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In the year that King Uzziah died I saw also the Lord
The story of the prophet’s call--why inserted here
Why the narrative of the prophet’s call was not, as in the cases of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, allowed to occupy the first place in the book, is a question which cannot be certainly answered.
One conjecture is that chaps. 1-5 were placed first for the purpose of preparing the reader of the book for the severity of tone which marks the end of chap. 6, and of acquainting him with the condition of things in Judah which led to such a tone being adopted. Or, again, it is possible that chap. 6 may have been placed so as to follow chaps. 1-5, because, though describing what occurred earlier, it may not have been actually committed to writing till afterwards--perhaps as an introduction Isaiah 7:1-25; Isaiah 8:1-22; Isaiah 9:1-7. (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)
Why did Isaiah publish this account of his call?
Why was it needful to publish a private transaction between God and Isaiah? The only reason we can conceive of is that the prophet needed to give a justification of his public assumption of prophetic work. And that implies in the community a suspicion of prophetic men, and in the young prophet’s mind struggles and hesitation such as we can easily conceive. This picture of his call he holds up half before himself, as the answer to all the timid fears of his own heart, and half before his countrymen, as his reply to all the objections they might raise against his prophetic commission. This is strongly confirmed when we proceed to look at the message which the prophet is sent to deliver (verses 9, 10). (P. Thomson, M. A.)
The circumstances of the vision
Let us try, if we can, and present to our imaginations some idea of this extraordinary scene. The shades of evening are closing in, and all is still within the sacred precincts of the temple. The daily ritual has been duly observed, and priests and worshippers have withdrawn from the hallowed fane. The noise and stir of the great city, hard by is subsiding; a solemn hush and stillness pervades the place. One solitary worshipper still lingers within the sacred courts absorbed a reverie of prayer. He is a religions and devout man; probably a member of the school of the prophets, well instructed in the faith of his fathers, and familiar with the sacred ritual of the temple, and the lessons that it inculcated. There he is, looking forward possibly to a prophet’s career, yet feeling keenly the responsibilities which it will involve, and perhaps pleading earnestly to be fitted for his mission. He cannot be blind to the unsatisfactory condition of his people. Amidst much outward profession of religiousness and readiness to comply with the ceremonial demands of the faith, he cannot but discern the presence of barren formalism and hypocrisy, and of a latent superstition that might at any moment, were the restraints of authority removed, blossom out into open idolatry. And who shall say what heart searchings may have occupied his own mind as he knelt there in the temple all alone with God. Was he more spiritual than those around him? Was he sufficiently pure and devout to stand up in protest against a nation’s sins? One moment all is silence and stillness as he kneels in prayer; the next, and lo! a blaze of glory and a burst of song! Startled and awe-stricken, the lonely worshipper raises his head to find himself confronted with a sublime and dazzling spectacle. His bewildered vision travels up through ranks of light till it finds itself resting for a moment, but only for a moment, on an Object “too august for human gaze.” I saw also, the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple. Around that dread Presence the forms of vast and wondrous intelligences of glory, the attendant ministers of the Majesty Divine, seem bending in adoration, and the voice of their worship falls like the roll of thunder on his ear, shaking the very pillars of the temple porch with its awe-inspiring resonance, as they echo and re-echo with answering acclamations the antiphon of heaven--“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory.” (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
Isaiah might probably have said, as St. Paul did on a like occasion, “Whether I was in the body or out of the body I cannot tell,” but he would undoubtedly have confirmed the plain meaning of his words that the vision was a reality and a fact. (Sir E. Strachey, Bart.)
The Symbolism of Isaiah’s vision
There is a variety of opinion among the commentators as to the basis of the symbolism of this vision. Some assert that the imagery by which the prophet sets forth the wealth and splendour of the heavenly kingdom is taken entirely from the scenery and ritual of the temple; that when the worshippers had left, and the sacrifices had been offered, and only a few of the most devout remained for prayer and vigil, Isaiah, lingering with the few, unsatisfied and perplexed, beheld this vision, and consecrated himself to his prophetic activity: In this view the picture presented of the celestial world is the inner features and ritual of the temple idealised and expanded. Dr. Cheyne casts doubt upon this interpretation, and leans to the opinion that not the temple but the palace is the point from which the prophet’s inspired imagination takes its departure. The figures, the messengers, and the throne are from the court, not from the temple. It is impossible wholly to accept either of these views. There is no reason why we should not blend both in our exposition of Isaiah’s vision. There are certainly some references to the temple in the altar, the purging away of sin, and the smoke-filled house. In the throne and the train filling the temple there are suggestions of the court. As Isaiah was an attendant on both, it is probable that the ideas under which he sets forth the kingship of Christ, as priestly and yet regal, were drawn from his own observation of the centres of government and worship in his own country. Ideas of righteousness, and sympathy, and sacrifice unite in his conception of the invisible kingdom. (J. Matthews.)
Isaiah’s vision of God
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 veil 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 them selves before you. This is a very imperfect likeness 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. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)
The inaugural vision of Isaiah
The inaugural vision of Isaiah contains in brief an outline of his prophetic teaching. The passage besides this has a singular psychological and religious interest of a kind personal to the prophet. It consists of a series of steps, each one of which naturally follows upon the other.
I. There is first A VISION OF THE LORD, THE KING, surprising and majestic, with a singular world of beings and activities around Him (cars. 1-4).
II. THIS VISION OF JEHOVAH REACTS UPON THE MIND OF THE PROPHET and makes him think of himself in relation to this great King, the Holy One, whom he had seen; and one thought succeeds another, so that in a moment he lives a history (vats. 5-7).
III. Having passed through this history, the beginning of which was terror, but the end peace, AN ALTOGETHER NEW SENSATION FILLED HIS MIND, as if the world, which was all disorder and confusion before, and filled with a conflict of tendencies and possibilities, had suddenly, in the light felling on it from the great King whom he had seen, become clear and the meaning of it plain, and also what was his own place in it; and this was accompanied with an irresistible impulse to take his place. This is expressed by saying that he heard the voice of the great Sovereign who had been revealed to him proclaiming that He had need of one to send, to which he replied that he would go.
IV. Finally, there comes THE SERVICE WHICH HE HAS TO PERFORM, which is no other than just to take his place in the midst of that world, the meaning of which his vision of the Sovereign Lord had made clear to him, and state this meaning to men, to hold the mirror up to his time and declare to it its condition sad its tendencies, and what in the hand of the great King, God over all, its issue and the issue of all must be (verses 8-13). (A. B.Davidson, D. D.)
I. We have to contemplate A REMARKABLE MANIFESTATION OF GOD.
II. WHAT WAS ITS EFFECT ON THE PROPHET?
III. THE MEANS BY WHICH THE PENITENT PROPHET WAS PURIFIED.
IV. THE CALL OF THE PROPHET.
V. HIS COMMISSION. (T. Allen, D. D.)
A man’s realisation of the character of God does not depend altogether on his religious experience; it depends also on original capacity, temperament, and on suitable physiological conditions both of body and of mind. (T. Allen, D. D.)
An anticipation of the Incarnation
This vision was an anticipation of the Incarnation of our Lord. St. John tells us distinctly that the glory which the prophet saw was the glory of the Redeemer. “No man hath seen God at any time.” God is a spiritual being, and therefore He does not appeal to sense. He reveals Himself to faith, to conscience, and to love. But sense is an avenue through which the soul is reached and influenced, and Almighty God, in revealing Himself to man, has not overlooked this constitutional fact. The Incarnation was a tribute of respect paid to our senses. What the prophet saw only in symbol we realise in the form of a glorious historic Presence. (T. Allen, D. D.)
Vision and service
I. THE PROCESSION OF THE DEAD FROM EARTH BRINGS US FACE TO FACE WITH THE ETERNAL KINGDOM. We cannot look upon any visible forms, and note their changefulness and yet the permanence of the ideas they illustrate, and not infer the existence of the world of thought, and law, and reality from which they proceed. But while all life is based on the unseen, and witnesses to its presence ever, the procession of the generations of men on the earth more powerfully still reveals the higher kingdom. Think of the populations that have lived in this planet, and received their first schooling and drill here. After a brief preparation and teaching in the knowledge of the laws and facts of existence, they depart. The procession into the pale kingdoms is endless and crowded. The majority the other side becomes greater each day. It is impossible to think of that succession and deny the celestial world. The law of continuity suggests a life beyond. The principle which secures the completion of all great work rightly begun, speaks of it. Our sense of the justice at the heart of things assures us of a realm of compensation for unrequited labour and unexplained sorrow. The union with God that begins here must be consummated elsewhere. Such facts as these would be forced upon the thought of Isaiah as all Israel mourned the death of their leader and king.
II. THE SUPREME FACT OF THE CELESTIAL KINGDOM IS THE SOVEREIGNTY OF CHRIST. After John’s statement (John 12:41) that Isaiah saw His glory, and spake Of Him, there can be no question with any Christian mind as to the Messianic reference of the manifestation. Isaiah may not have known of the sacrifice and resurrection by which that throne was gained, but the general outlines of the mediatorial kingdom are fully recognised here. “I saw the Lord, high and lifted up.” All else in heaven was subordinated to that central fact.
1. The supremacy of our Lord’s rule over heaven and earth, over angels, monarchs, events, the great and the little, the present and the future.
2. The absorbing attraction of that rule. For as prophet, and angels, and men, discern the glory of His love, and mercy, and power, they are constrained to praise.
3. The perfect serenity and sufficiency of His rule are indicated here. Beneath is storm and tumult. He sits above the flood.
4. The universality of His rule is clear. His train fills the temple. Those who went before, and those who came after, cried Hosanna!
5. The design of Christ’s rule on earth is to bestow pardon and purity.
6. The King who confers cleansing and peace demands service.
7. He does not hesitate to discipline His unfaithful servants until their loyalty is assured.
III. THE EFFECT OF THE VISION OF CHRIST’S LORDSHIP ON THE BEHOLDER.
1. A deep sense of personal sinfulness.
2. A deep sense of insufficiency for the work of God.
3. The vision that humbles, clothes with power, fills with certitude, directs our steps, inspires with invincible heroism, and makes us partakers of its glory and its resources. (J. Matthews.)
The vision of God
No truth is more familiar than that God cannot be seen by mortal eye. But God has so manifested Himself that we may say, without impropriety or mistake, that we have seen Him. He did so--
I. OCCASIONALLY, BEFORE THE CHRISTIAN ERA. We have illustrations of this in the case of the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-22), of Moses on the mount of God (Exodus 34:1-35), of Micaiah, the Hebrew prophet (1 Kings 22:1-53), and in that before us in the text. In such experiences, each one of which may have been unlike the others, a very special privilege was granted to these men; so special and peculiar that they felt, and had a right to feel, that they stood in the very near presence of the High and Holy One Himself.
II. PERMANENTLY, IN THE TEMPLE. The religion of the people of Israel differed from that of the surrounding nations in that there was not to be found in their sacred places any image or statue or visible representation of God. If any such were found it was a marked violation of law, a distinct apostasy. Only one visible indication of the Divine presence was permitted, and that was as immaterial as it could be, and was only beheld by one man once in the year--the Shechinah in the Holy of holies. Once a year the high priest might use the words of our text; for when he entered within the veil, on the great day of atonement, he stood in the presence of manifested Deity.
III. ONCE FOR ALL IN THE PERSON OF JESUS CHRIST. All previous historical manifestations were lost in the presence of the Son of God. He manifested the Divine so that those who saw Him did in truth see God. They saw nothing less than--
1. Divine power, including control over the body and the spirit of man, over the elements of nature, over disease and death.
2. Divine wisdom, reaching to all those truths that concern the nature and will of God, and also the character, life, and destiny of man.
3. Divine purity, shown in an absolutely blameless life.
4. Divine love, shining forth in tender, practical sympathy with men in all their sufferings and sorrows; showing itself in compassion for men in their spiritual destitution (Mark 6:34); culminating in the agony of the garden and the death of the Cross. Well might the Master say that His disciples were privileged beyond kings and prophets, for as they walked with Him they “saw the Lord.” Conclusion--We can see God in nature, in history, in the outworkings of His providence, in the human conscience and human spirit. But the way in which to seek His face is by acquainting ourselves with, and uniting ourselves to, Jesus Christ, His Son. (W. Clarkson B. A.)
The empty throne filled
I. THE VISION ITSELF. The centre truth is that the Lord of hosts is the King--the King of Israel
II. THE MINISTRATION OF LOSS AND SORROW IN PREPARING THE VISION. If the throne of Israel had not been empty, the prophet would not have seen the throned God in the heavens. And so it “is with all our losses, with all our sorrows, with all our disappointments, with all our pains; they have a mission to reveal to us the throned God.
III. THE TEXT SUGGESTS THE COMPENSATION THAT IS GIVEN FOR ALL LOSSES. The one God will become everything and anything that every man, and each man, requires. He shapes Himself according to our need. The water of life does not disdain to take the form imposed upon it by the vessel into which it is poured. The Jews used to say that the manna in the wilderness tasted to each man as each man desired, of dainties or of sorrows. And the God who comes to us all, comes to us each in the shape that we need; just as He came to Isaiah in the manifestation of His kingly power, because the throne of Judah was vacated. So when our hearts are sore with loss the New Testament manifestation of the King, even Jesus Christ, comes to us and says, “the same is my mother and sister and brother,” and his sweet love compensates for the love that can die, and that lass died. When losses come to us He draws near, as durable riches and righteousness. In all our pains He is our anodyne, and in an our griefs He brings the comfort; He is all in all, and each withdrawn gift is compensated, or will be compensated, to each in Him. So let us learn God’s purpose in emptying heart and chairs and homes. He empties that He may fill them with Himself. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The rectal and mediatorial dominion of God
I. PECULIARITIES OF THIS DOMINION.
1. The law of belief, or what we may otherwise phrase, the law of intellectual humility. Revelation was never intended to be a revelation to our comprehension or to our reason. The revelation of the Bible is made to faith.
2. The law of evangelical faith.
3. The law of holiness. You will find a great difference between the nature of the obedience which God in the Gospel requires and that which earthly governments require.
(1) Earthly governments take cognizance of the outward act, but none at all of the motives, the affections, or the tempers: but God in the Gospel government controls these.
(2) Earthly governments are usually backward in interfering with the private arrangements of commercial and domestic life, and with the personal property of their subjects. But Christianity puts everything under law. Its sway is universal, all-pervading, absolute.
(3) Earthly governments, earthly systems of ethics, either fail to inculcate, or are at positive variance with, much of the more elevated and spiritual morality of the Bible. The great peculiarity of the government of Jehovah the Saviour in this respect is, that He requires men to be holy and not merely to be moral.
4. The law of disciplinary suffering.
II. EXCELLENCIES OF THIS DOMINION.
1. It is a spiritual government.
2. It us a mediatorial government--a government, therefore, of mercy.
3. The supremacy of this dominion might be adverted to. It is a “throne high and lifted up” above all the thrones and dynasties of the earth. Let this comfort the people of God.
4. It is eternal. (W. M. Bunting.)
The dead king; the living God
Israel’s king dies, but Israel’s God still lives. From the mortality of great and good men we should take occasion, with the eye of faith, to look up to “the King eternal, immortal, invisible.” (M. Henry.)
Government human and Divine
I. THE CHANGE IN CIVIL SOCIETY TAKE PLACE UNDER THE DIRECTION AND GOVERNMENT OF THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD.
II. THE PERMANENCY OF THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT AFFORDS A STRIKING CONTRAST TO THE FADING CHARACTER OF EARTHLY GOVERNMENTS.
III. THE SPIRITUAL KINGDOM IN THE HANDS OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST PROCEEDS WITH MAJESTIC PROGRESS NOTWITHSTANDING, AND EVEN BY MEANS OF, THESE VARIOUS CHANGES. (R. Winter, D. D.)
Isaiah saw God: do men see Him today? Was He any nearer to Jerusalem than He is to London and New York? Did that old Hebrew possess faculties different from ours?
1. God can be seen and known. He has been seen and known. Moses, Isaiah, Elijah, Paul, John--all saw Him. He has been seen and known in all lands and among all religions.
2. What do we mean by seeing and knowing God? A spirit cannot be seen with physical eyes. We mean that we are so convinced of the nearness and reality of God that our thinking and living are all determined by that conviction--so sure of Him that we live as if we saw Him by physical sight.
3. But have not men seen their own imaginings, and thought that those were God! Is not a perfect God the noblest work of man! It has not been proved that any have actually known God. It would, in the nature of things, be impossible to demonstrate that to anyone who did not himself possess the same knowledge; but it has been proved that these whom the world always heeds when they speak concerning other things have believed that they had this knowledge; and that faith has been the inspiration of dauntless heroism, most patient endurance, and most sacrificing service.
4. How is God known! Many answers are given. Probably all are partially correct. As each individual sees natural objects from his own standpoint, so must he approach the highest knowledge. We are not asking whether men have known about God, but whether they have known Him. We know about Caesar, but we do not know him; we about the Mikado of Japan, but we do not know him. Many know about God who show no signs of knowing Him. I think that no one has been able to tell how this knowledge is attained: Some say, “We are conscious of Him”; others, “We see Him with the inner eye”; others, “Reason leads to Him”; and others still, “He is seen and known in the things which are made.” But after all, the most that any can say is, “I know Him.” Isaiah said, “I saw the Lord,” but all is hazy and indistinct when he comes to detail
5. All who have learned to love man in the spirit of Christ never can fail of coming to the knowledge of God, “for whosoever loveth is born of God and knoweth God.” Love is the new life; and love secures knowledge.
6. When we want to know about God we stand before the majesty of an ocean in a storm, before the terrible splendour of Alpine crests and glaciers, beneath the host of the heavens that in solemn silence thread the mazes of the sky, and say: “Behold the greatness of God!” We study the movement of history, and see how the dispersion of the Jews sent true spiritual ideas into all lands; how the triumphs of Alexander gave a common language to the world; how the supremacy of Rome made nations one; how the carnival of blood called the “French Revolution” overthrew more abuses than it worked; how the American Civil War ended in the proclamation of freedom, and we say, God is revealing Himself in history. We read the story of the life and death of Jesus, and say, if that is a revelation of God, then He is the One for whom our souls long. But all these revelations may be accepted without personal knowledge. The Father, who is a Spirit, comes to us in spirit; speaks in a still voice in the chambers of memory, conscience, aspiration; and we know Him and yet may not be able to explain “that knowledge to those who do not have it. I know my Father; He knows His child.” That is the highest human experience. That is eternal life.
7. If eternal life is not a question of dates, of the succession of months and years, but knowing God, then no question is more imperative than, “Is it possible for me to know Him?” It is a great thing to claim that knowledge. It should never be done irreverently or lightly, but always humbly and with great joy. The mission of the pulpit and the Church is primarily to help men to know God. How, then, may we know Him? However many answers are possible, only one need be given. All who follow Jesus Christ are sure, sooner or later, to realise that, like Him, they, too, are sons of God. (Amory H. Bradford, D. D.)
Removing the veil
1. A king must die! There almost seems to be something incongruous in the very phrase. The very word “king” means power. The king is the man who can--the man who is possessed of ability, dominions, sovereignty; and the shock is almost violent when we are told that the range of kingship is shaped and determined by death. How the one word suffices for all sorts and conditions of men! The registrar deals with us very summarily! We look through his books. His vocabulary is very limited. He has two words, “born” and “died,” and between the two he Can fit in all mankind; there is no exception to disturb his little printed form; we all take our place in it, prince and peasant, emperor and slave. And all this irrespective of character.
2. As kings went in those days, Uzziah had proved himself an admirable king, a wise ruler, a good man. He was distinctly a progressive man, a man of action and enterprise. His energies were not absorbed in merely foreign affairs, nor shaped by the lust of mere dominion. He proceeded upon the principle that a successful foreign policy must be based upon a wise domestic policy; that an efficient and stable rulership must begin at home. I like the way in which the chronicler sums up the king’s motives and gives us the very spirit of his home policy, “he loved husbandry?” “He loved husbandry,” and therefore you find him hedging his people about with security as they go about their daily life. He “digged many wells,” he attended to the requirements of irrigation, he laid the hand of protection and favour upon husbandmen and vine dressers, and in every way he showed that he regarded agriculture as the fundamental and primary pursuit of national life. Upon that home policy he built his foreign policy. If you have peace, security, and contentment at the centre it is easier to extend and widen the bounds of your circumference; and with order and prosperity at home, Uzziah was able to enlarge the borders of his empire. He could raise from his devoted people an army of mighty power. The limits of his kingdom were being continually expanded. “His name spread far abroad. He was marvellously helped, till he was strong.” Such was the nation’s king; loved by all his people, feared by all his foes. Is it, then, any wonder that King Uzziah--skilled organiser in home affairs, subtle strategist in foreign affairs--became the pillar of the nation’s hopes, the repository of her trust, the ultimate security of her prosperity and permanence?
3. Now, there is a strange tendency in human nature to deify any person who gives evidence of possessing any kind of extraordinary power. We place them on the heart’s throne--the throne on which are centred the soul’s hopes and which carries with it the ultimate sovereignty and apportionment of life. Extraordinary power of any kind appeals to the godlike within us, and upon the object evincing the extraordinary power we too often fix our trust. Watch the principle in the narrative before us. Here is Isaiah. Before his call and consecration he had lived on the political plane of life. His thought was ever moving among the forces of diplomacy and statecraft. How intensely absorbed he was in the game of national politics! The national problem was to Isaiah a political problem. The ultimate foundation of national prosperity was stable government. The wise handling of political forces was the one essential for the continuity and grandeur of the nation’s life. That was the plane of thought and life on which Isaiah moved, and on that plane he must find his heroes. He found the hero in Uzziah. What then? He had won Isaiah’s admiration. Next, he won his confidence, next his love, next his devotion; then Uzziah became Isaiah’s god! Uzziah filled the whole of Isaiah’s vision. How now did Isaiah’s reasoning run? Thus--“What will become of the world when Uzziah dies? When the master of statecraft is gone, in whose hands will the rulership rest? When the political nave is removed, will not all the spokes of the national wheel be thrown into the direst confusion?” That was Isaiah’s fear, begotten by his hero worship. Well, Uzziah died. What then! Says Isaiah, “In the year that King Uzziah died”--what?--“All my worst fears were abundantly realised”? No, no! “In the year that King Uzziah died I had my eyes opened; I saw there was a greater, kingdom with a greater King--I saw the Lord.” The hero died to reveal the hero’s God. What, then, did the revelation do for Isaiah? It gave him an enlarged conception of all things. It gave him a new centre for his thoughts and life.
It taught him this, that the ultimate security for all national greatness is not kings and crowns but God. It taught him this, that big armies, and walled cities, and quiet husbandry, and subtle diplomacy, and complex civilisations am not the fundamental forces on which mankind rests. The eternal centre of all true life, the centre which time cannot weaken and which death cannot corrupt, is not diplomacy, but holiness--not Uzziah, but the Lord. The earthly king had come between Isaiah and his God, and it was only when the earthly king was taken away that Isaiah saw the King of kings. “I saw the Lord high and lifted up”--a limited interest replaced by a larger one, a low standard supplanted by a loftier one, a loom monarch stepping aside to reveal the universal King.
4. This teaching has a most pertinent application to the life of today. Which is the most prominent in English national life today--King Uzziah or King Jesus, the representative of diplomacy or the representative of holiness? Which are we most concerned about--the science of politics or the science of holy living? What are the forces on which we are chiefly depending for the continuity of our national supremacy? The eternal forces are not material, but spiritual, proceeding not from the earth, but coming down from heaven. Material forces must be kept secondary, because they are transient; spiritual forces must be primary, because they are eternal. What is the conclusion of the whole matter? Don’t let us lay the stress and emphasis of life upon secondary things--not upon Uzziah, but upon the Lord. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
The “Uzziahs” of history and the Lord
History tells us the stories of nations who have looked no further than King Uzziah, and who have been accustomed to use the temporal and earthly forces which Uzziah represents. And how has it fared with them? Ancient Phoenicia looked no further than King Uzziah. She built her national temple upon the foundation of commerce, and the only binding force among her people was the relationships of trade. Ancient Greece looked no further than King Uzziah. She raised a palatial national structure upon the foundation of literature and art, and the structure was exceeding beautiful, the wonder and admiration of all time. Ancient Rome looked no further than King Uzziah. She raised an apparently solid masonry, compact and massive, upon a political foundation, and all the stones in the building were clamped together by a tie of patriotism, such as the world has elsewhere never known. Now what has become of them--Phoenicia, Greece, and Rome! How has it fared with the nations so constituted, the houses so built? This is the record. They stood for a time, proud, august, radiant with imperial splendour, fair with the smile of fortune, and reflecting the sunny light of the prosperous day. But “the rains descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon” those nations, and they fell, and great was the fall of them! Surely that is a lesson for today, that national foundations must not be laid by Uzziah but by the Lord. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
The material fleeting: the spiritual enduring
I spent a little time in the old castle at Stifling, and in one of the rooms of the tower were two curiosities which riveted my attention. In one corner of the room was an old time worn pulpit. It was John Knox’s pulpit, the pulpit from which he used to proclaim so faithfully the message of the King: In the opposite corner were a few long spears, much corrupted by rust, found on the field of Banncokburn, which lies just beyond the castle walls. John Knox’s pulpit on the one hand, the spears of Bannockburn on the other! One the type of material forces, forces of earth and time; the other the type of spiritual forces, forces of eternity and heaven. The spears, representative of King Uzziah; the pulpit, representative of the Lord. Which symbolises the eternal? The force and influence which radiated from that pulpit will enrich and fashion Scottish character when Bannockburn has become an uninfluential memory, standing, vague and indefinite, on the horizon of a far distant time. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
Gain through loss
God puts out our little light that we may see Him the better. When you are looking out of the window at night, gazing towards the sky, you will see the stare more clearly if you put out your gaslight. That is what God has to do for us. He has to put out the secondary lights in order that we may see the eternal light. Uzziah has to die, in order that we may see it is God who lives. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
The compensations of life
I know a little cottage which is surrounded by great and stately trees, clothed with dense and massy foliage. In the summer days, and through all the sunny season, it just nestles in the circle of green, and has no vision of the world beyond. But the winter comes, so cold and keen. It brings its sharp knife of frost, cuts off the leaves, until they fall trembling to the ground. There is nothing left but the bare framework on which summer hung her beauteous growths. Poor little cottage, with the foliage all gone! But is there no compensation? Yes, yea Standing in the cottage in the winter time and looking out of the window, you can see a mansion, which has come into view through the openings left by the fallen leaves. The winter brought the vision of the mansion! My brother, you were surrounded by the summer green of prosperity. It had become your king. There your vision ended. But the Lord wished to give your thought a further reach. He wanted your soul to see “the mansion which the Father hath prepared” for them that love Him. So He took away your little king. He sent the winter and stripped your trees; and “in the year that the little king died you saw the Lord.” (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
I. THE MEDIUM THROUGH WHICH IT WAS GIVEN A VISION. Why was it recorded? Not to indulge the conceit of the prophet, nor even chiefly to certify him to the Jews; but because of the messages to them which it so vividly conveys, and the representative interest of the experience to all spiritual minds.
II. THE STATE OF MIND THE VISION PRODUCED. (verse 5.) Fear, dejection, self-humiliation. Both personally and as representative of the Jewish nation he was convicted of sin is the invariable result of close intercourse with God. Our inborn sin is brought to light and rebuked. And the more Christlike we are the more will our brothers’ sin likewise weigh upon our hearts. It is in this very experience that our preparation for service begins.
III. HOW THIS WAS DEALT WITH. The fact of sinfulness is not denied by Him to whom it is confessed. It is tacitly confirmed by what takes place. Yet how tender and considerate is the silence of the Judge of all the earth! At once He institutes and sets in operation a mediatorial agency. Such guilt and impurity no water can cleanse: fire is needed, fire from the Consuming Fire.
IV. THE CALL.
I. Couched first in a universal question,--“Whom shall I send?” etc.
2. After the prophet’s response the call is more direct and personal: “Go, and tell this people,” etc the more general call to us consists, as it did to Isaiah, in the sense of our neighbours’ need and our own duty with regard to supplying it. But if a Christian It in earnest, and willing to surrender himself to the commandment of his Lord, more specific direction will not be wanting.
V. THE RESPONSE. (verse 8) “Then said I, Here am I; send me.” A sacrifice and a petition. (Homiletic Magazine.)
I. THE INEFFABLE MAJESTY OF GOD.
1. His Supreme authority. “Sitting upon a throne, high and lifted ups” He is the high and lofty One. He ruleth over all, matter and mind, the evil and the Good.
2. His magnificent upset. “His train filled the temple.” This is an allusion to the flowing robes of Oriental monarchs, which signalise their stately grandeur, What is the costume of the Infinite? “Thou clothest Thyself with light as with a garment.” The flowing robes of His majesty filled the temple of immensity.
3. His illustrious attendants. “Above it stood the seraphim.” Eastern monarchs had numerous princes and nobles as their attendants; but these fiery ones are the ministers of the eternal King.
4. His absolute holiness. “One cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.” The repetition indicates the intensity of their conviction.
II. THE LOFTY SERVICES OF CELESTIAL INTELLIGENCES. Their services are--
2. Alert. They do not move with a tardy reluctance in the service of their Lord; but with wings expanded they stand ever ready to execute His behest.
3. Individual. “One cried unto another.” Each was intensely alive to his own responsibility and duty.
4. Harmonious. After the separate cries there was a blending of all in one grand chorus, “The whole earth is full of His glory.”
5. Enthusiastic. As the peal of a majestic organ sometimes shakes the cathedral, the voice of one worshipper in heaven is represented as moving the posts of the door. The grand solo sends a tremor through the temple.
III. THE AMAZING CAPACITY OF THE HUMAN SOUL. Isaiah saw all this, not with the outward eye, but with the eye of his mind. Unlike all other creatures on this earth, man has a capacity to see God. He can see God enthroned in the universe.
1. Sin has injured this capacity. Whilst all men have the power to see God, few men do.
2. The Gospel restores this capacity. It opens the spiritual eye, sweeps away the carnal atmosphere, and shows God filling the temple. (Homilist.)
The Trinity in unity
(for Trinity Sunday):--
I. AS TO THE UNIVERSAL PREVALENCE OF BELIEF IN THE DOCTRINE. The doctrine of the Trinity has always been one of those things, to use the language of St. Luke, which have been most surely believed among us.
II. THE SCRIPTURAL PROOF OF THE DOCTRINE. It underlies the whole Bible, and is inextricably interwoven with its fabric and its structure.
III. THE NATURE OF THIS DOCTRINE. We grant at once that it is mysterious, and that it is inexplicable. We walk by faith, not by sight. This great doctrine in its inner being is hidden from us; but it presents a countenance to us full of beauty and loveliness, the features of which are discerned by the eye of faith. It is a golden casket, containing a most precious jewel; locked, if you like, which we cannot open, but enriching us nevertheless. It is a song in a strange language, the meaning of it in a great degree unintelligible, but the melody most exquisite. Practical application of the doctrine--
1. It is bound up with our duty to God. We have duties to pay to each of the three Persons if we would perfectly know our glorious God, if we would worthily magnify His holy name.
2. It is bound up with our hope of salvation.
3. It is bound up with the fulness of Gospel blessings. Take the apostolic benediction; what more can you conceive of spiritual life and blessing than is contained within that? (R. W. Forrest, M. A.)
The command and encouragement to communicate the Gospel
The communication of the will of God to others is connected with the manifestation of the excellency of all the perfections of the Deity, but appears in the passage before us in more especial relation to the glory of the Divine holiness.
I. THE REVELATION WHICH GOD HAS MADE TO HIS INTELLIGENT CREATURES MANIFESTS HIS SUPREME AND PERFECT HOLINESS. The great lesson which the vision taught was the holiness of Jehovah, and that by the manifestation of this the whole earth was to be filled with His glory. This, if not the source and end, has always formed a part, and has often been preeminent in the manifestations God has made to His intelligent creatures. Although inseparably blended with the infinite benevolence and perfect rectitude, we find this perfection more frequently associated with the name, and employed to qualify the attributes of Jehovah, than any other. The arm of the Lord, the emblem of His power, is called His holy arm; His eyes, emblems of omniscience, the eyes of His holiness; His presence, Holy of holies; His majesty, the throne of His holiness; His name, the holy name; Himself, the Holy One. This is equally applicable to the Father, Holy Father,--the Son, Holy Child,--the Spirit, Holy Ghost. All the manifestations God has ever made of Himself, so far as our limited and imperfect knowledge extends, have been those of His holiness. He is holy in all His works. It was because they beheld a new impress of the moral image of Jehovah that the sons of God shouted together for joy. The Divine holiness was also exhibited, under a new aspect, to all orders intelligent creation, in the contrast between the state of the first human pair and that of fallen spirits. All the manifestations which, since the fall the Divine Being has condescended to make to our race, either of His dominion over the affairs of men, the intimations of His will, or the operations of His grace and Spirit on the soul, have been revelations of the Divine holiness. In the human nature of Christ, the glory of Divine holiness was enshrined in a temple more pure than that in which the Shekinah had appeared; here was an altar that sanctified both the giver and the gift; a sacrifice in which Omniscience saw no imperfection; a Priest who needed not to offer sacrifice for His own sins, for He was holy, harmless, and undefiled. The purity of God had been shown in the creation; in the consequences of the fall: the destruction of the old world; and the giving of the law: but on Calvary, though softened by the veil of humanity through which it was revealed, it beamed forth with an intensity and effulgence which rendered it at once the most stupendous and sublime display of the Divine equity and holiness that ever has, or, we have reason to believe, ever will take place. The design of the sacrifice displays more vividly this glorious perfection. It was not simply to redeem from sin, but to redeem to holiness. The dispensation which terminated with the return of the Redeemer to the bosom of the Father, has been followed by another, less imposing, but equally clear and more extensive, manifestation of the Divine holiness, the descent of the Holy Spirit. The volume of inspiration is a revelation of the Divine holiness; all its precepts and promises are holy. With what superiority in moral excellency does this view of the connection between the diffusion of the Gospel and the glorious holiness of Jehovah invest this sacred cause; what impressive instruction does it impart to all engaged in its varied departments, at home or abroad; and how imperative its requirement, that, on every order of agency in its support, direction, and application, holiness unto the Lord should ever be distinctly inscribed!
II. THE COMMUNICATION TO OTHERS OF THE REVELATION WHICH GOD HAS MADE, IS ENJOINED BY DIVINE AUTHORITY. Whatever motives may engage the people of God to communicate to others what He has revealed to them, the Divine command constitutes the foundation, augments the force of every other, and must give vitality and efficiency to all This commission has been either special or ordinary; but the authority has been the same in all, and the obligation equal.
III. KNOWLEDGE OF THE DIVINE WILL, AND EXPERIENCE OF THE DIVINE MERCY, DEMAND AND ENCOURAGE PROMPT AND CHEERFUL OBEDIENCE. This is strongly and beautifully shown in the vision of the prophet. Many of the communications of the Divine will appear to have been preceded by peculiar manifestations of the Divine glory. Thus Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel; the disciples, after the resurrection, and on the mountain in Galilee; Saul, on his way to Damascus; and the beloved disciple in Patmos, were favoured. This was probably designed to strengthen their minds with vivid and solemn impressions of the greatness and majesty of that God whose message they were to declare, and to encourage their fidelity. It is a humiliating fact, that, with authority equally distinct, motives more numerous and strong, and facilities greater than at any former time, discouragements and difficulties still keep many at home, who ought to be on the broad plains of moral death, pointing the nations to “the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world.” These difficulties principally arise from the views which are taken of the nature of the work and the qualifications it requires.
1. Physical unfitness.
2. Deficiency of natural or acquired abilities.
3. Moral unfitness.
4. Attachment to home, and the privations and perils of the work.
5. The magnitude and importance of the work.
Let us glance at the encouragements to obedience.
