securing the true seed.
'Lord, how long?' We are to utter these words in the face of all disasters, in the teeth of every storm.
H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiii. 1908, p. 40.
References. VI. 9-13. V. S. S. Coles, Advent Meditations on Isaiah I.-XII. p. 52. VI. 13. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii. No. 121. VII. 1-9. V. S. S. Coles, Advent Meditations on Isaiah I.-XII. p. 57. VII. 1-16. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxix. No. 2305. VII. 4. W. L. Watkinson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. 1894, p. 218. VII. 9. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxix. No. 2305. J. E. Roberts, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxi. 1907, p. 321. VII. 9-14. V. S. S. Coles, Advent Meditations on Isaiah I.-XII. p. 61.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Isaiah 6". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter