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Thursday, July 18th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 6

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-2

THE SERVICE OF THE SERAPHIM

Isaiah 6:1-2; Isaiah 6:5-7. I saw also the Lord, &c.

In that perfect prayer which our Lord bequeathed to His disciples we are taught to ask that God’s will may be done in earth as it is done in heaven. Thus angelic service is set before us as a model and pattern. Not that the services we are called upon to render are the same with those assigned to angels. Their sphere is heaven, ours for the present is the earth; and each of these spheres has its distinct and peculiar duties, appropriate to the nature and faculties of its occupants. But the spirit in which the employments of angels and men should be prosecuted is the same. One common sentiment—the sentiment of adoration and devotedness—should animate and govern them all. Hence the passage before us, although containing a record of the transactions of another sphere, contains a lesson, if not respecting the nature of our duties, yet respecting the method in which we should seek to fulfil them.

I. The twofold life of a servant of God, whether human or angelic, is here very beautifully exhibited to us. The seraphim are represented as veiling their faces and feet with their wings while they stand in adoration before the throne of God. But although engaged in ceaselessly adoring the Divine perfections, they do not lead a life of barren contemplation. The words, “with twain he did fly,” intimate to us that they are also engaged in the active execution of those errands with which God has charged them. The Christian’s life, like that of the seraphim, branches out into the two great divisions of contemplative devotion and active exertion. It is the life of Mary combined with that of Martha (P. D. 2417).

1. The devotional branch of the Christian’s life. In the exercises of the closet and of the sanctuary are to be found the springs of the Christian’s exertions in his Master’s cause. These exercises are not originating sources of grace, but they are channels and vehicles through which God’s Spirit conveys Himself to the soul—pitchers in which may be drawn up the waters of the River of Life to refresh and recruit the energies of him whom a painful resistance to evil within and without has rendered weary and faint in his mind (H. E. I. 3426, 4107, 4108, and 3438–3448). If devotion be essential to the perfection of a seraph’s service, how much more essential must it be to ours, our necessities being so immensely greater than those of the bright inhabitants of heaven! The exigencies of our time make devotion especially needful now. The present is emphatically a period of the world’s history in which “many run to and fro, and knowledge is increased.” Moreover, there is a revival of outward energy and activity in the cause of religion. This is a blessing. But remember, days of excitement are not days of deep devotion. There may be much of rapid movement abroad in the world without a corresponding adoration of God in the secret chamber of the heart—much of flying without veiling of the face [1303]

[1303] If this be the case with any of us, if, with the busy occupation of the hands in the furtherance of religious objects, we have allowed the inward life of communion with God to decline, how painfully do we resemble those virgins who took no heed to provide for their dying lamps a continual supply of oil! The profession which we have made before men, however bright its blaze, will one day be shown to have been delusive—to have been destitute of those animating principles of faith and love from which alone can flow an acceptable service.—Goulburn.

2. The outward manifestation of the Christian life discernible by the world. Care must be taken not only that the lamp shall be filled with oil, but that there shall be a light shining before men (Matthew 5:16; H. E. I. 1042, 1044, 3906). The seraphim are not so wrapt up in adoration of God that they are forgetful of active service. “With twain they did fly” for the execution of the errands on which they were commissioned.

Here is a reproof of the monastic principle, that seclusion from the society of our fellow-men and from the active duties of life is necessary in order to secure an uninterrupted period of leisure for solitary spiritual exercises. Undue predominance is thus given to one branch of God’s service, to the prejudice and neglect of the other and no less important branch. Exercise as well as nourishment and repose is essential to the health of the body, and so toil in the vineyard—earnest endeavour to advance the kingdom of God in our own hearts and the hearts of others—is no less essential to the health of the soul. “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;” but for what purpose? That they may walk in good works, and run with patience the race that is set before them (chap. Isaiah 40:31; H. E. I. 1736–1742).

II. Some practical lessons concerning the maintenance and manifestation of the twofold Christian life.

1. A lesson as to the spirit which should pervade all devotion. These bright and glorious beings are without sin. Still, such is their sense of the infinite distance between themselves and their Creator, that they veil their faces and their feet before His throne in token of adoring reverence. The first and most essential element of devotion is a feeling of deep awe flowing from a sense of God’s transcendent excellences and leading to profound self-abasement (H. E. I. 3798, 3799, 5074). If reverence was befitting in the seraphim, how much more is it necessary in sinful men! (Luke 18:13; Ezra 9:6).

The vision of God wrought in Isaiah a feeling almost akin to despair. It seemed to him as if the perfect holiness of God was engaged to banish for ever every creature possessing the slightest taint of moral evil (Isaiah 6:5). In Isaiah 6:6-7 we have the glorious remedy. What is the significance of the symbols? By the work of the Son of God a mighty Altar of Propitiation has been reared up, and thence there comes to the penitent sinner cleansing as well as pardon. The “live coal” is an emblem of that love and zeal in God’s service with which the Holy Spirit imbues the souls of those who flee to the Altar of Atonement as their only refuge from the wrath to come. A participation in that Spirit’s influence is absolutely essential to our true participation in the chorus of the angelic host (H. E. I. 2887).

2. A few words on that active service which is the outward manifestation of the principles nourished by devotion.

(1.) We must prepare for it by the care and culture of our own heart [1306]

(2.) There is also an outward work which God has made binding on all of us. He has assigned to each of us a certain position in life. Every such position involves its peculiar responsibilities, snares, and occupations. The responsibilities must be cheerfully and manfully met, the occupations diligently fulfilled, as a piece of taskwork allotted to us by the Lord of the vineyard (Ephesians 6:7). Besides, God has intrusted to us, in various measures, substance, time, abilities, influence, and these we are diligently to use for the promotion of the cause of God in the world. In our busy path through life, which brings us in contact with so many individuals, opportunities are ever and anon presented to us of being useful to our fellow-men; and to watch for, seize, and improve such opportunities is not the least important of these branches of active service (P. D. 40, 3567, 3569).

[1306] God requires us to set a strict watch over its outgoings—a watch such as sentinels keep over the persons and goods which pass out of a city whose allegiance to the sovereign is suspected—to curb and quell at its earliest outbreak every rising of vanity, temper, bitterness, passion, and just—to drag forth from its dark recesses and to slay every cherished iniquity which has found there a harbour and a hiding-place. Our own heart is a vineyard over which God hath set every one of us to dress it and to keep it. We are to extirpate the soil’s poisonous produce, and to implore upon the soil of this vineyard the precious dews of the Divine Spirit, which may remedy its native barrenness and turn it from a desert into the garden of the Lord.—Goulburn. See also H. E. I. 1841, 1 42, 2695–2708.

CONCLUSION.—

1. It is not the intrinsic dignity of our duties, nor the large result of our fulfilment of them, which renders the diligent performance of them an acceptable work in God’s eyes. The great design of our being placed in this world is not that we may do some signal service, or large amount of service, to our Creator, but rather that we may execute the service (be it great or small) allotted to us in a spirit of fidelity, zeal, and love. The spirit which is thrown into and pervades the work is everything—the work itself (comparatively) nothing. Be the sphere what it may which Divine Providence has assigned us, let the duties of it be executed in a seraphic spirit (P. D. 1484).
2. We have overwhelming motives, if we did but rightly appreciate them, to devotedness of our every faculty to the service of our God. The redeemed sinner owes to God far more of allegiance than the angel who has retained his integrity. Angels no such Fall have known, “angels no such Love have known,” as we.—E. M. Goulburn, D.C.L.: Sermons, pp. 77–99,

Verses 1-3

THE TRINITY IN UNITY
(For Trinity Sunday.)

Isaiah 6:1-3. In the year that King Uzziah died, &c.

Scene of this sublime vision, the Temple; time, “the year that King Uzziah died.” Why is this fact mentioned? Uzziah had profaned the Temple (2 Chronicles 26:16-21); his son and successor was Jotham, the only king of the house of Judah whose character has not one dishonouring blot; was it not appropriate that, when the disobedient king was removed, and a king who honoured God and His house had succeeded him, there should have been this glorious revelation of the King of kings—not merely as a preparation of the prophet for his mission, but as an encouragement to the monarch to persevere in his loyalty towards God and His truth?

That which was granted to the prophet was a vision of the Triune God. Proofs: Isaiah 6:3, which shows the plurality of persons in the Divine unity; John 12:41, where it is asserted that that which the prophet saw was the glory of Christ; Acts 28:25, where it is asserted that the voice which the prophet heard was the voice of the Holy Ghost; Isaiah 6:3, the threefold repetition of “holy.” I purpose, therefore, to make some observations on this important subject of the Trinity.

I. The doctrine of the Trinity has been believed by the Church of Christ in all ages. This is at least a presumption that it is taught in Scripture, successive generations of devout men could scarcely have been mistaken on such a vital point.

II. This doctrine of the Trinity underlies the whole Bible, and is inextricably interwoven with its fabric and structure. The Old Testament testifies to the Divine unity, as contrasted with the polytheism which prevailed among heathen nations; the Gospels record the manifestation of the Incarnate Son of God; the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles set forth the work of the Third Person in the Church. There is direct testimony to this doctrine, such as Matthew 28:19, 2 Corinthians 13:14. But just as circumstantial evidence when it is clear and complete is even more satisfactory and decisive than the very best direct testimony, still more valuable is the indirect testimony to this doctrine underlying the whole Bible; like a threefold cord, it runs through the whole book, and binds the whole of Divine revelation together.

III. This doctrine of the Trinity, while it is clearly taught in Scripture, is mysterious and inexplicable. We can no more comprehend it with the unaided human understanding than by uplifting the fingers we can touch the starry firmament [694] This is no reason for refusing to accept it [697] for we accept many other facts which we cannot explain (we cannot explain even the familiar fact of sight), but it is a reason for not insisting dogmatically that other men should accept our explanations of it.

[694] See Article: THE TRINITY, in my Homiletic Encyclopædia of illustrations, and section 1501 in my Dictionary of Poetical Illustrations.

[697] See Article: THE TRINITY, in my Homiletic Encyclopædia of illustrations, and section 1501 in my Dictionary of Poetical Illustrations.

As we cannot stay to consider the effect of this vision upon the mind of the prophet, I shall conclude with just three words of practical application of the doctrine itself.

1. It is bound up with our duty to God. We are bound to accept it, because He has revealed it; and accepting it, we are bound to yield to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost the homage and love of our souls.

2. It is bound up with our hope of salvation. If it is not true that the Everlasting Son came forth from the bosom of the Father, and took upon Him to deliver man; and if it is not true that the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son raises men from the death of sin to the life of righteousness, and restamps upon their souls the lost lineaments of our Maker’s image, what foundation is there left for our hope of everlasting life?

3. It is bound up with the fulness of the Gospel blessings. These are all summed up in the Apostolic benediction, 2 Corinthians 13:14. If these be ours, we “have all and abound.”—R. W. Forrest (Christian World Pulpit, i. 492).

Verses 1-5

REVELATIONS OF GOD

Isaiah 6:1-5. In the year that King Uzziah died I saw, &c. [700]

[700] The scene of the Vision is the Temple, and its features will have been the same whether we suppose them to have risen before Isaiah’s imagination while he was absent from the spot, in the solitude of his chamber or his house-top, or assume (as I myself prefer to do), that he was actually praying in the Temple at the time.

Though it is unlikely that any of the successors to what was but a small remnant of Solomon’s kingdom perfectly restored the Temple after it was deprived of its original splendour by Shishak in the reign of Rehoboam, yet we see the worthier princes from time to time repairing the structure when it had been suffered to fall into decay, and replacing, as far as they could, the treasures and the costly decorations of which it was repeatedly despoiled to buy off foreign invaders; and probably there was no period in which the restoration would be more complete than in the reign of Uzziah, who in his power, wealth, and magnificence, came nearer than any other to Solomon. And there will be much more of fact than of fancy in the picture, if, for the clearer understanding of the scene of this vision, we figure to ourselves the youthful prophet in his rough hair or woollen garment (probably not unlike that of the Capuchin friar as we now see him in the streets or churches of Rome), going up to the Temple to worship;—and if we look with him at the Temple as, at the end of 300 years from its building, it must have presented itself to his eyes, with its ample courts, and colonnades, and porch, and its holy house, and holy of holies, well-proportioned, and of the most elaborate workmanship, though rather massive than large according to our notions. As he crossed the variegated pavement of “the great court of the congregation,” and stopped—for we have no reason to suppose him a Levite—at the entrance to the inner, or “priests’ ” court, on each hand would rise one of the tall pillars which Solomon set up in token that the kingdom was constituted by Jehovah, and would be upheld by His might (1 Kings 7:21; 2 Chronicles 3:17), and which, once of “bright brass,” but now mellowed into bronze, had their square capitals richly wreathed with molten lilies, chain-work, and pomegranates; before him, resting on the back of the twelve oxen, and cast like them in brass, would appear the “molten sea,” a basin of thirty cubits in circumference, and containing two or three thousand baths of water, its, brim wrought “like the brim of a cup with flowers of lilies,” and under these a double row of ornamental knobs; while on each side stood five smaller lavers, the bases of which rested on wheels, and were most elaborately ornamented with oxen, lions, cherubims, and palm-trees engraved upon them; and beyond these again he would see the great brazen altar of burnt-offering, with its never-extinguished fire; and overhead the roof of thick cedar beams resting on rows of columns. These were the courts of the palace of the divine King of Israel, for the reception of His subjects and His ministers.[Compare the description of Solomon’s own house, which besides its inner porch had another where he sat to judge the people, 1 Kings 7:7. The arrangement of the Temple is plainly that of a palace.] The house itself again consisted of two parts, the outer of which, the holy place, was accessible to those priests who were in immediate attendance on their unseen Sovereign, while the inner, or holiest place, was the very presence-chamber of the Monarch who dwelt “between the cherubims,” which spread their golden wings over the ark containing the covenant He had vouchsafed to enter into with His people, and itself forming a “mercy-seat,” where was “the place of His throne and the place of the sole of His feet.” In the position which I have, following the requirements of the narrative in the chapter before us, supposed Isaiah to be placed, he would see through the open folding-doors of cypress, carved “with cherubims, and palm-trees, and open flowers,” and “covered with gold upon the carved work,” into the holy place, which he could not enter; and the light of the golden lamps on either side would show him the cedar panelling of the walls, carved with knobs and open flowers, with cherubims and palm-trees, festooned with chain-work, and richly gilt; the mosaics of precious stone; the cypress floor; the altar of incense; the table with the shew-bread; the censers, tongs, and other furniture of “pure and perfect gold;” and before the doorway at the further end, and not concealed by the open leaves of the olive-wood doors (carved and gilded like the others), would be distinguishable the folds of the vail “of blue, and purple, and crimson, and fine linen,” embroidered with cherubims. In the East the closed vail, or purdah, declares the presence and secures the privacy of the monarch, into which no man may intrude and live; and in the Temple at Jerusalem it was the symbol of the awful presence and unapproachable majesty of the King Jehovah, Lord of hosts.… Perhaps on this occasion, or certainly on many others, Isaiah had been joining in the public daily sacrifice and worship and had afterwards brought his own free-will offering—a bullock or a lamb without blemish. Such an offering, the symbol of his dedication of himself to Jehovah’s service, would be the natural expression of his earnest desire for some token that at last it was permitted him to enter on the actual functions of the prophetic office for which he had been so long preparing; and that this vision was the answer to such beautiful prayerful desire—itself an inspiration from on high—we may well believe.—Strachey.

Some of you may have been watching a near and beautiful landscape in the land of mountains and eternal snows, till you have been exhausted by its very richness, and till the distant hills which bounded it have seemed, you knew not why, to limit and contract the view,—and then a vail has been withdrawn, and new hills not looking as if they belonged to this earth, yet giving another character to all that does belong to it, have unfolded themselves before you. This is an imperfect, very imperfect, likeness (yet it is one), of that revelation which must have been made to the inner eye of the prophet, when he saw another throne than the throne of the house of David, another king than Uzziah or Jotham, another train than that of priests or minstrels in the Temple, other winged forms than those golden ones which overshadowed the mercy-seat. Each object was the counterpart of one that was then or had been at some time before his bodily eyes.… The symbols and service of the Temple were not, as priests and people often thought, an earthly machinery for scaling a distant Heaven; they were witnesses of a Heaven nigh at hand, of a God dwelling in the midst of His people, of His being surrounded by spirits which do His pleasure, hearkening to the voice of His words.—F. D. Maurice.

I. Earthly powers fade and perish, but the Eternal Power that uses them all lives on (Isaiah 6:1). Comfort here, when a great king or statesman is taken away from the head of a nation; when a great leader of an arduous reformatory movement, such as Luther, is laid low; when an eloquent preacher or wise pastor is summoned to his rest; or even when the head of a household is cut off just when his family most need his care. He who has wrought by their instrumentality can work without it (Psalms 68:5, &c.)

II. In God’s temples there is room only for God. “His train filled the Temple.” Ahaz could build in the courts of the Lord’s house an altar to the god of Damascus (2 Kings 16:10-16), but he could not worship two gods there, for the only living and true God departed when His sanctuary was thus profaned. God will have all, or none (Isaiah 42:8). All His earthly temples must be counterparts of the one heavenly temple, where He reigns alone. In no church will God divide His empire with the State or with popular opinion: we must choose between Him and all other authorities. In no heart will He reign along with any other principle or passion (Matthew 6:24.)

III. Until we reach the land where there is no temple, we cannot see God as He is [703] To Isaiah a vision of God was granted, and yet it was but a symbolic vision. He saw a throne, and on it seated? Being of indescribable majesty; but who imagines that he saw God as He is? Does God sit on a throne, after the fashion of kings, such as Uzziah, who fade and die? The vision was a condescension to the human faculties of the seer, and served its purpose, that of impressing upon him the majesty and holiness of the Most High. And he tells us more of the ministers who surround the throne than of its Occupant! Him no words can describe; of Him no absolute disclosure is now possible; He can but give us revelations—visions—administrations of Himself. And this He has done.

1. In nature. The purpose of the manifold and wondrous universe is not accomplished if we look only at the creation, and do not discern in it veils not thickly hiding, but helping to re veal the Creator (Romans 1:19-20) [706]

2. In Providence. The manner in which the world is governed is, to the man who studies it comprehensively, earnestly, and reverently, a revelation of the character of the Ruler.

3. In His Word. That man miserably mistakes, who studies the Bible as anything less than a many-sided disclosure of God.

4. In Christ [709] a familiar thought this, yet how seldom do we enter into its depths! We do not worship an un known God, yet we cannot see Him as He is until we have entered into that light which is inaccessible and which no mortal can approach unto, until we have been ourselves trans formed into “children of Kght,” and so rendered capable of looking on “the Father of lights.”

[703] See my Dictionary of Poetical Illustrations, No. 1501; and my Homiletic Encyclopædia of Illustrations, Nos. 2229–2240.

[706] D. P. I., 1489, 1493, 1496, 1502, 1504–1506, 1508, 1509, 1511, 1514, 1519, 1526, 2545, 2552, 2563; H. E. I., 2242.
[709] H. E. I., 854–857, 2241, 2243.

IV. Those to whom He reveals Himself most fully are most humble, and those whom He most exalts are most ready to serve. We have both these truths illustrated in the seraphim and in Isaiah.

Verses 1-7

ISAIAH’S VISION

Isaiah 6:1-7. In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw also the Lord, &c. [712]

[712] God is invisible; yet in that heavenly world in which He has His special and eternal residence He manifests Himself in ineffable glory, dwelling in what the Scriptures call “the light which no man can approach unto.” Of that heavenly world, the tabernacle and temple were splendid emblems; they were “patterns of heavenly things.” But why the astonishing fact, that when sinful creatures erected a tent in the wilderness, and a temple subsequently at Jerusalem, the visible glory of God descended, taking possession of the place? God thus came down from heaven to earth, with all these impressive circumstances of visible majesty, to teach His creatures that He was awfully glorious, and fearful even in His praises; that even in His acts of grace His holiness is solemnly declared; and thus to show with what reverence and purity man ought to approach to Him. So when Isaiah was to be appointed to an office in which he was to fear God, and not the face of man, and which, to give it weight and authority, required an entire sanctity, a scene similar to that which had been displayed in the temple at its consecration, but greatly heightened and magnified, was disclosed to him in vision. The space of this visionary temple appears to have been far more ample than that of the one at Jerusalem; the throne was greatly elevated, it was “high, and lifted up;” the “train,” the “skirts” (as in the margin) of the cloud of the Divine presence filled the whole place; instead of the carved representations of the cherubim of glory fixed on the mercy-seat, the prophet beholds the cherubim themselves, living, and all ardour, activity, and adoration; they are not represented in the vision as the cherubim in the holiest of all, silently gazing on the glory of God and the mysteries of His covenant, but as hymning His praises, proclaiming His spotless purity, and declaring “the whole earth to be full of His glory.” The prophet, beholding the wondrous scene, sinks oppressed and self-abhorred, until a coal from the altar touches his lips, and he is thus sanctified to the service of God, and put among His ministers.—Watson.

Behold, in these temple scenes, both what the Lord your God is, and what He requires from you.

I. The first of these temple scenes presents to our view the majesty of God: “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high, and lifted up.” One of the first and most important truths for us to learn is the absolute rule of God—over nature, man, the principalities of heaven. Mark the scenic circumstances. He sitteth upon His throne: this is the attitude,

1. Of supremacy and dignity; He sitteth while all other beings stand before Him to receive His commands, bow in adoration, or are prostrate in abasement.

2. It is the attitude of ease and perfect security [715] But, above all, mark the place of His throne as displayed in this wonderful vision. It stands in the temple; it has been sprinkled with the blood of propitiation; it is now the mercy-seat. To the truly penitent all its terror appears softened with grace.

[715] No rebellions shake the throne of God; though “the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing,” yet “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision.” The throne of God is a rock in the midst of the ever-rolling ocean of created existence, that heaves and swells with ceaseless change; but, in comparison of Him, its mightiest billows have but their moment of existence, and sink into the mass at the base of the immovable throne of the Everlasting One.—Watson.

II. The second of these temple scenes displays to us the ineffable and incomprehensible nature of God. Let not man suppose that he can by searching find out God, or know the Almighty unto perfection. This is scenically, but most impressively, represented to us in the vision before us: “His train”—the skirts of the shekinah—“filled the temple,” its fainter rays beaming from the central blaze in the holiest of all, and irradiating the more distant objects. But even that was too much for man, and it is therefore added, “And the house was filled with smoke;” a veil was thus drawn over what was too bright and dazzling for mortal vision; and though God dwelt in the light, yet it was light involving itself in thick darkness (Psalms 97:2; Exodus 16:10). Revelation has not superseded mystery (Job 26:14). As to His dispensations, we are all still to walk by faith rather than by sight; and as to the depths of His nature, rather to adore than reason. An infinite being is necessarily incomprehensible by finite beings [718] He must be mysterious. If we could fully know God, we must either be equal to Him, or He must lose the glory of His nature and come down to ourselves (1 Corinthians 13:9; Romans 11:33).

[718] An observer on a mountain-cliff may be able to survey the whole circumference of a lake that lies beneath him, but no man can see the whole of the ocean, simply because it is the ocean, and not a lake.—Watson.

III. The third view presented by this vision is that of the adorable and awful holiness of God (Isaiah 6:3). This is seen in His titles (Psalms 71:22; Deuteronomy 32:4); in His acts; in His law; in His visible image on earth, His Son incarnate; in His Gospel; in His judgments; in the reward of the righteous.

IV. In the next scene which the vision presents we behold a sinful man convicted and laid prostrate before this holy God (Isaiah 6:5).

V. In the final scene we behold a convicted, self-abased, and penitent man pardoned and consecrated to the service of God (Isaiah 6:6-7). What are we taught by this wondrous representation? That for guilty man there is pardon, that for unholy men there is purification, and that lips, once unclean, but now sanctified, may join in the hymns of seraphim, and, without dread, approach to God, and celebrate the glories even of His holiness. This we are taught, but not this only; not merely is the fact, but the manner of it, brought before us. See, then, the means. The instrument of purification is fire; but not any kind of fire, fire from any place; it is fire from the altar, the altar where atonement is made for sin; fire, therefore, both of divine origin, and coming to us through the great Propitiation. We can be at no loss for an interpretation of the symbols thus employed. Our altar is the cross; the propitiatory sacrifice, the spotless Lamb of God; by the merit of His death, and the baptizing fire of His Spirit, are the guilty and polluted pardoned and sanctified to God.—Richard Watson: Works, vol. iv. pp. 143–153.

Verses 1-13

THE PROPHET’S CALL

Isaiah 6:1-13. In the year that King Uzziah died, &c.

We have here the history of Isaiah’s call to his great life-work. Perhaps in a modern biography this chapter would have been placed first. But there was wisdom in placing it where it stands; it was well to give us some insight into the real character of the men among whom Isaiah was called to labour, for thus we are enabled more easily to understand the nature of the mission on which he was sent [688] Studying this chapter as a history of the prophet’s call, I learn—

[688] This vision evidently contains the designation of Isaiah to his work as a prophet. It does not follow that he may not himself have put his book together in the form, or nearly in the form, in which we have received it. The early chapters as they describe the state of the people, not at one particular moment but through a course of years, announcing the punishments which must follow from that state with the blessings which could come out of them, are a living index to the subsequent prophecies and history. The place which they occupy, supposing it was assigned by Isaiah, cannot hinder us from accepting his own express words as a proof, that the year in which King Uzziah died was the critical year of his life, that which explained to him why he was sent into the world and what task he had to perform in it.—F. D. Maurice.

I. That a threefold spiritual preparation is needed for effective service of God [691] It is generally admitted that some kind of preparation is needed, e.g., for the ministry of the Gospel; but it is not generally recognised that a merely professional preparation is of no avail whatever. A man may pass through the whole routine of college life, both literary and theological, and yet not be a prophet of the Lord. Such preparation is not merely not enough, it is not even essential. “Schools of the prophets” may exist without sending forth a single prophet, and God calls many prophets who have never been inside a school door. This is true of every kind and form of God’s service, e.g., the Sunday-school, the home, Christian literature. In every case a threefold spiritual preparation is necessary. Without it we may pretend to be God’s servants; but the disguise will always be imperfect, and we shall always be betraying what we really are. Even the old blind Isaacs whom we deceive will not be sure about us: we may have on Esau’s garments, but we shall never perfectly imitate Esau’s voice. What, then, is this preparation?

1. A vision of God. Before we can serve God effectively, we must to some extent see Him as He is. In all departments of human activity, knowledge of the person served is essential to perfect service. Those who have never seen an earthly king cannot serve him as do those who are in daily intercourse with him; their loyalty is at the most a sentiment, not a constraining power. The biographies of God’s most eminent servants in all ages make it plain that the first and indispensable stage in preparation for His service is a vision of God Himself—a revelation of His majesty and holiness (Isaiah 6:1-4).

2. What a man needs before he can effectively serve God is a vision of himself. The great hindrance to such service is self-satisfaction and self-sufficiency. But when a man really sees God as He is, he straightway sees himself as he is (Isaiah 6:5). Job’s experience (Job 42:5-6). Peter’s experience (Luke 5:8). He sees himself to be utterly unfit and unable to serve God, and so attains to the second indispensable qualification for such service (Ephesians 3:8; 1 Corinthians 15:9, &c.)

3. The third thing which a man needs before he can effectively serve God is participation in God’s salvation. This is a rule that needs to be stated with wisdom. As a matter of fact, God has used the ministry of unconverted men. Such men may be guide-posts, though not guides. How much better to be a guide! How much more useful is a guide! But we cannot thus serve our generation unless we have been made a partaker of God’s salvation. By a sanctifying process,—a process involving in some cases terrible pain (Isaiah 6:6-7),—we must have been made “separate from sinners.”

[691] Once for all must he who was to be a prophet have become absolutely certain of the true relation of the world and Jehovah,—must have beheld, as in a distinct form, the sublime and holy character of Jehovah, and felt that he was directed by Him alone; once for all must he have recognised the divine power of truth against the whole world, and himself as living and moving in it alone; once for all must he have entered, with the effectual energy and act of his whole inner being, into the counsels of God, and found himself for ever bound by them, and endowed by these bonds with true power and freedom:—this was the first condition and the true beginning of all the work of the prophet, the holy consecration and the inner call, without which none can become a true prophet.—Ewald.

II. Those who have undergone this preparation will devote themselves unreservedly to God’s service.

1. There will spring up spontaneously within them a desire to serve God. They will not need to be pressed into this service; they will volunteer (Isaiah 6:8).

2. They will not be deterred by the difficulty or painfulness of the service to which they are called. It was a hard and distasteful service that was demanded of Isaiah—to prophesy to an unbelieving and scoffing generation (Isaiah 5:18-19); to enter upon a ministry that would leave men worse than it found them (Isaiah 6:9-10). Nor was this ministry to be brief; it was to be prolonged through many years (Isaiah 6:11-12). Note: in sending Isaiah on such a ministry there was nothing inconsistent with the Divine righteousness or goodness. God’s truth must be proclaimed, whether men will heed or reject it; and the inevitable effect of such proclamation of the truth is to render those who reject it more stupid and wicked than they were before (2 Corinthians 2:16; John 9:39). But, painful as it was, Isaiah did not shrink from it. Nor do any who have passed through such a preparation as his. They do not ask concerning a work or duty, “Is it easy?” “Is it pleasant?” but, “Does God call me to it?” Paul: (Acts 21:13).

III. There is great encouragement for those who have unreservedly devoted themselves to the service of God.

1. What God demands from them is not success, but faithfulness. He did not require Isaiah to convert his fellow-countrymen, but to prophesy to them faithfully. There his responsibility began and ended. So is it with preachers, teachers, and priests to-day. Men measure by success, but God by faithfulness. What a difference is the result, e.g., in such a case as that of Carey, who laboured for years without making one convert! or in such a case as Isaiah’s!

2. No faithful servant of God will ever labour without some success. Isaiah was not to toil altogether in vain. There was to be a wide-spread apostacy of his countrymen, but not a universal apostacy; a small remnant would still cleave to the Lord (Isaiah 6:13); and doubtless Isaiah’s ministry did much to keep them in the paths of righteousness. So is it with us; much of our seed may be wasted, but not all of it (Psalms 126:6; 1 Corinthians 15:58).

Verse 2

THE SERAPHIM

Isaiah 6:2. Above it stood the seraphim [721] each had six wings, &c.

[721] As those that are nearest of a king’s attendants stand behind his throne or chair of state, at his elbow.—Day.

This is the only passage of Scripture in which the seraphim are mentioned. According to the orthodox view, which originated with Dionysius the Areopagite, they stand at the head of the nine choirs of angels, the first rank consisting of seraphim, cherubim, and throni. And this is not without support, if we compare the cherubim mentioned in Ezekiel, which carried the chariot of the divine throne; whereas here the seraphim are said to surround the seat on which the Lord worshipped. In any case, the seraphim and cherubim were heavenly beings of different kinds; and there is no weight in the attempts of Hendewerk and Stickel to prove that they are one and the same. And certainly the name seraphim does not signify merely spirits as such, but even, if not the highest of all, yet a distinct order from the rest; for the Scriptures really teach that there are gradations in rank in the hierarchy of heaven. Nor were they mere symbols or fanciful images, as Hävernick imagines, but real spiritual beings, who visibly appeared to the prophet, and that in a form corresponding to their own supersensuous being, and to the design of the whole transaction. Whilst the seraphim hovered on both sides of Him that sat upon the throne, and therefore formed two opposite choirs, each ranged in a semicircle, they presented antiphonal worship to Him that sat upon the throne.—Delitzsch.

The cherubim in the temple represented no doubt spiritual powers and presence in the most general sense, those who look upon God and reflect His light. If we distinguish between them and the cherubim, as we do in our “Te Deum,” these last would seem more especially to represent those divine energies and affections of which the zeal, devotion, and sympathy of man are counterparts.—F. D. Maurice.

The name cannot possibly be connected with sârâph, a snake (Sanscrit, sarpa, Latin, Serpens); and to trace the word to a verb sârâph in the sense of the Arabic ‘sarafa (‘sarufa), to tower high, to be exalted, or highly honoured (as Gesenius, Hengstenberg, and others have done), yields a sense that does not very strongly commend itself. On the other hand, to follow Knobel, who reads shârâthim, worshippers of God), and thus presents the Lexicon with a new word, and to pronounce the word seraphim a copyist’s error, would be a rash concession to the heaven-storming omnipotence which is supposed to reside in the ink of a German scholar. It is hardly admissible, how ever, to interpret the name assignifying directly spirits of light or fire, since the true meaning of sâraph is not urere (to burn), but comburere (to set on fire or burn up). Umbreit endeavours to do justice to this transitive meaning by adopting the explanation “fiery beings,” by which all earthly corruption is opposed and destroyed. The vision itself, however, appears to point to a much more distinctive and special meaning in the name, which only occurs in this passage of Isaiah.… If the fact that a seraph absolved the seer by means of this fire of love (Isaiah 6:6-7) is to be taken as an illustrative example of the historical calling of the seraphim, they were the vehicles and media of the fire of divine love, just as the cherubim in Ezekiel are vehicles and media of the fire of divine wrath. For just as in the case before us, a seraph takes the fire of love from the alter; so there, in Ezekiel 10:6-7, a cherub takes the fire of wrath from the throne-chariot. Consequently the cherubim appear as the vehicles and media of the wrath which destroys sinners, or rather of the divine doxa, with its fiery side turned towards the world; and the seraphim as the vehicles and media of the love which destroys sin, or of the same divine doxa with its light side towards the world.… “Seraphic love” is the expression used in the language of the Church to denote the ne plus ultra of holy love in the creature.—Delitzch.

I. “With twain he covered his face” [724] They bow with prostrate awe, veiling themselves in the presence of the Divine glory, as though feeling the force of those strong words, “He chargeth His angels with folly, and the heavens are not clean in His sight.” If the angels tremble while they gaze, what should man feel? II. “With twain he covered his feet” [727] Among Orientals this expresses reverence. Well may you bow in reverence before Him! The sense of pardon will humble you, even while it fills you with holy exaltation. III. “With twain he did fly”—in readiness to execute His commands.—Richard Watson: Works, vol. ix. pp. 150–153.

[724] Thus expressing his profound reverence and becoming modesty in the Divine presence. We can hardly approach those who are greatly our superiors but with downcast eyes, intimating the consciousness we feel of their preeminence, and our profound respect for their excellency and dignity. We cannot look at the sun shining with meridian splendour, but we are obliged to cover our eyes with our hands. Such is the infinite glory of the eternal Jehovah, that celestial spirits around His throne appeared to our prophet covering their faces with their wings. Light inaccessible and full of glory, in which God resides, was too strong for them directly to contemplate.—Macculloch.

[727] In Scripture language the feet sometimes denote all the lower parts of the body which decency requires to be concealed. In eastern countries these were generally covered by the long garments which they were accustomed to wear: hence it may have been thought want of respect to appear in public, on solemn occasions, with the feet uncovered.—Macculloch.

In a similar description of the cherubim in Ezekiel 1:11, it is said that they covered their bodies. In Isaiah the expression clearly denotes, not the feet only, but the lower extremities.—Barnes.

How little do we know of beings whose forms from their faces to their feet are ‘covered!’—B. W. Newton.

A GLORIOUS EXAMPLE

Isaiah 6:2. Above it stood the seraphim, &c.

The seraphim afford us a model for imitation. Our Lord has animated us in our Christian course by promising that, if ‘we are faithful, we shall be made like the angels in heaven; but if we would hereafter resemble them in glory, we must first resemble them here in temper. Let us, therefore, prepare in time to join the concert of these holy intelligences.

I. They burn with love to God. The honourable name they bear is derived from a word signifying to burn, and denotes the fervour of that zeal for the interests of their Lord by which they are animated.

II. Notwithstanding their vast endowments, they bend with reverence and humility before the throne of the Lord.

III. They fly with rapidity to execute His commands.—Henry Kollock, D.D.: Sermons, pp. 585, 586.

Verses 2-4

THE SERAPHIM AND THEIR SONG

Isaiah 6:2-4. And above it stood the seraphim, &c.

I. THE SERAPHIM.—The Scriptures disclose to us the fact that there is a spiritual world, vast and variously populated, superior to this world, yet connected with it and exerting upon it powerful influences. Little beyond the fact is made known to us; few details are granted us; yet glimpses into it have been vouchsafed, and among the most interesting and instructive of them is our text.

Only here do we read of seraphim: elsewhere we read of cherubim (Genesis 3:24; Ezekiel 10:1-22, &c.); and of living ones (Revelation 4:6-8). From the fact that these “living ones” in some respects resemble both the “seraphim” of Isaiah and the “cherubim” of Ezekiel, some eminent scholars believe these are three names for one order of beings. Others, with whom we are disposed to sympathise, believe that the two names “cherubim” and “seraphim” really indicate two orders of spiritual intelligences, resembling each other, yet distinct. Whether the “living ones” of the Apocalypse are cherubim, or seraphim, or a third order of exalted ministers of the Most High, is a question concerning which we cannot speak confidently.

Scholars also are divided as to the significance of the name “seraphim:” some derive the word from a root signifying to burn, others from a root signifying to be exalted.

But there can be no question that the descriptions of the “seraphim,” the “cherubim,” and the “living ones” are symbolical; the terms employed are figures adapted to convey to our minds true descriptions of beings of whom a literal description would now be unintelligible by us [730] “Wings” are symbols of swiftness [733] here the symbol is triplicated to indicate the exceeded swiftness—the immense energy—of these messengers of God (Psalms 104:4). “With twain he covered his face,” in token of humility. “With twain he covered his feet,” in token of reverence. “With twain he did fly,” in token of readiness to do God’s will—three points in which we should strive evermore to resemble these exalted intelligences.

[730] “Above the throne stood the seraphim. Each one had six wings. With twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.” The sense of awe increasing with the clearness and purity of a spirit and with the nearness of its approach to God; the face being veiled which receives its light from Him, and most covets to behold Him; the absence of all wish to display their own perfection in spirits who are perfect; the freedom and willingness to go anywhere, to do any errands of mercy; these are some of the more obvious thoughts which the study of this vision suggests. There are others which lie hidden, which we may have a glimpse of from time to time, and which words might mar. For it is true of earthly symbols, still more of heavenly visions, that they are meant to carry us out of words and above words.—F. D. Maurice.

[733] Among the ancients, Mercury, the messenger of Jupiter, was always represented with wings.—Barnes.

To them is granted an immediate vision of God, and the effect upon them is expressed by their song: “Holy,” &c.

II. Consider next THIS SONG OF THE SERAPHIM.

1. They acknowledge God as “the Lord of hosts.” [736] This term in its first use in human language referred to the sun, moon, and stars (Genesis 2:1; Nehemiah 9:6, &c.). Thus considered, how wonderful are the conceptions which are opened out to us of the Divine power and glory! (Isaiah 11:10.) But it includes also those thousands of thousands of exalted intelligences who hearken to His word and do His pleasure. “A great King” is the Lord our God!

2. They teach us that the glory of God is co-extensive with His works. All that Isaiah saw was that God’s glory filled the temple: what they saw was that His glory filled the earth. “The whole earth,” &c.

1. This declaration is true, if we think of Him as the God of nature. Everything that He has made is “good.” Even a snowflake shows forth His glory. Science is a servant of God, and is teaching us to understand somewhat of the wondrousness and beneficence of His works.

2. It is true if we think of Him as the God of providence. Human history, comprehensively and thoughtfully considered, shows that, while men are free, they are yet under the control of One who rules over all in the interests of righteousness and truth (Psalms 76:10; Isaiah 10:5-7, &c.). To angelic intelligences how profoundly interesting must be the problems which God is working out in the government of this world! (Revelation 15:3.)

3. It is true even if we think of Him as the God of redemption. Possibly (though perhaps not probably) this earth is the only sphere in which His glory in this respect is manifested. But here it is manifested in the mission and work of His Son (Ephesians 3:10). Even where the Gospel has not yet been proclaimed there are senses in which His glory as the God of redemption is manifested: even there, for Christ’s sake, He is patient with sinners, He strives with them by His Spirit, He is preparing them for the future triumphs of the Cross. The history of our race, when it shall be seen as a whole, will all redound to His glory as the God of redemption [739]

3. In the holiness of God the seraphim find the supreme subject for adoration and song: Holy, &c. Other attributes of the Most High are the themes of their thought and worship, but it is His holiness that excites their most rapturous praise. Why?

1. They have never needed His mercy; it is reserved for us to sing the sweet song of redeeming grace. On account of our redemption they rejoice (Luke 15:10), but doubtless they rejoice in it most because the mercy shown us is a holy mercy; it was so shown as to solve some of the profoundest moral problems, and so as to leave untouched the principle of righteousness on which God’s throne eternally abides (Romans 3:26). Not having needed that mercy themselves, it is natural that they should rather magnify the holiness which has been shown in it and which is the need of all.

2. It is the holiness of God that gives value to all His other attributes. They are valuable only because they are directed by unswerving holiness. The holiness of God is the foundation of the peace, the joy, and the love of the moral universe. Were God not holy, even hell itself would be a more awful abode; for then to all its other woes would be added the possibility of suffering inflicted in mere vindictiveness. We also are called to join in the song of the seraphim (Psalms 30:4; Psalms 97:12): let us beseech Him so to sanctify us by His Spirit, that in our lips the song may not be a sacrilege!

[736] This title of Jehovah, with some variations, is found upwards of 260 times in the Old Testament. The meaning of the word hosts is doubtless the same as that of army in Daniel 4:35, and includes all the myriads of holy angels who people the celestial spheres, as in 1 Kings 22:19 the Host of Heaven were seen by Micaiah standing round the throne of God. So in Psalms 103:21; Psalms 148:2, the Hosts of God are His angels. (Comp. Deuteronomy 33:2.) By a slight metonymy, or may be in a slightly different sense, the Host of Heaven designates the heavenly spheres themselves (Genesis 2:1; Deuteronomy 4:19; Deuteronomy 17:3; Isaiah 34:4, &c.). It is probably with reference to the idolatrous worship of the Host of Heaven that the title of the Lord of hosts was given to the true God, as asserting His universal supremacy. (See Nehemiah 9:6.) In the New Testament the phrase occurs only once, James 5:4, the Lord of Sabaoth. In Romans 9:29, it is a quotation from Isaiah.—Professor Rawlinson.

[739] Sin has already served, as all things must, to bring into view more clearly the glory of God, for had there been no sin there could have been no mercy; and in its punishment, its overthrow, and its extirpation, His glory will be yet more signally displayed. Hercules could never have been deified, if there had been no monsters to overcome. True is the seraph’s song even now, but it shall be more manifestly and gloriously true in that day, so surely and swiftly drawing nigh, when Christ shall have subdued all enemies unto Him, and God shall be All in all.—R. A. B.

The vision reaches its highest point in the cry, Holy, holy, holy! It is the holiness of God which the seraphim proclaim, that which cannot be represented to the eye, that of which descriptions and symbols furnish no image. It is that holiness which fills not the heaven of heavens only but the whole earth, seeing that was made very good, seeing that in its order and constitution it was still perfectly good, though men defiled it by their deeds, though the habitations of cruelty were set up in the midst of it—F. D. Maurice.

III. THE EFFECTS OF THE Song of Song of Solomon 1:0. “The posts of the door moved at the voice of Him that cried” [742] A symbol this of the constant effects of the proclamation of truth. At every new announcement of it earthly things that seem most solid shake, and many of them totter and fall and disappear (2 Corinthians 10:4; Hebrews 12:26-28).

2. And the house was filled with smoke. In response to the worship of the seraphim the temple became so completely filled with the Divine glory that the radiance overpowered the prophet’s vision. What he calls “smoke” was excess of light (1 Kings 8:10-12; Revelation 15:8) [745] So would it be with us were our craving for a fuller manifestation of God in His works and word granted. We have as much light now as we can bear. A fuller revelation would only dazzle, confuse, and blind us. The time is to come when we shall see God “as He is,” but this will then be possible, because “we shall be like Him;” and that time is not yet!

[742] The voice of the seraphim at this time was so loud and melodious, and the power of their heavenly music was so great, when extolling the holiness and glory of Jehovah, that the posts, with the lintel of the door of the temple, seemed to tremble, to be shaken in the place where they stood, or loosed from their place. This was a very surprising effect (though seen only in vision); for these posts were so large and strong, that they supported gates of brass which are said to have required twenty men to shut them, on account of their ponderous weight.—Macculloch.

[745] Delitzsch thus gives the usual interpretation of this clause: The house was filled with smoke. Many compare this with the similar occurrence in connection with the dedication of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 8:10); but Drechsler is correct in stating that the two cases are not parallel, for there God simply attested His own presence by the cloud of smoke behind which He concealed Himself, whereas here there was no need of any such self-attestation. Moreover, in this instance God does not dwell in the cloud and thick darkness, whilst the smoke is represented as the effect of the songs of praise in which the seraphim have joined, and not of the presence of God. The smoke arose from the altar of incense mentioned in Isaiah 6:6. But when Drechsler says that it was the prayers of saints (as in Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3-4), which ascended to the Lord in the smoke, this is a thought which is quite out of place here. The smoke was the immediate consequence of the seraph’s song of praise.

Verses 5-7

A SIGHT OF GOD AND A SENSE OF SIN

Isaiah 6:5-7. Then said I, &c.

Visions of the throne of God were given to Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel among the prophets, and to John among the Apostles [748].

[748] “We should naturally expect that a vision vouchsafed to an Apostle of Christ, at the end of the first century of the Christian era, would be larger in scope, brighter in glory, less enigmatical in structure, in significance, than those which were attached to the ministrations of prophets. This expectation is not disappointed. We find the visions of the throne of God which prophets saw revived and incorporated in the Apostle’s vision, and we find the Christian seer enlightened with a more distinct understanding of the heavenly symbols. Isaiah saw the throne of God in the temple, surrounded by seraphim, “crying one to another, Holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts.” Ezekiel, sitting by the river of Chebar, saw the throne of God as a chariot of war coming out of a whirlwind and going forth over the earth, attended by mighty ministers of judgment, carrying the Son of Man to victory. Daniel beheld the great session of justice; the gathered myriads before the awful purity of the Divine Judge; the consuming laws executed by the faithful servants. But the Christian Apostle, looking through the door of heaven, beheld all these ancient visions, which had come down through eight centuries of time, blended into one. He saw Isaiah’s seraphim, but they had the appearance of Ezekiel’s living creatures, with fourfold countenance; their wings were still visible, and their voices still responded, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!” He saw the thrones round about the Throne, as Daniel saw them, but he was able to count them; they were four and twenty; and upon the seats he “saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment, and they had on their heads crowns of gold.” The stream of fire, which the prophet saw proceeding from under the throne, was now “a sea of glass like unto crystal.” He that sat on the throne, who appeared to Ezekiel as though He were clothed with fiery amber, was “to look upon like a jasper and sardine stone;” and the rainbow was still there, “round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.” “Lightnings, thunderings, and voices” proceeded out of the throne, as before fire flamed out and devoured. “The seven spirits of God,” like “burning lamps of fire,” stand in the presence of the Holy One. And the Apostle witnessed the sublime service of heaven, the living creatures “giving glory and honour and thanks to Him that sat on the throne;” and, in response to their worship, “the four and twenty elders falling down before Him and worshipping Him,” and singing their united praises, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power; for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created!”—R. A. Redford.

I. The distinguished privilege. “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple.” “Mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” The invisible and unapproachable God revealed Himself to the bewildered seer through the glory of the afterwards incarnate Christ (John 12:41). May we behold God? Certainly we may.

1. In His Son Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:3; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15; John 14:8-9).

2. In His works and Word. The works are the embodied words of God. In the Scriptures we may see the mind, the heart, the purposes, the character of God.

3. In His sanctuary. In the act of worship, while in the temple, Isaiah beheld the glory of the Lord (Psalms 63:1-2; Psalms 68:24).

II. The profound abasement. It is true that “before honour is humility.” The converse is also true. Isaiah’s humility was the effect of overwhelming honour. A sight of God brought self-revelation; depravity was revealed by the dazzling whiteness of divine purity.

1. There was consternation. “Woe is me; for I am undone.”

2. There was self-loathing. “I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” The vision of God results in a vivid and painful sense of sin (Job 42:5-6; Luke 5:8).

III. The divine cleansing. Absolution is connected with confession (1 John 1:9).

1. The cleansing was efficacious.

2. The purification was by means of sacrifice.

3. The removal of defilement was immediate. A man so prepared is made ready for any ministry of testimony, toil, or tribulation.—Matthew Braithwaite.

Verses 5-8

THE MORAL HISTORY OF A RISING SOUL

Isaiah 6:5-8. Then said I, Woe is me, &c.

Whilst holiness is the normal, depravity is the actual state of man. A restoration to that spiritual condition is his profoundest necessity, his want of wants. The recovery of holiness involves the recovery of all other good. There seem to be, in the nature of the case, five stages through which the soul must pass in this all-important and glorious transit.

I. A VISION OF THE GREAT RULER AS THE HOLIEST OF BEINGS. Isaiah had this: “Mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Three facts will show that a spiritual vision of God is the first step of the soul towards holiness.

1. There can be no excitement of the moral sensibilities and powers without a vision of God. Show me a soul that has never had an inner vision of God, and you show me a soul whose conscience, whose moral powers, are entirely dormant. The passions, the intellect, the imagination may move, but the conscience, the heart, the moral essence, the self of the man, moves not—is dead.

2. The means which God has ever employed to restore men are visions of Himself. What is the Bible but a record of Divine visions and manifestations to man? What is the Gospel—“God’s power unto salvation”—but the manifestation of the Eternal in Christ? Here He appears to man in the “face of Jesus Christ.”

3. The history of all restored souls shows that the improvement commences at this stage. The explanation which Paul gives of the first upward movement would generally be true of all: “When it pleased God to reveal His Son in me,” &c. What the sun is to the plant, God is to the soul.

II. A PROFOUND CONSCIOUSNESS OF OUR FALLEN STATE. “Then said I, Woe is me,” &c. His consciousness included four things—

1. A deep sense of his personality. “I am undone.” He feels himself singled out from the millions. When conscience is touched, she breaks the bond, individualises the man, and makes him feel as if he stood alone before the Eternal Judges 2:0. A sense of personal ruin. “Woe is me, for I am undone.” My prospects are blighted, my hopes are gone.

3. A sense of personal ruin arising from a sense of personal sin. I feel my ruin because I feel my sin. “I am a man of unclean lips;” I am a sinner, and therefore “undone.”

4. A sense of personal sin, heightened by the remembrance of his neighbour’s sins. “I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” So long as conscience is torpid, men often make the sinful conduct of others an apology for their own; but when conscience awakes, such sophistries depart.

III. A REMOVAL OF THE CRUSHING SENSE OF GUILT. “Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand,” &c. Three thoughts are suggested by this—

1. There are Divine means for the removal of sin. This “live coal,” this altar, and seraphim in the vision, symbolise this truth.

2. The means are something in connection with sacrifice. Fire is a purifying element, and is regarded as the emblem of purity. This “live coal” was taken from the altar of burnt-offering. The fire of that altar was at first kindled by the Lord, and ever afterwards kept burning. What is the power that takes away sin? The Divine Word in connection with Christ’s sacrifice—the doctrine of the Cross. This, like “fire,” has a purifying power.