1. The dominion and omnipotence of the Redeemer.
2. The grateful import of the message.
3. The measure of success, though not the rule of duty, is cheering.
4. The spirit of the times and the aspect of the world. (W. Ellis.)
The idea of God
I. ISAIAH’S VISION OF GOD. This was, in all probability, the greatest incident in his whole life, and it left an indelible mark on his thinking, lust as the thinking of St. Paul, and, in fact, his whole activity, sprang out of what happened to him on the way to Damascus. That day he saw God. That is his own account of the matter. Now, as he prophesies through three reigns after the death of Uzziah, Jotham’s, Ahaz’s, and Hezekiah’s, and probably lived sixty years after this date, he must at the time have been a very young man, and I am strongly inclined to think that this was not only the commencement of his activity as a prophet, but the beginning of his own religious life. It was what, in modern language, would be called his conversion. He says that he “saw the Lord,” and what better account could anyone give of the crisis by which real religion commences? Before this, Isaiah had heard plenty about God, because he seems to have been the son of a wealthy family living in Jerusalem; but, as another eminent Old Testament writer indicates, there is a vast difference between hearing about God and seeing Him. “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye sooth Thee.” It is really just the transition from the religion of tradition to the religion of experience. Religion comes to us all first as a tradition. It is the tradition of our home, the tradition of our Church, the tradition of our country, and so on; but as long as it is merely that, it is vague, unreal, and remote. But some day this God of whom we have heard is realised by us to be here; and this Christ, of whom we have heard that He has saved others, comes seeking for entrance into our own soul; and if we let Him in, our religion passes into an entirely new stage. Now, this was what happened to Isaiah.
II. THE EFFECT OF THE VISION ON HIS WORK. One of the seraphim cried to another, and said, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory.” That is to say, two attributes of God overawed and overwhelmed these supernal beings--His holiness and His omnipotence. The one of these is the inner glory of God; the other is the outer glory. He is holy, holy, holy inwardly--that is perfectly, unspeakably, uncompromisingly holy; and then outwardly, the whole earth is full of His glory; or rather, to put it quite literally, the fulness of the universe--that is to say, all the variety of suns and stars, of heaven and earth, of land and sea--all that is His glory, or the garment by which He is made visible. We are wont in secular things to say that the child is father of the man, and if any man does anything very remarkable in the world it will usually be found that he has seen by the instinct of genius very early what he was intended to do. And this is true of Isaiah in the spiritual sphere. What he saw that day in a moment it took a whole lifetime to write out. Manifold as is the truth in the Book of Isaiah, it may all be deduced from these two things--the holiness of God and the omnipotence of God. The one half of his prophecies may be summed up in this word which I borrow from one part of his writings: “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.” The book opens with an extraordinary description of the sins of the nation, and this theme occurs all through. And what is all that but just an echo of holy, holy, holy? If God is what the seraphim said that day He was, then sin must be such as Isaiah represents it to be. Then, the other great note of his writings is that which is expressed in the first verse of the opening of the second part of the book: “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God.” Isaiah is among all the prophets the prophet of comfort. He was indeed a prophet of calamity, and perhaps in no other book of the Old Testament do we see so clearly as in his the cruel and the irresistible might of the great world monarchs by which the people of that age were surrounded; but mighty as these were, a Mightier was known to Isaiah; One to whom they were just like the dust; One that could call them like dogs to His feet, and wield them as the woodman in the woods wields his axe; and therefore those people whose God is the Lord do not need to fear these great monarchs; let them only trust and hope. That was the Gospel of Isaiah, and who does not see that it is merely an echo of what he heard the seraphim say: “The whole earth is full of His glory.” For these two ideas about God, Isaiah has two names that recur all through his writings. To denote the holiness of God, he calls Him the “Holy One of Israel”; and to denote His omnipotence he calls Him the “Lord of hosts.”
III. THE EFFECT OF THE VISION ON HIMSELF. The revelation made to him that day about God, namely, that He is the Holy One, had an immediate and transforming effect on himself. My idea is that up to this time Isaiah was a man of the world, perhaps indulging in the vices which the young nobility of Jerusalem of that day were famous for; but now, in a moment, in the light of God, he sees the error of his ways and the putridity of his heart, and hence there bursts from him the exclamation: “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” You see he felt his sin chiefly on his lips--i.e., it was sins of speech he became conscious of. I should think that few will doubt that when he says, “I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips,” he means to refer to a prevalence of profanity amongst his companions. Well, is it not the most natural explanation to believe that he had in his previous life given way to that sin, and now that is the sin that burns in on his conscience? But he learned at this point also something very precious about the holy God. As soon as he had confessed his sin, one of the seraphim, doubtless obeying a secret hint from Jehovah, flew to the altar, and, seizing the tongs, lifted from the altar a hot stone, and laid it on the lips of the prophet--on the place where his sin was. The meaning was that his sin was burned away. And this became to Isaiah the cause of one of the greatest features of his work as a prophet in his subsequent life. There is no writer in the Bible that in language more tender and convincing speaks about God’s willingness to forgive. And where did Isaiah learn that! He learnt it that day when the seraph laid the burning stone upon his own lips and burned his sin away. The other half of the revelation, the omnipotence of God, had its immediate practical effect also. But it was the Maker of Isaiah that was playing on his mind on this occasion for His own purpose. He was playing as an artist might play on an exquisite instrument, and in point of fact the mind of Isaiah was one of the most exquisite instruments that have ever existed in this world. There has hardly ever been a mind in this world, in its native structure, so perfect, and the Maker of it was now touching it to splendid issue. He was needing a messenger to that generation, and He had fixed on Isaiah to be His messenger, and He was making him ready. Isaiah had just realised that God was the Omnipotent, to whom all creatures and he himself belonged, and now that the relief and joy of forgiveness were thrilling through him, he realised in a still higher sense he belonged absolutely to the God who had pardoned. (James Stalker, D. D.)
Isaiah’s vision in the temple
God often prepares His servants for special work by special grace.
I. The views with which this vision furnishes us concerning GOD.
1. His sovereignty.
2. His holiness.
3. His mercy.
II. The views with which this vision furnishes us concerning ANGELS.
1. Their humility.
2. Their obedience.
3. Their devotion.
III. The views with which this vision furnishes us respecting MAN.
1. His sinful condition.
2. His gracious recovery.
3. His exalted calling. (G. T. Perks, D. D.)
Preparation for the Lord’s work
I. SPECIAL PREPARATION IS NECESSARY FOR A SPECIAL WORK OF GRACE, WHETHER IT BE IN THE INDIVIDUAL HEART, OR IN THE CHURCH.
II. THE BLESSED RESULTS OF THE WORK WILL BE LARGELY PROPORTIONED TO THE CHARACTER AND DEGREE OF THE PREPARATION. (J. Sherwood.)
The three-fold vision
I. A VISION OF GOD. This can only come to us in our present state indirectly, parabolically, or as here, symbolically. It will include a conception of God’s--
1. Authority: “a throne high and lifted up.”
2. Glory: “His train filled the temple.”
3. Holiness: seraphic action and seraphic tones proclaimed Him as the Thrice Holy.
II. A vision OF SPIRITUAL INTELLIGENCE. Just as the prophet came to understand that there was a vast spiritual universe behind and beyond the material, and of which the material was but the hint and type, so must we. He saw in the seraphim a revelation of the existence of spiritual beings.
III. A VISION OF SELF. There is a vision of his--
1. Own individuality. The right use of the pronouns “I” and “me,” is a lesson worth learning, he finds.
2. Relationship to others: “I dwell among a people,” etc.
3. Sinfulness. To this--
(1) The vision of God as holy;
(2) The vision of spiritual beings as pure; and
(3) The consciousness of his own condition, all contributed.
4. Possible purification. Here we have--
(1) The supernatural means of this purification. “A seraph.”
(2) The connection of these means with sacrifice. “From off the altar,” etc.
5. Life mission. Here we note--
(1) God’s care for the world. It is He who cries “Who will go for us?”
(2) The godly man’s response. It is for him eagerly, obediently, loyally to cry, “Here am I, send me.”--In Isaiah, in Paul, in every godly man, the vision of God leads to unselfish consecration to the good of others. (U. R. Thomas, B. A.)
I. THE VISION WHICH THE PROPHET BEHELD (verses 1-4).
1. Of the Divine supremacy.
2. Of the Divine attendants. Their name signifies “fiery ones.” There is a remarkable analogy between what is said here, and what is stated of the mysterious beings in the Book of Revelation--“They rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.” The holiness of God is the great burthen of the celestial songs.
3. The vision connects holiness with the Divine greatness--“The whole earth is full of His glory.” All His creatures speak His praise.
4. A remarkable effect is stated to have been produced by this celebration of the Divine majesty and holiness--“The posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.” This may be intended to show the terrors of the Divine holiness, when it is kindled and brought into exercise by human transgression. Smoke is connected in Scripture with the tokens of rising wrath in the Almighty. Deuteronomy 29:20; Psalms 18:7-8; Revelation 15:8.) And the sequel informs us that He had determined to “waste the cities, and depopulate the habitations, until there should be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.” Observe from the vision here granted to the prophet, how necessary it is that those who go out on the work of the Lord should have a vision of His glory and greatness that they may have a proper sense of the work in which they are engaged. How can he speak of the glory of God, who has not seen it? Or how can he speak of the holiness of God, of the terrors of me Almighty, who has himself no true idea of either?
II. THE EFFECT WHICH THIS VISION PRODUCED UPON THE PROPHET’S MIND. “Then said I, Woe is met for I am undone.” etc. The vision of the glory of God which he beheld, became the means of filling him with reverence, humility, and fear. The prophet was filled with an awful sense of his own depravity in two respects--
1. As a man. Why are the lips mentioned! Not because the depravity, is merely superficial, or resting on the surface; but because the depravity of the heart rends and rages without, and finds vent in the tongue. The vision of the Divine holiness is the best way of impressing our minds with a sense of our own defects and vileness.
2. As an intended messenger of God. He saw how unworthy he was to receive messages from God and go out to the people. If private Christians should feel their depravity and unworthiness, how much more should those who are ministers. He who has not been humbled under a sense of his own unworthiness before God has no right at all to go out to speak to others.
III. THE SUSTAINING VISITATION WHICH WAS MADE IN CONNECTION WITH THE EFFECT PRODUCED. To prevent the prophet from sinking into despair, Divine consolation was given. Notice--
1. The agent sent. “One of the seraphim.” These are often employed in messages of goodness to man. Observe his celerity--he “flew.” These celestial beings take an especial interest in the fulfilment of the designs of God.
2. The assurance communicated. “Thine iniquity is taken away,” etc.
3. The manner in which the assurance is testified. “Then flew one,” etc. Fire is symbolical of purity. The Spirit’s influence is compared to fire. This transaction signifies--
(1) The purity of the ministry.
(2) The fervour of the ministry.
IV. THE COMMISSION WHICH, IN CONNECTION WITH THIS VISITATION, WAS PROPOSED AND ACCEPTED. “Whom shall I send,” etc. Observe--
1. That the messenger who goes out, God sends by His own power.
2. Such messengers are fully devoted to God. They may indeed say “Corban” with respect to all they have. What an honourable work is this! It is also a work of responsibility.
3. The messenger of God must proceed without debate as to the object of his mission. (J. Parsons.)
The scene is Messianic. Christ is in it.
I. WHAT THE PROPHET SAW AND HEARD. There is no special stress to be laid on the term Lord, as used here. It is not the incommunicable name of essence, Jehovah; but the title of dominion, of mastership and ownership. The awe of His appearance is in the circumstances or surroundings.
1. He is upon a throne, high and lifted up. It is the throne of absolute sovereignty; of resistless, questionless, supremacy over all.
2. He is in the temple, where the throne is the mercy seat, between the cherubim, over the ark of the Covenant, which is the symbol and seal of reconciliation and friendly communion. And He is there in such rich grace and glory that the whole temple is filled with the overflowing robe of His redeeming majesty.
3. Above, or upon, that ample overflowing train of so magnificent a raiment stood the seraphim. These are not, as I take it, angelic or super angelic spirits, but the Divine Spirit Himself, the Holy Ghost; appearing thus in the aspect and attitude of gracious ministry. In that attitude He multiplies Himself, as it were, according to the number and exigencies of the churches and the individuals to whom He has to minister. He takes up, moreover, the position of reverential waiting for His errand, and in an agency manifold, but yet one, readiness to fly to its execution. The cherubim are on almost all hands admitted to be representative emblems of redeemed creation, or of the redeemed Church on earth. And I cannot think it wrong to give to the seraphim in this, the only passage in which the name occurs, a somewhat corresponding character as representative emblems of the active heavenly agency in redemption. Nor is the plural form any objection. I find a similar mode of setting forth the multiform and multifarious agency of the Spirit in the opening salutation of the
Apocalypse--“the seven Spirits which are before His throne” Revelation 1:4). It is the Holy Ghost, waiting to go forth from the Father, to apply and carry forward the threefold work of the Son, as Prophet, Priest, and King; and to do so as if He were becoming seven Spirits in accommodation to the seven churches; as if each church was to have Him as its own; yes, and each believer, too.
4. With this great sight, voice and movement are joined. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory.” It is not necessarily the voice of the seraphim, though that is the ordinary I would rather take the words abstractly and indefinitely. There is an antiphonic cry or song. It is not said among whom. Of course, the readiest reference is come seraphim. But the text does not require that; it is literally “this cried to this.” And the attendance of an angelic choir, of all hosts of heaven, may be assumed. Assuredly Christ is here. He is here as revealing the Father. And He is here, not merely outwardly, in outward manifestation; but inwardly, in the deepest inward contact and converse of the soul with God.
II. HOW THE PROPHET FELT (verse 5). It is a thorough prostration.
III. HOW THE PROPHET’S CASE IS MET. Lo! an altar; the altar of propitiation, on which lies the ever freshly bleeding victim. One of the seraphim--the Holy Spirit in one of His varied modes of operation--flies, as if in haste, with what is as good as the entire altar and its sacrifice to apply it all effectually. And the effect is as immediate as the touch. Nothing comes in between. There is no waiting, as for a medicine to work its cure; no bargaining, as if a price were to be paid; no process to be gone through; no preparation to be made.
IV. THE SUBSEQUENT OFFER AND COMMAND (verses 8, 9). Two things are noticeable here.
1. The grace of God in allowing the prophet, thus exercised, to be a volunteer for service. The Lord might issue a peremptory command. But His servant has the unspeakable privilege of giving himself voluntarily to the Lord who willingly gave Himself for him.
2. The unreservedness of the prophet’s volunteering. It is no half hearted purpose conditional on circumstances; but the full, single-eyed heartiness of one loving much, because forgiven much, that breaks out in the frank, unqualified, unconditional self-enlistment and self-enrolment in the Lord’s host, “Here am I, send me.” Hence, accordingly, the crowning proof and pledge of his conversion, his cleansing, his revival, his commission. He now learns for the first time, after he has committed himself beyond the possibility of honourable retraction or recall, what is the errand darkly indicated by the heavenly voice, Whom shall I send? At first there may be secretly the feeling that any mission on which such a master may send me must have in it the elements of intrinsic glory and assured triumph. But as it turns out it is far otherwise than that. The case is altogether the reverse. The mission is to be a mission of judgment. But what then? Does the freshly quickened volunteer withdraw his offer? or qualify it? or raise any question at all about it? No; he simply asks one question; a brief one; comprised in three words--“Lord, how long?” It is a question indicating nothing like reluctance or hesitation; no repenting of his offer; no drawing back. For himself he has nothing more to say. It is only in the interest of his people, and out of deepest sympathy with them, that the irrepressible cry of piety and of patriotism bursts from his lips--“Lord, how long? how long?” (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)
I. THE LIGHT IN WHICH THE SON OF GOD APPEARS TO THOSE WHO ENJOY AN INTIMATE UNION WITH HIM AND A NEAR CONTEMPLATION OF HIM. He is represented--
1. As seated on a lofty throne.
2. As attended by celestial spirits.
3. As receiving their homage and praise.
(1) The matter of it.
(2) The manner of it.
II. THE EFFECT WHICH THIS INTIMATE UNION AND NEAR CONTEMPLATION WILL PRODUCE.
1. Humility. It is ignorance of God that is the parent of pride. True knowledge of Him tends to humility. Qualities are never seen so clearly as by contrast. The application of a straight rule marks the obliquity of a crooked line.
3. Self-devotion. As eyes dazzled by the sun see not the glittering of drops of dew upon the earth, so the glory of worldly objects ceases to interest a soul that is taken up with the contemplation of God; while he will be led, by a regard to Him whose word has been the instrument of his purification and encouragement, to devote himself unreservedly to His will. (R. Brodie, M. A.)
Isaiah’s vision of God’s glory
I. The first view of the Divine glory in the text is that of RULE AND DOMINION. The Lord is King--this is the first character under which to approach Him whenever we engage in worship.
II. The second view of the majesty and glory of God is that IN HIS NATURE AND PERFECTION HE IS INCOMPREHENSIBLE.
III. The third view of the Divine Majesty is HOLINESS.
IV. The fourth view is that of A PENITENT, ABASED MAN SINKING BEFORE THIS OVERPOWERING MANIFESTATION.
V. The fifth view we have is that of THIS HUMBLE, SILENCED MAN OBTAINING MERCY. (J. Summerfield, M. A.)
Isaiah’s vision of Christ’s glory
He who “sat upon the throne” Isaiah saw is none other than God Himself. But in his Gospel (John 12:41) John tells us, “these things said Esaias, when he saw Christ’s glory, and spake of Him.” It is the throne of Jesus. Let us examine the manner in which they who actually saw the vision were affected by it, and this will best show us at once its consummate splendour and the sentiments it should awaken.
I. It was seen by ANGELS AND THE “SPIRITS OF THE JUST MADE PERFECT,” AND HOW WERE THESE AFFECTED.
1. They were astonished.
2. They were filled with joy. Because God’s grace runs in the channel of justice.
3. They celebrate it with songs.
4. They were ready to advance the cause of redemption, for with their wings they were ready to fly.
II. Let us understand from the experience of Isaiah HOW BELIEVERS ARE AFFECTED BY THE VISION OF OUR TEXT.
1. Isaiah was overwhelmed at the first. He sees in himself nothing but the dry stubble of guilt, and in God an insatiable fire, approaching to devour it. He sees no fitness for heaven, either in himself or those he loved.
2. But he is immediately revived.
3. Then called to active duty.
III. We would now consider HOW THE WORLD IS AFFECTED BY THE VISION THAT ISAIAH SAW. Isaiah preaches the Gospel, but his message is rejected. So now. (J. J. Bonar.)
The enthroned Lord
The Lord is always upon a throne, even when He is nailed to the Cross; this Lord and His throne are inseparable. There are dignitaries that have to study how to keep their thrones; but the Lord and HIS throne are one. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Isaiah’s vision of God
I. THE OCCASION OF THE VISION. The emptied throne is the occasion for the manifestation of the true King. God’s purpose in all His withdrawals is the same as His purpose in all His gifts, that we may be led to see Him more clearly as the one foundation of all things, the anchor of our lives and the hope and stay of our hearts. The text not only teaches us the purpose of all withdrawals, but comes to us heavy-freighted with the blessed thought that God is able to fill every place that He empties. This King of Judah was followed by another, a decent enough young man in his way, who on the whole went straight and did God’s will. But that was no comfort to the prophet’s heart. It did not avail to show him a Jotham behind an Uzziah. What he needed, and what you and I need, to fill the empty places in our hearts and lives, is the vision that flamed upon his inward eye; and the conviction that the Lord, the King Himself, had come when the earthly shadow passed away.
II. THE CONTENTS OF THE VISION. The temple here is, of course, not the mere earthly house, but that higher house of the Lord, of which the temple of earth is a shadow. Isaiah’s vision was none the less objective, none the less distinguishable from an imagination of his own, none the less manifestly and marvellously, a revelation from God, because if we had been there we should have seen nothing, any more than the Sanhedrim shared in the vision of the opened heavens which gladdened Stephen’s dying eyes. Mark, how there is no word of description here of what the prophet saw in the centre of the light. But if we listen to the description given to us, there are two great thoughts in it. “I saw the Lord sitting on the throne, high and lifted up”--the infinite exaltation of that Divine nature which separates Him from all the lowness of creatures, and makes Him the blessed and incomprehensible infinite foundation of good and of blessedness and the source of life. Correspondent and parallel to this thought of the sovereign exaltation is the song that is put into the mouth of the seraphim. The same idea is expressed by “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts,” as is expressed by “high and lifted up.” The holiness of God means the infinite separation of the infinite nature from the finite creature; and that separation is manifest both in the incomprehensible elevation of His being and in the perfect purity of His nature. But whilst thus a great gulf is fixed between us and Him, and we, like the seraphs, have to veil our faces that we see not, and our feet that we be not seen, there is another side to the thought, “His skirts filled the temple,” and that is paralleled with the other number of the seraphs’ song, “the whole earth is full of His glory.” For the glory of God is the manifestation of His holiness. And just as the trailing skirts of that great robe spread over the whole floor of the temple, so through the whole earth go flashing the manifold manifestations of His glory. These twin thoughts, never to be separated from each other, of the infinite separation and the immeasurable self-communication of our Father-God, are all as true for us today as they ever were. That vision is as possible to us as it was to Isaiah. It was no prerogative of the prophet’s office. Our eyes too, if we will, may behold the King in His beauty. It is Christ that explains to us by His Incarnation how it ever came to pass that to man’s inward or outward eyes there was granted a manifestation of Deity in the form of humanity as here; and His permanent revelation of God to us puts us more than on a level with any of those of old to whom were granted the foreshadowings of that historical fact of God manifest in the flesh. “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.”
III. THE EFFECTS OF SUCH A VISION ON THE LIFE. A man that sees God will know his own impurity. Where there is a sense of sin roused by the sight of God there will come the fiery coal from the altar that purifies; and where there is a sense of sin, and the taking away of it, by the sacrifice not brought by the prophet, but provided for the prophet by God, there will follow the glad surrender of self for all service, and any mission. “Here am I, send me.” So this vision of God is the foundation of all nobleness of life. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Isaiah a typical prophet
This is not a story of individual experience only. Isaiah was a typical prophet with special duties, and, consequently, with special qualifications for their right discharge. But in many respects he is also representative of the faithful preacher of the Gospel and worker for Christ. In its inspirations, its aims and motives, its responsibilities and difficulties, the prophet’s office was like that of Christ’s servant everywhere, and from this record we may gather lessons of universal application.
1. The prophet must be a man whose soul is possessed with God, to whom God is a reality, not an abstraction, a living and present Friend, not a distant and unknown Ruler. There must be visions of God in the glory of His holiness as well as in the tenderness of His condescension, or there will be neither desire nor capacity to testify of Him. It is the pure in heart who thus see God, and even as Isaiah needed that the live coal from the altar should touch his lips and he should be cleansed from all iniquity, so must Christ’s messenger know for himself the blessedness of that salvation which he preaches to others. This does not supersede the necessity for intellectual qualifications for the work. Impulse, however pure and noble, cannot fit a man for even the humblest work, much less for the noblest, the most difficult, the most responsible of all. God does lay His hands upon some whom the wisdom of this world would pronounce incompetent for the work. As in the case of Bunyan, the working of His grace in the heart may develop gifts of fancy or of eloquence which might else have lain dormant.
2. Of the special gift of inspiration which Isaiah enjoyed suffice it to say that if that is to be reduced to a “genius for righteousness” which he shared in common with the rest of the Jewish race, the unique character and supreme authority of the Bible are gone. Define inspiration how men will, it must, at all events, imply that God revealed His will to these prophets and seers by whom the Sacred Volume was penned, as He did not to the great poets and writers of the world, or this Book has no distinctive value.
3. The prophet must be a consecrated servant--one who lives not to do his own pleasure, but to glorify God. (J. G. Rogers, B. A.)