3. The means are employed by a divinely-appointed ministry. Let that seraph stand as the emblem of a true minister, and we see that his work is to take the purifying elements from the altar and apply them to men.

IV. AN EVER-OPEN AND SENSITIVE EAR TO THE VOICE OF GOD. “I heard the voice of the Lord, saying,” &c. Three thoughts will develop the general and practical meaning of these words—

1. God has deep thoughts about our race. The Bible reveals some of these thoughts, and so does Nature.

2. Just as the soul is cleared of sin does it become conscious of these thoughts. Let the conscience be thoroughly cleared of sin, and it will hear the voice of God in every sound and see His glory in every form. The universe to a holy being is the tongue of God (P. D. 2545, 2552, 2560, 2563, 2564).

3. This consciousness of the Divine thoughts about our race is a necessary stage in the moral progress of the soul. It is only thus we walk with God, as Enoch did of old.

V. A HEARTY READINESS TO DO WHAT THE SUPREME WILL COMMANDS. “Here am I; send me.” I am ready to do whatever Thou commandest. Send me anywhere, at any time, to do any work; I am ready to catch the slightest whisper of duty; my soul stands with plumed pinions.—David Thomas, D.D.: The Homilist, vol. v. pp. 411–418.

Verses 5-9

THE SERVICE OF THE SERAPHIM

Isaiah 6:1-2; Isaiah 6:5-7. I saw also the Lord, &c.

In that perfect prayer which our Lord bequeathed to His disciples we are taught to ask that God’s will may be done in earth as it is done in heaven. Thus angelic service is set before us as a model and pattern. Not that the services we are called upon to render are the same with those assigned to angels. Their sphere is heaven, ours for the present is the earth; and each of these spheres has its distinct and peculiar duties, appropriate to the nature and faculties of its occupants. But the spirit in which the employments of angels and men should be prosecuted is the same. One common sentiment—the sentiment of adoration and devotedness—should animate and govern them all. Hence the passage before us, although containing a record of the transactions of another sphere, contains a lesson, if not respecting the nature of our duties, yet respecting the method in which we should seek to fulfil them.

I. The twofold life of a servant of God, whether human or angelic, is here very beautifully exhibited to us. The seraphim are represented as veiling their faces and feet with their wings while they stand in adoration before the throne of God. But although engaged in ceaselessly adoring the Divine perfections, they do not lead a life of barren contemplation. The words, “with twain he did fly,” intimate to us that they are also engaged in the active execution of those errands with which God has charged them. The Christian’s life, like that of the seraphim, branches out into the two great divisions of contemplative devotion and active exertion. It is the life of Mary combined with that of Martha (P. D. 2417).

1. The devotional branch of the Christian’s life. In the exercises of the closet and of the sanctuary are to be found the springs of the Christian’s exertions in his Master’s cause. These exercises are not originating sources of grace, but they are channels and vehicles through which God’s Spirit conveys Himself to the soul—pitchers in which may be drawn up the waters of the River of Life to refresh and recruit the energies of him whom a painful resistance to evil within and without has rendered weary and faint in his mind (H. E. I. 3426, 4107, 4108, and 3438–3448). If devotion be essential to the perfection of a seraph’s service, how much more essential must it be to ours, our necessities being so immensely greater than those of the bright inhabitants of heaven! The exigencies of our time make devotion especially needful now. The present is emphatically a period of the world’s history in which “many run to and fro, and knowledge is increased.” Moreover, there is a revival of outward energy and activity in the cause of religion. This is a blessing. But remember, days of excitement are not days of deep devotion. There may be much of rapid movement abroad in the world without a corresponding adoration of God in the secret chamber of the heart—much of flying without veiling of the face [1303]

[1303] If this be the case with any of us, if, with the busy occupation of the hands in the furtherance of religious objects, we have allowed the inward life of communion with God to decline, how painfully do we resemble those virgins who took no heed to provide for their dying lamps a continual supply of oil! The profession which we have made before men, however bright its blaze, will one day be shown to have been delusive—to have been destitute of those animating principles of faith and love from which alone can flow an acceptable service.—Goulburn.

2. The outward manifestation of the Christian life discernible by the world. Care must be taken not only that the lamp shall be filled with oil, but that there shall be a light shining before men (Matthew 5:16; H. E. I. 1042, 1044, 3906). The seraphim are not so wrapt up in adoration of God that they are forgetful of active service. “With twain they did fly” for the execution of the errands on which they were commissioned.

Here is a reproof of the monastic principle, that seclusion from the society of our fellow-men and from the active duties of life is necessary in order to secure an uninterrupted period of leisure for solitary spiritual exercises. Undue predominance is thus given to one branch of God’s service, to the prejudice and neglect of the other and no less important branch. Exercise as well as nourishment and repose is essential to the health of the body, and so toil in the vineyard—earnest endeavour to advance the kingdom of God in our own hearts and the hearts of others—is no less essential to the health of the soul. “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;” but for what purpose? That they may walk in good works, and run with patience the race that is set before them (chap. Isaiah 40:31; H. E. I. 1736–1742).

II. Some practical lessons concerning the maintenance and manifestation of the twofold Christian life.

1. A lesson as to the spirit which should pervade all devotion. These bright and glorious beings are without sin. Still, such is their sense of the infinite distance between themselves and their Creator, that they veil their faces and their feet before His throne in token of adoring reverence. The first and most essential element of devotion is a feeling of deep awe flowing from a sense of God’s transcendent excellences and leading to profound self-abasement (H. E. I. 3798, 3799, 5074). If reverence was befitting in the seraphim, how much more is it necessary in sinful men! (Luke 18:13; Ezra 9:6).

The vision of God wrought in Isaiah a feeling almost akin to despair. It seemed to him as if the perfect holiness of God was engaged to banish for ever every creature possessing the slightest taint of moral evil (Isaiah 6:5). In Isaiah 6:6-7 we have the glorious remedy. What is the significance of the symbols? By the work of the Son of God a mighty Altar of Propitiation has been reared up, and thence there comes to the penitent sinner cleansing as well as pardon. The “live coal” is an emblem of that love and zeal in God’s service with which the Holy Spirit imbues the souls of those who flee to the Altar of Atonement as their only refuge from the wrath to come. A participation in that Spirit’s influence is absolutely essential to our true participation in the chorus of the angelic host (H. E. I. 2887).

2. A few words on that active service which is the outward manifestation of the principles nourished by devotion.

(1.) We must prepare for it by the care and culture of our own heart [1306]

(2.) There is also an outward work which God has made binding on all of us. He has assigned to each of us a certain position in life. Every such position involves its peculiar responsibilities, snares, and occupations. The responsibilities must be cheerfully and manfully met, the occupations diligently fulfilled, as a piece of taskwork allotted to us by the Lord of the vineyard (Ephesians 6:7). Besides, God has intrusted to us, in various measures, substance, time, abilities, influence, and these we are diligently to use for the promotion of the cause of God in the world. In our busy path through life, which brings us in contact with so many individuals, opportunities are ever and anon presented to us of being useful to our fellow-men; and to watch for, seize, and improve such opportunities is not the least important of these branches of active service (P. D. 40, 3567, 3569).

[1306] God requires us to set a strict watch over its outgoings—a watch such as sentinels keep over the persons and goods which pass out of a city whose allegiance to the sovereign is suspected—to curb and quell at its earliest outbreak every rising of vanity, temper, bitterness, passion, and just—to drag forth from its dark recesses and to slay every cherished iniquity which has found there a harbour and a hiding-place. Our own heart is a vineyard over which God hath set every one of us to dress it and to keep it. We are to extirpate the soil’s poisonous produce, and to implore upon the soil of this vineyard the precious dews of the Divine Spirit, which may remedy its native barrenness and turn it from a desert into the garden of the Lord.—Goulburn. See also H. E. I. 1841, 1 42, 2695–2708.

CONCLUSION.—

1. It is not the intrinsic dignity of our duties, nor the large result of our fulfilment of them, which renders the diligent performance of them an acceptable work in God’s eyes. The great design of our being placed in this world is not that we may do some signal service, or large amount of service, to our Creator, but rather that we may execute the service (be it great or small) allotted to us in a spirit of fidelity, zeal, and love. The spirit which is thrown into and pervades the work is everything—the work itself (comparatively) nothing. Be the sphere what it may which Divine Providence has assigned us, let the duties of it be executed in a seraphic spirit (P. D. 1484).
2. We have overwhelming motives, if we did but rightly appreciate them, to devotedness of our every faculty to the service of our God. The redeemed sinner owes to God far more of allegiance than the angel who has retained his integrity. Angels no such Fall have known, “angels no such Love have known,” as we.—E. M. Goulburn, D.C.L.: Sermons, pp. 77–99,

Verse 8

VOLUNTEER SERVICE

Isaiah 6:8. Then said I, Here am I, send me.

This is a chapter of autobiography. Here is disclosed the secret of the wonderful energy with which for more than half a century Isaiah prosecuted his ministry. He is the Paul of the Old Testament. Allowance being made for difference of phraseology, there is a striking resemblance between the call of Isaiah and of Paul (comp. chap. 6 with Acts 9:0). Both sought to serve the heavenly King; and both received a commission to work, spiritual and catholic beyond all conceptions of their time,—the one penning the Gospel of the suffering Messiah, the other vindicating the truth that the Gospel is God’s message to the world. The text reminds us—

I. Of the Christian’s offer of service. The offer of service which the prophet madewas—

1. Free. He spoke spontaneously, and not as the result of pressure from without [751]

2. Truthful. Unlike one of the sons in the parable (Matthew 21:30), he meant what he said.

3. Bold. It was made concerning an unknown mission. The justification of the boldness of his offer is, that it was made to God, who always qualifies His servants for the tasks to which He calls them.

4. Personal. The prophet placed at God’s disposal, not some of his property merely, but himself.

5. It involved the most complete self-surrender. All thought of self control the prophet resigned. He placed himself as an instrument in God’s hands. He was ready to go where, when, and on what errand God might determine [754] Such are the offers of service in which God delights.

[751] H. E. I., 3633–3639.
[754] H. E. I., 3618–3626.