The making of a prophet
1. The experience that made Isaiah a prophet took the form of a vision. It happened in a period of distressing perplexity and gloom. Wrestling passionately with the darkness, craving wistfully for light, the yearning to see God in the man’s soul became so intense and sensitive, that the great Heart in heaven answered the longing of the heart on earth, and aspiration leapt into realisation, and faith flashed into vision That sight of God--the living, holy, loving God--made Isaiah a prophet. Preachers and teachers of today! if we are to be prophets, we need lust such a sight of God.
2. The vision of God made Isaiah a prophet; but the immediate result was something different. The first effect of contact with God was to produce in his soul an intolerable sense of sin. Had Isaiah been Pharisee, he would have seized the opportunity of his sudden vicinity to the Almighty to direct the Divine attention to his virtues and superiority over other men. Had he been one of those philosophers in whom the heart has been overlaid by the intellect, he would have calmly proceeded to make observations of the Divine for a new theory of the absolute and unconditioned, in sublime insensibility to the deepest problem of existence, the awful antithesis of human sin and of Divine holiness. Because Isaiah was a good man, his new proximity to God woke within him a crushing horror of defilement and undoneness. And it was so, precisely because, he had never been so near to God before, and had never felt himself of so much importance. Away down here, sinning among his fellow men, the blots and blemishes of his soul seemed of little moment. But up there, in the stainless light of heaven, with God’s holy eyes resting on him, every spot of sin within him grew hot and horrible, every defiling stain an insult and a suffering inflicted on the sensitive holiness of God. These two things are linked together, and no man can divorce them--the dignity of humanity and the damnableness of sin.
3. The ethical process by which, in the imagery of the vision, Isaiah’s sense of sinfulness came home to him, is finely natural and simple. It was at his lips that the consciousness of his impurity caught him. “I am a man of unclean lips.” That, judged by our formulas and standards, might seem a somewhat superficial conviction of sin. We should have expected him to speak of his unclean heart, or the total corruption of his whole nature. But actual conviction of sin is very regardless of our theories, and is as diverse in its manifestations as are the characters and records of men. Sin finds out one man in one place, and another in a quite different spot, and perhaps the experience is most real when it is least theological.
4. Isaiah, in the presence of God, felt within him the pang of that death, which must be the end of unpardoned sin in contact with the Divine holiness. He felt himself as good as dead, yet never in all his life had he so longed to live as now, in sight of God and heaven and holiness. He did not ask to escape. He was too overwhelmed to pray or hope. But to God’s heart that cry of despair was an infinitely persuasive prayer for mercy. Pagan sages and Christian saints alike unite in proclaiming the overmastering strength of sin.
5. Is there, then, no possibility of recovery? no way of cleansing? One there is, and one alone. Aye, if only God so loves our sin-stained race as that His stainless purity enters really into our humanity, and wrestles with our impurity in a contact that must be suffering to the Divine holiness, and is sin cleansing to us--that were salvation surely; that were redemption. But is it a reality! Jesus Christ has lived, and died, and lives again, and we know that His Holy Spirit dwells in us and in our world. That, and that alone, is salvation; not any theories nor any rites, but God’s Holy Spirit given unto us.
6. It was at Isaiah’s lips that the sense of sin had stung him, and it was there that he received the cleansing. He, too, might now join in heaven’s praise and service; no more an alien, but a member of the celestial choir and a servant of the King. That act of Divine mercy had transformed him.
7. He was a new creature, and instantly the change appeared. The voice of God sounds through the temple, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And the first of all heaven’s hosts to offer is Isaiah A moment before, he had shrunk back, crushed and despairing, from God’s presence, feeling as if the Divine gaze were death to him. Now he springs forward, invokes God’s attention on himself, and before all heaven’s tried and trusty messengers proposes himself as God’s ambassador. Was it presumption! was it self-assertion? I think, if ever Isaiah was not thinking of himself at all, and was conscious only of God and goodness and gratitude, it was then, when his heart was running over with wonder, love, and praise for God’s unspeakable mercy to him. It was not presumption; it was a true and beautiful instinct that made him yearn with resistless longing to do something for that God who had shown such grace to him. (Prof. W. G. Elmslie, D. D.)
I. WHAT ISAIAH SAW.
II. WHAT HE SAID. “Woe,” etc.
III. WHAT HE FELT. The assurance of pardon.
IV. WHAT HE HEARD. The pardoned sinner is all ear, all eye. “I heard the voice of the Lord,” etc.
V. WHAT HE DID. He made consecration. (Richard Knill.)
1. Inasmuch as sitting upon a throne implies a human form, we are inclined to agree with those expositors who speak of Isaiah’s vision as a vision of Jehovah-Jesus.
2. The vision rebukes those who entertain the notion that, so far as Divine superintendence is concerned, the universe is in a state of orphanage.
3. The vision likewise rebukes those who picture God as absorbed in the contemplation of His own excellence, and as existing in solitary grandeur. God is of a social nature. Like earthly kings He has a court, as much superior to theirs as He is Himself above them.
3. Isaiah’s vision further teaches us, that the creatures referred to, and represented by the seraphim, possess such a knowledge of God, are in such sympathy with Him, and have such confidence in Him, that their lives are spent in an element of worship.
4. The vision was designed to qualify Isaiah for the fulfilment of his course as one of the prophets of Judah; and nobly it answered its purpose. (G. Cron, M. A.)
(for Trinity Sunday):--We have here the proper inauguration of the great evangelical prophet to his future work; and one which, in its essential features, resembles very closely the inauguration which other eminent servants of God, alike under the Old Covenant and under the New, obtained;--Moses (Exodus 3:6); Jeremiah Jeremiah 1:6-9); Paul; Joshua (Joshua 1:1); Gideon (Judges 6:12-24); Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:3); Peter (Luke 5:4-10). God’s messengers go mot until they are sent, and presume not to deliver a message which they have not received directly from the Sender.
1. And, first, he gives the date of the vision. What meaning may there sometimes be in a thing which seems so simple as a date! What significance, what solemnity may it sometimes have, as surely it has here. How simply and yet how grandly are earth and heaven here brought together, and the fleeting phantoms of one set over against the abiding realities of the other.
2. But if God’s throne is in heaven, the skirts of His glory reach even to the earth: “His train filled the temple.”
3. The glimpse afforded here to the Church of the elder dispensation of that great crowning mystery which the Church of the newer dispensation throughout all the world is celebrating today. In this Trisagion we have, it is true, no more than a glimpse of the mystery; even as in the Old Testament more is nowhere vouchsafed. More, in all likelihood, the Church could not then, nor until it had been thoroughly educated into a confession of the unity of the Godhead, with safety have received; while yet it was a precious confirmation of the faith, when, in a later day, this mystery was fully made known, to discover that the rudiments of it had been laid long before in Scripture.
4. But what is the first impression which this glorious vision makes upon the prophet? His first cry is not of exultation and delight, but rather of consternation and dismay. “Woe is me,” etc. Even the heathen, as more than one legend in their mythology declares, could apprehend something of this truth. If Jupiter comes to Semele arrayed in the glories of deity, she perishes, consumed to ashes in a brightness which is more than mortality can bear. So, too, it must have fared with Moses, if to him, still clothed in flesh and blood, that over-bold request of his, “Show me Thy glory,” had been conceded; if it had not been answered to him, “Thou canst not see My face; for there shall no man see Me and live.” “We shall perish, for we have seen the Lord of hosts,” was the ever recurring cry of those saints of old; and even such is the voice of the prophet here.
5. Yet that moment with all its dreadfulness is a passage, in some sense the only passage, into a true life. And such the prophet found it. Observe the manner in which sin, the guilt of sin, is here, as evermore in Holy Scripture, spoken of as taken away by a free act of God, an act of His in which man is passive; in which he has, so to speak, to stand still and see the salvation of the Lord; an act to which he can contribute nothing, save indeed only that Divinely awakened hunger of the soul after the benefit which we call faith.
6. Behold in the prophet the fruit of iniquity taken away, and sin purged. Behold the joyful readiness with which he now offers himself for the service of his God. (Abp. Trench.)
The triune Name a call, a message, a chastening
The contemplation of the majesty of God is the source of the largest hope for all His creatures. For beings pure and holy that vision is the call to unfaltering adoration and limitless faith; for men “of unclean lips”--sin-stained, and labouring in a sin-stained world--it is the reassuring call to the prophet’s work
I. The vision of God THE CALL OF THE PROPHET.
1. Nowhere is the thought presented to us in the Bible with more moving force than in this record of Isaiah’s mission. The very mark of time by which the history is introduced has a pathetic significance. It places together in sharp contrast the hasty presumption of num and the unchanging love of God. The king died an outcast and a leper because he had ventured to take to himself the function of a priest in the house of God; and in close connection with that tragic catastrophe an access to God, far older than that which the successful monarch had prematurely claimed, was foreshown to the prophet in s heavenly figure. Isaiah, a layman, was, it a appears, in the heavenly court, and he saw in a trance the way into the holiest place laid open. The veils were removed from sanctuary and shrine, and he beheld more than met the eyes of the high priest, the one representative of the people, on the one day on which he was admitted, year by year, to the dark chamber which shrouded the Divine presence. For an eternal moment Isaiah’s senses were unsealed. He saw that which is and not that which appears. For him the symbol of God dwelling in light unapproachable, was transformed into a personal presence; the chequered scene of human labour and worship was filled with the train of God; the marvels of human skill were instinct with the life of God. The spot which God had chosen was disclosed to his gaze as the centre of the Divine revelation; but, at the same time, he was taught to acknowledge that the Divine presence is not limited by any bounds, or excluded by any blindness, when he heard from the lips of angels that the fulness of the whole earth is His glory. Now, when we recall what Judaism was at the time--local, rigid, exclusive--we can at once understand that such a revelation taken into the soul was for Isaiah an illumination of the world. He could see all creation in its true nature through the light of God.
So to have looked upon it was to have gained that which the seer, cleansed by the sacred fire, was constrained to declare. Humbled, and purified in his humiliation, he could have but one answer when the voice of the Lord required a messenger: “Here am I; send me.”
2. Isaiah’s vision and call are for us also, and they await from us a like response. When he looked upon that august sight, he saw Christ’s glory; he saw in figures and far off that which we have been allowed to contemplate more nearly and with the power of closer apprehension. He saw in transitory shadows that which we have received in a historic Presence. By the Incarnation God has entered, and empowered us to feel that He has entered, into fellowship with humanity and men. As often as that truth rises before our eyes, all heaven is indeed rent open, and all earth is displayed as God made it. For us, then, the vision and the call of Isaiah find a fuller form, a more sovereign voice in the Gospel than the Jewish prophet could know
3. What does “the mystery,” the revelation “of God, even Christ” Colossians 2:2), mean, the mystery of which we are ministers and prophets, the mystery which brings the eternal within the forms of time, the mystery which shows to us absolute love made visible in the Incarnate Word? It means that the outward, the transitory, is a yell woven by the necessities of our weakness, which half hides and half reveals the realities with which it corresponds; that the changing forms in which spiritual aspirations are clothed from generation to generation and from life to life, are illuminated, quickened, harmonised in one supreme fact; that beyond the temples in which it is our blessing to worship, and beyond the phrases which it is our joy to affirm, there is an infinite glory which can have no local circumscription, and an infinite Truth which cannot be grasped by any human thought; that man, bruised and burdened by sorrows and sins, was made for God, and that through His holy love he shall not fail of his destiny; that all creation is an expression of God’s thought of wisdom brought within the reach of human intelligence; that God’s Spirit sent in His Son’s name will interpret little by little, as we can read the lesson, all things as contributory to His praise; that we also, compassed with infirmities and burdened with sins, may take, up the song of the redeemed creation, the song of the unfallen angels, and say, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the fulness of the earth is His glory. It means this, and more than this.