II. Of the steps that lead up to this offer. The offer may take men by surprise, but there has always been preparation for it, as there has been long preparation for the lightning that leaps suddenly from the sky. Such offers as the prophet made are preceded—

1. by a vision of God, of the thrice Holy One, filling the soul with awe, and causing it to tremble (Isaiah 6:1-4).

2. By self-prostration of spirit, a conviction of utter sinfulness (Isaiah 6:5). This is the invariable result of a true vision of God (Exodus 3:2; Joshua 5:14; Judges 6:22; Judges 13:22; Luke 5:8; Revelation 1:17). This is also a prime condition of fitness for service.

3. By the touch of a mediator (Isaiah 6:6-7). “They that be struck down by visions of God’s glory shall soon be raised up again by visits of His grace.” Blessed is the man who has both visions. A sense of pardon is essential to large usefulness. Imperfect realisation of forgiveness is one of the most frequent causes of weakness in Christian service.

4. By a moral transformation. The offerer has become a new man from the centre outwards. Now he can hear God’s voice: “I heard,” &c. It is a voice to which now he feels he must respond: “Here am I,” &c. In some degree every Christian is thus prepared. These essentials of service are also essentials of Christian life. These experiences are at once your credentials and your powers.

III. That God always accepts offers of service for which there has been this preparation, and that bear these marks. He never rejects true volunteers. Offers hastily made and half-meant He passes by (Joshua 24:18-19; John 2:23-25); but genuine, whole-hearted offers of service, He in variably accepts.

In conclusion, let us lay up in our memories three facts in connection with service.

1. True service is not incompatible with failure. We are too apt to connect failure with incompetency in the servant. Many do fail through incompetency, but not all. The prophet divinely called and most royally endowed may fail, because of the moral obduracy and perverseness of those to whom he is sent (Isaiah 6:9-10).

2. True service is not incompatible with sorrow (Isaiah 6:11-12). That man is inhuman who without profound grief can behold the perversity of sinners, and the calamities with which in consequence they are visited.

3. True service will never be left without reward. Multitudes may reject the prophet’s message, yet there will be “a tenth” who will accept it and be saved.—J. R. Wood.

MESSENGERS WANTED

Isaiah 6:8. Also, I heard the voice of the Lord, &c.

I. God wants messengers unto sinful men. Tidings concerning sin and salvation, mercy and deliverance, God’s grace and man’s misery, must be published. Might send seraphim and the angel host. God elects to send men to their fellow-men. “Whom shall I send?” is not the inquiry of a divine perplexity, but the stimulative question of one who calls for willing workers.

II. God especially qualifies His messengers. How does He in an especial manner fit men for His highest service?

1. By an awe-inspiring sight of Himself.

2. By distressing convictions of personal sin.

3. By sanctifying all the faculties to His use.

III. God’s call should meet with a ready response. He desires volunteers, “Who will go for us?” The constraint of love is the omnipotent motive force.

1. The call is heard individually. “I heard the voice of the Lord.”

2. The call provokes self-surrender. “Here am I.”

3. The call demands entire self-abandonment. “Send me”—anywhere, on any errands, at any time, in any capacity.

IV. How may we ascertain that we are required to become messengers of the living God?

1. By the separating voice of God.
2. By the discipline of preparation.
3. By the openings of beckoning opportunities. The “joy of the Lord” will be our strength when most we feel the pressure of “the burden of the Lord.”—Matthew Braithwaite.

Verses 11-13

A STRANGE AND SAD ERRAND

Isaiah 6:9-10. And He said, Go, and tell this people, &c.

A sad and mysterious errand, the statement of which might well have quenched the enthusiasm inspired by his vision of the Divine glory. When he exclaimed, “Here am I, send me!” how little did he anticipate for what purpose he would be sent! It must have astounded and saddened him, and it is full of astonishment and mystery for us. How could God have sent His servant on an errand such as this?
Much of the mystery will be relieved, though not altogether removed, if we recognise—what I believe to be the fact—that here we have a statement, not of the messages Isaiah was to deliver (for they were many, and were revealed to him at various times), but of what would be the result of them all. Those to whom he was sent, and whom he desired to bless, would not be made better, but worse, by his ministry.
This is in accordance with a well-known and terrible fact, viz., that the proclamation of truth often leads men to cleave more desperately to error [757] Why, then, does God send His servants to proclaim it?

[757] To a man living in the belief of what is erroneous or the practice of what is wrong you proclaim the truth, and what happens? (1) Either he amends his creed or his conduct; or (2) he disregards what you say, and goes on as before; or (3) he rejects what you say, and cleaves to his error more passionately than he would have done otherwise. The latter is a very frequent result. For example, slavery once prevailed throughout our colonies and the United States of America. Holy men held slaves; they had no suspicion of the wrongfulness of slavery. When its wrongfulness was proclaimed, many abandoned it; but others held to it,—some not caring whether it was wrong or right, looking only to the fact that it was profitable; but others reasoned themselves into a persuasion that it is right, that it is Scriptural, and maintained the system with a tenacity and passion they never felt before its wickedness was declared. In thousands of cases that was the result of the anti-slavery movement. God foresaw it, yet He raised up faithful men to proclaim the doctrines of human brotherhood and freedom, and sent them forth on their perilous errand, saying to them in effect, “Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes, lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.” He sent them forth, notwithstanding that He foresaw that one inevitable effect of their mission would be the confirmation of thousands in error, the hardening of thousands in iniquity. In like manner He raised up Isaiah and other prophets to denounce the sensuality of the Jews, to pronounce their political schemes—their alliances now with Egypt and now with Assyria—to be huge mistakes, and to exhort them to a life of holiness and of simple trust in God; He foresaw that the result of their efforts would not be the reformation of the nation, and yet He sent them forth!

Not because He desires the depravity and destruction of men. Such a desire would be utterly inconsistent with His character and with His express declarations (Ezekiel 18:23; Ezekiel 18:32, &c.). We need not imagine, then, that we have here a confirmation of those schemes of arbitrary election and reprobation which some theologians have attributed to Him.

But

1. Because it is necessary for the preservation of His character as a God of righteousness and mercy that He should do what OUGHT to result in the salvation of men. Had He not sent His prophets forth on their sad mission, we should have been confronted by a greater difficulty: God permitting His chosen people to go on to ruin without one word of warning spoken, without one effort put forth to arrest them. But one of the supreme moral necessities of the universe is this, that His character as a God desiring the redemption of sinners should be maintained unimpaired; and therefore He sends forth His messengers to proclaim the truth, although He foresees that to many they will be the “savour of death unto death,”—as the frosty air of winter which cuts off the aged and feeble,—and not “the savour of life unto life,”—not as that same frosty air which “braces” and invigorates those who are already vigorous. As this quotation reminds you, this is the effect of the Gospel itself. Ought God, therefore, never to have sent its preachers forth?

2. That stubborn sinners may be left without excuse in the day of their doom. God will not merely take vengeance on the violators of His laws of righteousness; He will make it manifest that while in Him there is an awful severity, there is no vindictiveness; and He will so act that, even when that severity is most manifested, not only the onlookers, but even those who experience it shall be constrained to confess, “Just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints!” He will not leave it possible for them to say, “Hadst Thou warned us, we should not have sinned.” They shall be speechless (Matthew 22:12; Jeremiah 44:2-5).

3. That the righteous may be saved. Did He not send His prophets forth to instruct and warn, even the men in whose hearts are the germs of righteousness and holiness of life would follow the multitude to do evil: they hear, and turn, and live: and this is ample justification of the prophet’s mission. Those who perish would have perished without it; but without it those who are saved would have perished also. And in this respect Isaiah’s ministry was not in vain: while to the vast majority of the nation it was “the savour of death unto death,” it was to a few—“the holy seed” of whom also this chapter speaks to us—“the savour of life unto life.” They learned to trust, not in Assyria nor in Egypt, but in the Holy One of Israel, and therefore were “kept in perfect peace” amid all the convulsions and catastrophes of their time.

This passage seemed at the outset full of mystery; our tendency was to shun it as one that would not bear investigation, as one about which the least that could be said the better, as one which we could have wished had never been written. What do we see now? That here we have an illustration of the Psalmist’s saying, “Clouds and darkness are round about Him”—so to our purblind vision it seems, the brightness being so bright that it dazzles and blinds us; “but righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne.” What should we learn from this?

1. Never to fear to investigate anything in God’s Word. There is nothing here which its friends need wish to hide out of sight; it is all worthy of Him from whom it came (Psalms 19:9).

2. Never to distrust God because of anything in either His Word or His Providence. Things that might cause distrust we shall meet with; some of them we shall never explain here, where we can know only “in part;” yet let us keep fast hold of the glorious and gladdening truth, that “in Him is no darkness at all.” God is light; God is love.

THE REJECTION OF DIVINE TRUTH

Isaiah 6:9-10. And He said, Go, and tell this people, &c.

The divine message—a message of melting pathos and of startling warning, of beseeching entreaty and of terrible threatening—must be delivered to men. “Go, and tell this people” is a command that shatters excuses and imposes an imperative obligation. God’s speakers have no option—speak they must (Jonah 3:2). The effects of God’s communications correspond to the willingness or the wilfulness of men.

I. Divine truth elicits human disposition. In the spring season, the sun sits in judgment upon the trees of gardens and forests. Then the trees that have life have it more abundantly. Their latent powers and possibilities are developed and exhibited. The same sun-force smites the decaying trees and shrivels those having only goodliness without life. Is not the Sun of Righteousness “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart”? When on earth, He who is “the Truth” evoked the hidden feelings, purposes, and qualities of men; and His manifold message repeats the process to the end of time (John 9:39). The ministry of Isaiah was a revealing ministry: the character of men and the character of the nation by it were made manifest.

II. Divine truth repelled because of dislike. “Lest they see, hear, understand, be converted and healed.” A diseased eye winces under the scorching sunlight, as a disordered soul will flinch under the fierce light that streams upon it from above. The disquieted conscience repels the entrance of the truth, because of the revolutions in thought, disposition, purpose, character, and activity which its admission would necessitate. None are so blind, deaf, insensible as those who do not want to see, hear, or feel (John 3:19-20). Men dislike the purpose of God’s good but severe discipline: they want not to “be converted and healed,” and they recoil from the painful process [760]

[760] “There is light enough for those whose sincere desire is to see; and darkness enough for those of a contrary disposition. There is brightness enough to illuminate the elect; and enough of obscurity to humble them. There is obscurity enough to blind the reprobate; and brightness enough to condemn them and to leave them without excuse.”—Blaise Pascal.

III. Divine truth cannot be rejected without injury. Divine truth and grace will not be void of result, though the result may be most injurious (Romans 2:4-5). Consequences of lasting duration are involved in our action of opening or shutting the doors of the soul [763] Not to receive the “grace upon grace” of God is to put the spirit into an attitude of opposition: this attitude can easily become a confirmed habit; and the habit, in righteous retribution, may be ratified (Revelation 22:11). Antagonism to God’s revelation injures the soul’s highest life; its power of vision is dimmed or veiled; the understanding loses its alertness and fails to comprehend; the affections become gross and carnal. Inexorable is the spiritual law and appalling the spiritual doom (Ephesians 4:18). Isaiah unfolded God’s design of salvation; but the design was intercepted and frustrated by human perversity. Men “rejected the counsel of God against themselves,” and persistent resistance rendered them “past feeling.” “Take heed how ye hear.” “Hear, and your soul shall live” [766]Matthew Braithwaite.

[763] “The smallest particle of light falling on the sensitive plate produces a chemical change that can never be undone again; and the light of Christ’s love, once brought to the knowledge and presented for the acceptance of a soul, stamps on it an ineffaceable sign of its having been there. Once heard, it is hence forward a perpetual element in the whole condition, character, and destiny of the hearer. Every man that ever rejects Christ, does these things thereby—wounds his own conscience, hardens his own heart, and makes himself a worse man, just because he has had a glimpse of holiness, and has willingly, and almost consciously, “loved darkness rather than light.” Unbelief is its own judgment, its own condemnation: unbelief, as sin, is punished like other sins, by the perpetuation of deeper and darker forms of itself. Every time that you stifle a conviction, fight down a conviction, or din away a conviction, you have harmed your soul, made yourself a worse man, lowered the tone of your conscience, enfeebled your will, made your heart harder against love; you have drawn another horny scale over the eye that will prevent you seeing the light that is yonder. You have, as much as in you is, approximated to the other pole of the universe (if I may say that), to the dark and deadly antagonist of mercy, and goodness, and truth, and grace.”—Alexander Maclaren.

[766] “The great iniquity is, or then is the Gospel hid in a sinful sense, when men have it among them, or may have it, and will not hear it; or do hear it, and never understand it,—that is, never apply or set themselves to understand it; or receive no conviction from it; or receive no suitable impression on their hearts from it. Thus, all the while, is the Gospel hid to them by their own iniquity, that they do voluntarily make resisting efforts against it, as everything of sin must have somewhat of voluntarium in it. It supposeth that otherwise a brute agent might be as capable of sin as a rational one, and that cannot be. But here lies the iniquity, that men might understand and they will not; and there is a natural faculty that should turn them, even in their very hearts; but there is a sinful disinclination, and they will not turn. For it is the will that is not turned: “Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life.” And so, when the Gospel is hid, it is hid, not because men cannot see, but because they will not. They do (as it were) pretend the veil; stretch forth the veil before their eyes or bind it close over their own eyes, hoodwink themselves that they will not see. Being thus sinfully hidden, it comes also to be penalty hidden by a nemesis, hidden by a just vindicta. Ye will not understand, then ye shall not understand; ye will harden your hearts against light, against grace, against the design of the Gospel, and they shall be hardened. Since ye will have it so, so let it be.”—John Howe.

D. P. Q., 2938, 3391.

THE DURATION OF THE PROPHET’S MISSION

Isaiah 6:11-13. Then said I, Lord, how long? &c.

For an exposition of this passage see note [769]

[769] He inquired how long this service of hardening and this state of hardness were to continue,—a question forced from him by his sympathy with the nation to which he himself belonged (cf. Exodus 32:9-14), and one which was warranted by the certainty that God, who is ever true to His promises, could not cast off Israel as a people for ever. The answer follows in Isaiah 6:11-13; Isaiah 6:11-13Isaiah 6:11-13Isaiah 6:11-13: “Until towns are wasted without inhabitant, and houses are without man, and the ground shall be laid waste, a wilderness, and Jehovah shall put men far away, and there shall be many forsaken places within the land. And is there still a tenth therein, this also again is given up to destruction, like the terebinth and the oak, of which, when they are felled, only a root-stump remains: such a root-stump is the holy seed.” The hardening judgment would come to an end only when the land of Israel had been made utterly desolate. Up to the words “given up to destruction,” the announcement is a threatening one; but from this point to “remains” a consolatory prospect begins to dawn; and in the last three words this brighter prospect, like a distant streak of light, bounds the horizon of the gloomy prophecy. It shall happen as with the terebinth and the oak. These trees were selected as illustrations, not only because they were so near akin to evergreens, and produced a similar impression, or because there were so many associations connected with them in the olden times of Israel’s history; but also because they formed such fitting symbols of Israel, on account of their peculiar facility for springing up again from the root (like the beech and nut, for example), even when they had been completely felled.… The root-stump was the remnant that had survived the judgment, and this remnant would become a seed, out of which a new Israel would spring up after the old had been destroyed. Thus in a few words is the way sketched out which God would henceforth take with His people. The passage contains an outline of the history of Israel to the end of time. Israel as a nation was indestructible, by virtue of the promise of God; but the mass of the people were doomed to destruction through the judicial sentence of God, and only a remnant, which would be converted, would perpetuate the nationality of Israel, and inherit the glorious future. This law of a blessing sunk in the depths of the curse actually inflicted still prevails in the history of the Jews. The way of salvation is open to all. Individuals find it, and give us a presentiment of what might be and is to be; but the great mass are hopelessly lost, and only when they have been swept away will a holy seed, saved by the covenant-keeping God, grow up into a new and holy Israel, which, according to chap. Isaiah 27:6, will fill the earth with its fruits, or, as the Apostle expresses it in Romans 11:12, become “the riches of the Gentiles.”—Delitzsch.

Let us look steadily at the facts before us, and then, perchance, we may discern the lessons associated with them. Isaiah desires to know how long his strange and sad mission is to continue; and the answer is, until its utter failure to save his fellow-countrymen from their sins and their impending doom has been demonstrated, until nothing but the mere life-germ of the nation is left. Here really are three facts, full of instruction for us to-day. I. Isaiah’s mission and the calamities he desired to avert by it were to work together. There was thus a twofold appeal to the men of that generation; and at its close God might have repeated the challenge, “What could I have done more?” (chap. Isaiah 5:4). Both by offers of mercy and manifestations of righteous anger He sought to deliver them from the doom towards which they madly hastened. Thus God deals with the world to-day: His preachers of righteousness and His judgments because of unrighteousness work side by side; this fact is a conclusive proof that God is not willing that the sinner should die. This is true of nations, and it is true of individuals. II. Isaiah was to prosecute his mission to the end, notwithstanding the proofs that his efforts to deliver his fellow-countrymen were vain. This is always the duty of God’s messengers: they are to deliver their message, and reiterate it, whether men accept or reject it. Whether it is popular or unpopular is a thing of which they are not even to think! the one thing they have to consider and remember is, that it is true. III. In the midst of all the calamities of his time, Isaiah was sustained by the assurance that the nation he loved should not utterly perish. Nothing could hurt “the holy seed” that constituted its true life. The Church of to-day is full of imperfections; the forces of unbelief are marshalling themselves against her; it may be that she will again be tried by fierce persecutions: but the Lord’s true prophet can survey all these possible calamities with calmness; he knows that “the holy seed” which constitutes her true life cannot be injured by them.

Here, then, is instruction and encouragement for the Lord’s prophet to-day. He is to preach the preaching which God has bidden him, regardless of everything but the fact that God had sent it forth. He is not to modify his message, to make it more palatable to his hearers. He must not cease to deliver it, although he sees that his hearers are hardening themselves against it, and so are bringing upon themselves a heavier doom. Comfort he will need, but he must find it in the fact that there is a “holy seed” to whom his ministry will be a blessing, and in whose salvation, if he be faithful to the end, he shall share.
In this passage there are also some supplementary lessons of general interest.

1. We have here an illustration of the persistence and success of the divine purposes. God selected the descendants of Abraham as the instruments through whom He would bless the world (Exodus 19:5-6). Their history has been one long struggle against this purpose; but it has not been a frustration of it: their very waywardness and wickedness have afforded occasions for the manifestation of His character, and the consequent revelations both of His goodness and of His severity have been blessings to the world. In spite even of their rejection of His Son they are still His people, and He will at length make them a holy people (Romans 11:25-29).

2. God does not hesitate to use any means that will help to conform His chosen ones to His own ideal. It is a solemn thing to be chosen of God: that choice may involve possibilities from which flesh and blood shrinks [772] The way to avoid those possibilities is to find out what God’s purpose concerning us is, and endeavour to conform ourselves thereto: then we shall find His choice of us a well-spring of constant blessing.

3. God does not despise the merest germs of goodness. Insignificant, comparatively, as was “the holy seed” in Israel, He watched over it with ceaseless care. Comfort there is here for those who lament that there is in them so little of which God can approve. That little He will not despise (1 Kings 14:13; Isaiah 42:3); He sees what possibilities of excellence there are in His chosen ones [775] and those little germs of excellence He will nourish until they have developed into that which will satisfy even Himself.

[772] Homiletic Encyclopædia of Illustrations, 86–90, 99–115.

[775] As the eye of the cunning lapidary detects in the rugged pebble, just digged from the mine, the polished diadem that shall sparkle in the diadem of a king; or as the sculptor in the rough block of marble, newly hewn from the quarry, beholds the statue of perfect grace and beauty which is latent there, and waiting but the touch of his hand,—so He who sees all, and the end from the beginning, sees oftentimes greater wonders than these. He sees the saint in the sinner, the saint that shall be in the sinner that is; the wheat in the tare; the shepherd feeding the sheep in the wolf tearing the sheep; Paul in the preacher of the faith in Saul the persecutor of the faith; Israel a prince with God in Jacob the trickster and the supplanter; Matthew the Apostle in Levi the publican; a woman that should love much in a woman sinning much; and in some vine of the earth bringing forth wild grapes and grapes of gall a tree which shall yet bring forth good fruit, and wine to make glad the heart; so that when some, like those over-zealous servants in the parable, would have Him pluck it up, and to cast it without more ado into the wine-press of the wrath of Almighty God, He exclaims rather, “Destroy it not, for a blessing is in it,” and is well content to await the end.—Trench.

See also Homiletic Encyclopædia, &c., 2454 and 3056.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 6". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/isaiah-6.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
 
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