II. The vision of God THE MESSAGE OF THE PROPHET. It is this vision which the prophet has to proclaim and to interpret to his fellowmen, not as an intellectual theory, but as an inspiration of life. The prophet’s teaching must be the translation of his experience. The Gospel of Christ Incarnate, the Gospel of the Holy Trinity in the terms of human life, covers every imaginable part of life to the end of time, and is new now as it has been new in all the past; as it will be new, new in its power and in its meaning, while the world lasts. True it is that such a vision of God--Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier--entering into fellowship with the beings whom He has made, “gathering up all things to Himself,” “making peace through the blood of the Cross,” shows life to us, as Isaiah saw it, in a most solemn aspect: that it must fill us, as it filled Isaiah, with the sense of our immeasurable unworthiness in the face of Christ’s majesty and Christ’s love: that it must touch us also with something of a cleansing power. And because it is so we can take heart again. For such emotion, such purification of soul, is the beginning of abiding strength.
III. The vision of God THE CHASTENING OF THE PROPHET. In the fulfilment of our prophetic work we need more than we know the abasing and elevating influences which the vision of Isaiah and the thoughts which it suggests are fitted to create or deepen. In the stress of restless occupation we are tempted to leave too much out of sight the inevitable mysteries of life. We deal lightly with the greatest questions. We are peremptory in defining details of dogma beyond the teaching of Scripture. We are familiar beyond apostolic precedent in our approaches to God. We fashion heavenly things after the fashion of earth. In all these respects then for our strengthening and for our purifying, we must seek for ourselves aria strive to spread about us the sense of the awfulness of being, as those who have seen God at Bethlehem, Calvary, Olivet, and on the throne encircled by a rainbow as an emerald: the sense, vague and imperfect at the best, of the illimitable range of the courses and issues of action; the sense of the untold vastness of that life which we are bold to measure by our feeble powers; the sense of the majesty of Him before whom the angels veil their faces. If we are cast down by the meannesses, the sorrows, the sins of the world, it is because we dwell on some little part of which we see little; but let the thought of God in Christ come in, and we can rest in that holy splendour. At the same time let us not dare to confine at our will the action of the light. It is our own irreparable loss if in our conceptions of doctrine we gain clearness of definition by following out the human conditions of apprehending the Divine, and forget that every outline is the expression in terms of a lower order of that which is many-sided; if in our methods of devotion we single out the human nature of the Lord, or rather the manifestation of His unascended manhood, as the object of our thoughts, and forget that He leads us to the Father; if we rest in things visible and do not rather strive to read ever more clearly the spiritual lessons to which they point; if we concentrate our worship in isolated rites and fail to bear to the world of daily thought and action the teaching and the promises of sacraments. (B. F. Westcott, D. D.)
Uzziah and Isaiah: George III and John Wesley
The year in which King Uzziah died must have appeared a very noteworthy one to the Jewish contemporaries of Isaiah, most of whom, in all probability, regarded the death of one king and the accession of another as the most important events which occurred in it. Yet to us, who know that this was the year in which Isaiah was called to the prophetic office, these occurrences shrink into insignificance when compared with the last named fact, although that would take place without attracting the notice of any one besides the prophet himself . . . In the year 1738, on May 24 th, the prince was born who was afterwards known as George III. The event would soon be proclaimed all through England. On the evening of the same day, in a quiet meeting in Aldersgate Street, London, another event took place, known only to one man: John Wesley “believed to the saving of the soul,” and obtained assurance of sins forgiven. In a few years George III will become to all but a few a name, and nothing more; but John Wesley will become more illustrious, and the influence of his work will be more widely felt, as the ages roll on. (B. Hellier.)
The elevating presence of God
How well I remember when first I visited Switzerland that my bedroom window, perched in Les Avants, looked across the blue of the Lake of Geneva towards that noble line of snow-capped mountains that border its southern shore. It seemed for the brief fortnight that I lived there as though the spell of that mighty vision held me enthralled. I slept and awoke and wrote and conversed as one on whom a new dignity had fallen. Could I ever be mean or selfish in the presence of that mystery of purity and solemnity? This and much more shall be the temper of the soul which by the grace of the Holy Spirit has learnt habitually to recognise and cultivate the presence of God as revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Above it stood the seraphim
The first question that arises is, Who, or what were the seraphim?
They belong to this vision only, and must stand in vital relation to the condition and circumstances of the seer at the time. It is to be noted, further, that the time was that of the greatest crisis in the life of the greatest prophet of the ancient world. It was the time when he was struggling through the portals of spiritual agony into the temple of prophecy. Such visions have no room for superfluous adornment. If ever a picture had a meaning that is worth knowing, it is surely Isaiah’s picture of the seraphim. In the whole vision, as I have said, there is no sign of drapery. It throbs in all its parts with the struggles and revelations and hopes of the prophet’s heart. What, then, was that crisis in the prophet’s life in the light of which the vision will become interpreted? It is pregnantly indicated in the first verse of this chapter--“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord high and lifted up.” These words indicate the battleground of Isaiah’s soul. Around this King Uzziah, who was now dead, unusual hopes had gathered. In him many deemed that the Saviour of Israel had at length appeared. He feared God, and waxed mighty in his kingdom. On every hand he extended the realm of Judah, and made the foemen of God’s people lick the dust. But when Uzziah waxed mighty, he revealed that he was but flesh. He became arrogant, as though the strength and prowess of his own right hand had accomplished all this, Then, forgetting the fear of the Lord, he presumed to carry the sacred censer into the sanctuary, and to usurp presumptuously the holy functions of God’s anointed priesthood. Then the mighty hand of Jehovah that had upheld him so long struck him, and he fell. And with his fall a thousand hopes were shattered, and a nation’s faith fell headlong to the ground. This was a critical moment for the young Isaiah. Now his faith must either die or be reborn with a new and more glorious birth. Now it shall be seen whether everything falls for him with the fall of the great Uzziah. The vision is the answer. When Uzziah died, the young prophet saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up. The collapse of the Jewish monarch revealed the King Eternal. Now, beyond Uzziah’s shattered throne, the young seer beholds the throne of God towering high in eternal majesty and splendour. The part that the seraphim play in this new consciousness is not far to seek. They are obviously an express contradiction of the attitude of Israel as typified and exemplified in the self-confident and presumptuous king. They represent the attitude which Israel ought to learn in contradiction of the attitude in which it was now found. They represent the prophet’s own new ideal. Henceforth he will strive to make the attitude and the message of the seraphim his own.
So the seraphim have probably no actual existence as celestial beings. They are here the symbol of a human ideal, wrought out of the struggling heart of a prophet. From the moment that his lips are touched with the glowing stone from the altar, Isaiah also becomes one of the seraphim. So the picture of the seraphim still, remains as an ideal, not only for the ministers of the Word of God, but also for me whole Church of Jesus Christ. Let us, therefore, consider their attitude and their message.
I. In relation to THE SIGNIFICATION OF THE SERAPHIM, it seems to me that the name by which the prophet designates them is very significant. These seraphim are simply the “burning” ones. They stand around (not above) the throne, and partake of its burning glory. In this participation in the fires of God the seer sees the starting point of the new way that he is about to mark for himself and the nation of Israel and the peoples of the earth. He, too, will learn to stand in the presence of the glory of God until every fibre of his life is aflame with the same glory. He will learn to be a seraph, one of God a fiery ministers, one or His glorious ones. For such the true prophet must be. “He was a burning and a shining light,” said our Saviour concerning John the Baptist. It is not enough to be rejectors of a higher light; we must become burners, and have a veritable fire of our own. There is a vaunted morality which is only a cold reflection of the life of Christ, in which the glory of the Christ is made nothing more than a chiselled model. The Christian man should be all on fire, yea, on fire to his very fingertips. Such must be our response to the glory of God’s throne. We must receive it into our life until we catch fire, and respond to Heaven with a glory like unto its own. Note, in the next place, the perfect reverence which is here pictured: “Each had six wings. With twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet.” Of six wings, four are utilised for the purpose of doing reverence to the majesty of the eternal God. Here lies the central and most emphatic rebuke of the spirit of the Jewish people. Uzziah had no doubt rightly re]presented the prevailing spirit of the people when he dared presumptuously to invade the sacred offices of the temple of the Lord. Prosperity had made them arrogant, and arrogance had made them irreverent. In their own growing splendour they forget to do due homage to the glory of me Lord. The bulking throne of Uzziah had hidden the throne of Jehovah from view. The glory that made the seraphim veil their faces was not felt by the heart of the people. So as Isaiah gazes upon the veiled faces of the seraphim he passes from what is to what ought to be. Reverence is the mark of those that stand in the highest place, and henceforth will take a primary position in the life of Isaiah,. In reverence power begins. The vision of the seraphim with veiled faces and feet is sorely needed again in our day. There are those that make their boast in desecrating the sacred things of life, and in defiling the vessels of God’s temple. Yet you may be assured that all irreverence is essentially impotence. It have its little day of loud presumption, and then the Spirit of the Lord shall blow upon it, and it shall wither, and the whirlwind shall take it away as stubble. The covering of the feet as well as the face is a striking picture. It is difficult to carry the spirit of reverence into the smaller, minuter, and obscurer details of life. There are many that remember to cover the face before God, yet that forget to cover the feet. We are on our guard on great occasions and in great things. In the sanctuary, with its atmosphere of worship, we bend our into reverent homage, but we forget that the cottage and the villa, the workshop and the office, are also holy ground. There we often walk unveiled. And the world sees us uncovered, and thinks there is no God. The Christian Supper of Communion we treat as holy, but the daily meal is reduced to commonplace. The seraphim teach us also self-effacement. The prophet sees the glory that they send forth, and hears the message that they utter in never-ceasing music, but the seraphim themselves are hidden from view, covered from head to foot with their own wings. They sing the message and flash the glory, but they completely efface themselves. Here again the attitude of the Jewish people as manifested in their king is challenged and contradicted. Uzziah, instead of effacing himself before God, had thrust himself ostentatiously forward, as though his own wonderful presence were necessary to bring glory to the land. If he had learnt to efface himself, he might have done great things for God and His people. But he gave glory to himself, and the Lord smote him. Self-effacement is no easy task, but is one of the fundamental lessons that must be learnt by the prophet of the Lord. There is no sight more contemptible on earth than that of a man parading his own marvellous personality when he has the message of the Lord to proclaim. To reverence and self-effacement the seraphim add readiness for service. “With twain he covered his face, with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.” “What a mistake!” says Mr. Modern Shallowbrain. “These seraphim are provided with six wings, yet they waste two pairs of them in reverence, and reserve only one pair for service, if they would only give up that other-world sort of thing which is called worship and reverence, and use all their six wings for service, what an increase of good there would be accomplished on the earth.” So some simpletons talk, and act upon their own shallow creed, and for awhile you see nothing but the dust of their wings, as though they were turning the world upside down. Then they disappear, wings and all, and for all their labour nothing but a cloud of dust remains And even that God’s whirlwind soon sweeps away. With the seraphim is the secret of power. The wings that fly have the strength of ten, because face and feet are veiled by the others. Out of unceasing worship spring forth the currents of power and the energies of service. Four things go together in the life of the seraphim, and they must be found in every good and strong life--participation in God’s burning glory, profound reverence, self-effacement, and readiness for service. To divide them is disaster.
II. The message of the seraphim is important, because it is clearly A MESSAGE FOR ISAIAH’S OWN HEART, the message that is henceforth to be the keynote of his own teaching. The strain is two fold. The first part is, “Holy, holy, holy, Jehovah of hosts.” Some would have us eschew all metaphysical conceptions of God, yet Isaiah must needs begin with one, and a very profound one too. If there is to be any conception of God at all, it must be metaphysical. That the standpoint we adopt should be an ethical one does not in the least lessen its metaphysical character. The problem of the Infinite is essentially a metaphysical one, and the question that remains is simply one of little or much. Shall our conception of God be little or great, clear or obscure, definite or indefinite, true or confused? These are the alternatives. We cannot move a step in the sphere of true religion without some conception of God, and the fuller and richer that conception is, the nobler and stronger will be our religious and ethical life. Isaiah, like every true prophet, begins, not with the service of man, but with the nature of God. The source of all inspiration for him lies in the profound conception that the heart of the Infinite and Eternal is holiness, and such a conception has vast unfoldings. The Old Testament “holy” is a very beautiful term. George Adam Smith appears to say that its primary meaning as applied to God is simply “sublimity.” If he will change that into “moral sublimity,” I agree with him. But if not, I must dissent. I do not believe that the word, whatever its origin, is ever applied to God in the Old Testament except with a moral signification. The “high” place and the “holy” place do not mean precisely the same thing. “Jehovah of hosts” is a mark of sublimity. But the thrice “holy” involves an ethical view of the nature of God. The source of all inspiration for him lies in the profound conception that the heart of the Infinite and Eternal is holiness, and such a conception has vast unfoldings. The Old Testament “holy” is a very beautiful term. George Adam Smith appears to say that its primary meaning as applied to God is simply “sublimity.” If he will change that into “moral sublimity,” I agree with him. But if not, I must dissent. I do not believe that the word, whatever its origin, is ever applied to God in the Old Testament except with a moral signification. The “high” place and the “holy” place do not mean precisely the same thing. “Jehovah of hosts” is a mark of sublimity. But the thrice “holy” involves an ethical view of the nature of God. But there is another implication in “holiness,” which the careful student of the Old Testament cannot fail to observe, namely, that of self-communication. That which seems at first an impassable barrier reveals itself as a yearning heart and stretched out hands. “Be ye holy, for I am holy,” is a golden chain of link within link. Such a conception of God leads to the inspired and inspiring response, “The whole earth is full of His glory.” Or, to put the song of the seraphim more accurately, “The fulness of the whole earth is His glory.” These words mean one of two things, and perhaps they mean both. They mean that everything that is of any value on the earth is a ray from God’s glory. All the fulness of the earth, everything of beauty and of joy, all the products of thought and organisation and energy and life, all the love of human hearts, and all the achievements of the human will, everything, in fine, that is lovely and of good report, belong to Him whose glory fills the heavens, are flaming sparks from the anvil of His brightness. Akin to this, though not identical, is the other signification. The words may mean that the earth can find its fulness only in and through the glory of God. This earth wants filling, for there is now in it many a gaping void; and nothing but the glory of God can fill it. We have now a larger term for the glory of the Lord than Isaiah had, and so can give his words a higher reading. For what is the highest reading of God’s glory? Here it is: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father.” Only in Him can the world receive its power, and The desert places of the earth blossom as the rose. In Him only all fulness dwells. (J. Thomas, M. A.)
The worship of the seraphim
Three times over in Holy Scripture is heaven so opened to us, and the blessed spirits shown to us adoring; in this sixth chapter of Isaiah, in the first of Ezekiel, and in the fourth of the Revelation. In each passage the vision of Godhead occurs as an introduction to the prophecy that follows. It forms the prophet’s warrant and commission for his work. It is his strength and preparation for entering on his ministry. The lesson is of universal application. It is when we have shut ourselves up with God; when we have cast down our sins before His throne; when we have called up the vision of His glory--from such a trance of devotion we go out into the world, indifferent to the opinions of mankind; raised above the temptations of the flesh; with grace and power to control the little tempers that arise, and to hold them in submission to our work.
1. Learn, first, to veil our eyes when we approach the glory of the Lord. We must put off curious thoughts at prayer; we are not come to inquire, but to adore, and must strive to be absorbed in the sense of the Presence. Nay, in our studies, too, of the mysteries of religion, the nature of sin, the necessity of atonement, the punishment of eternity, or the Trinity in unity--here often must we restrain our curiosity, limit our speculations. A rayor two of light is all our capacities can receive; the full naked orb of truth is often more than we can bear.
2. Our weakness will teach us to veil our eyes, and our sins to veil our bodies and our feet.
3. “With twain they did fly.” They exhibit to us the due union of meditative and active piety. Devotion in the temple without labour in the vineyard is not the worship of angels and is not to be the religion of men. While, on the other hand, to engage in the Church’s work without a habit of earnest prayer, is to sink one’s self into a toiling slave and run the danger of becoming a self-conceited religious busybody.
4. The seraphim are our pattern for common praise and prayer. They nave suggested the antiphonal chanting of the Church, voice against voice, alternately.
5. Observe, too, that holiness is the attribute upon which they dwell, not the goodness or the greatness, but the holiness of the Lord whom they adore. There are pseudo-philanthropists who prefer to dwell entirely upon the goodness of the Lord, and would run up all His nature into benevolence. There are natural philosophers, again, who are lost in contemplation of the stupendous forces of nature and the vastness of the universe, and from them alone they draw their conceptions of the greatness of the Godhead. The Architect of all things, the Almighty, the Supreme, these are the names they know Him by and talk mostly of worshipping their Maker. But it is not Great, great, great, nor Good, goes, good which is the angels’ song, but Holy, holy, holy. It is in the character of moral Governor and a Judge that we are to contemplate our God.
6. The earth is full of the glory of the Lord, but the temple shakes at the proclamation of His name. The living temples are penetrated with emotion and with awe before the glory of the Most High and the sense of His presence.
7. The prophet is himself moved and disturbed before the glory of God’s presence, and under the sense of his own unworthiness. Here is the test of a genuine revelation from above. It dazzles not with vanity; it humbles to the dust under the burden of unmeetness for so great a favour from the Lord. Isaiah mentions his own sin first, and then the sin of his people. Let us always accuse ourselves the first.
8. But the sin that is thus deeply felt is thoroughly cured. The light that discovers to us our impurities is a sacred fire as well to burn them out. (C. F.Secretan.)
Who are the Seraphim?
Canon Cheyne’s answer in the “Polychrome Bible” is almost as grotesque as it is uncanny,--“mythical beings, adopted instinctively by Isaiah from the folklore of Judah”! On no other ground, apparently, than a disputed etymology, he sees in them only mythical, treasure guarding, serpent-like spirits, erect, gigantic, connected in some inexplicable way with the snake worship of Egypt! Wiser, more consonant with the facts as related by the seer himself, and in stricter accord with the genius of the Hebrew religion and temple service, is the suggestion of the late Professor Maurice, that they represent, not slimy, treasure-loving, serpentine worldliness, but “those Divine energies and affections of which the zeal, devotion, and sympathy of man are counterparts.” This is the only place in the Bible whore they are mentioned. Their Hebrew name stands for burning radiancy, and in its adjective form may apply to “fiery” serpents, or “glowing” angelic appearances, or kinsmen “burning” dead bodies, or iconoclastic kings who destroy objects of idolatry by “fire.” Though the visual shapes of these heavenly powers were symbolical, they clearly are not merely symbols, but “living intelligent creatures, who perform acts of unceasing worship,” and were actual agencies in conveying the prophetic inspiration to the receptive soul of the prophet. (F. Sessions.)
The service of the seraphim, contemplative and active
That perfect prayer, which our Lord bequeathed to His disciples, sets forth to us angelic service as a model which we shall do well in our services to copy. Not that the services we are called upon to render are the same with those assigned to angels. No, the sphere in which they live 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.
I. THE TWO-FOLD 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 though engaged in ceaselessly adoring the Divine perfections, they lead not 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.
1. Consider, first, the devotional branch of the Christian’s life, that branch of it which is withdrawn from the eyes of the world, and opened only to the inspection of Him who seeth in secret. 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. 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, who sat at our Lord’s feet and heard His word, combined with that of Martha, who busied herself in outward ministrations to Him. If even the energies of angels (excelling as they do in power) would be certainly impaired unless they were ever and anon renewed by an adoring gaze on the Divine perfections, how certainly shall ours languish and die if we stir them not up by the diligent and persevering use of all those means of grace which God has put into our hands!
2. The Christian life, although as to its springs and sources hid with Christ in God, yet has an outward manifestation, discernible by the world. Care must be taken not only that the lamp shall be filled with a due supply of off, but also that there shall be a light shining before men. Here is a reproof of what may, without injustice, be termed the monastic principle--a principle which in former ages was deemed correct, and accordingly adopted into the practice of many. It is as if, in the case of animal life, a man should content himself with taking supplies of repose and nourishment, without exhibiting and improving the strength thus gained by the exercise of his limbs.
II. Having thus opened the subject generally, LET US SEEK TO ENTER MORE INTO ITS DETAILS, as the text brings them before us.
1. Let us learn from the seraphim a lesson as to the spirit which should pervade all true devotion.
(1) These bright and glorious beings are without sin, whether original or actual. Still, such is their sense of the infinite distance subsisting between themselves and Him, of whose hand they are the creatures, that they veil their faces and 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 a profound self-abasement.
(2) But, if there be ground for a sentiment of deep self-abasement even in the approach of unfallen creatures to the throne of God, with what intense feelings of humiliation should the members of Adam’s fallen family draw nigh. God hath not left man without the means of such a moral cleansing, as may make him meet to bear part in those hymns of praise which are offered by creatures who still retain their integrity. But this provision would be, to say the least, most inadequate, if it did not involve sanctifying as well as pardoning grace. And this it does involve.
2. Let us follow the Christian’s steps as he descends from the mount, on which he has held communion with God, once again to grapple with the difficulties and trials of time, and to bear the burden and heat of the day amidst the engagements of the vineyard. “Son, go work today in My vineyard.”
(1) Our own heart is a vineyard into which God hath sent every one of us, to dress it and to keep it,
(2) But surely there is an outward no less than an inward work which God has made binding upon all of us.
(a) His providence has called almost all of us to a definite sphere of duty, and assigned to us a certain position in life. Every such position involves its peculiar responsibilities, its peculiar snares, its peculiar occupations.
(b) But besides the fulfilment of the duties of our station, the Christian has many indirect opportunities offered to him--opportunities which as a Christian he cannot but arrest, and many of which we miss for lack of being on the watch for them--of promoting the cause of God in the world. (Dean Goulburn.)
The vision of God the essence of true worship
I take it that in the veiling of the head and the feet, the source of conception, the source of action, is represented the act of homage in which all true worship begins. I take it that in the outburst of song is represented the result of all the worship. All worship is meant to bring us nearer to God, and God near to us, so that if we worship truly, to us, as to them, there shall be a revelation of God’s nature and God’s truth The object of all worship is not to please God, not even to cave our own souls, though these may be incidents of worship; the object of worship is that, coming into His presence, we may be transformed into His image, as we learn of His ways and work. (Brooke Lambert, M. A.)
Commerce and science acknowledging God
The vision of Isaiah shall yet receive another fulfilment. Commerce and science shall yet bow their heads before the great Power from which they derive their true energy. And when they do, as with twain of their wings the seraphs flew, bowing the while before the Presence, there shall be an advance in knowledge and material prosperity such as the world has never known. Religion, which did stimulate the arts and the sciences to the creation of works which, with all our knowledge, we cannot rival religion, which did permeate action in days of which history tells us, and stirred men to mighty deeds, shall yet again become a mighty power. And when through the world there goes up the chant, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory,” there will be days such as the world has not yet known. (Brooke Lambert, M. A.)
The cry of the seraphim
I. The first thing that strikes us respecting the seraphim is THEIR REDUNDANCE OF WINGS. They each had six, only two of which were used for flying; the others, with which they shrouded their faces and their feet, were, apparently, quite superfluous. Why should they have had them when there was no fit employment for them? Was it not sheer waste to be possessing wings that were merely employed as covering, and never spread for flight? And yet, perhaps, without this shrouding of their faces and their feet they might not have answered so well high Heaven’s purposes, might not have swept abroad with such undivided intentness and such entire abandonment on their Divine errands. We meet sometimes with these seemingly wasted wings in men, in the form of capabilities, knowledges, or skills, for the exercise of which there is no scope or opportunity to their lot. To what end, we ask, have they been acquired? or what a pity, we say, that the men could not be placed in circumstances in which a field would be offered them! And yet, a knowledge or skill gained may not be really wasted, though it be left without due scope and opportunity. The best, the finest use of it does not lie always in what it accomplishes, but often in what has been secretly added to us, or wrought into us, through gaining it; in the contribution which the gaining it has been to our character or moral growth.
II. THE APPARENT CONTRADICTION HERE BETWEEN THE COVERED FACES OF THE SERAPHIM AND THEIR TEMPLE-SHAKING SHOUTS. Feeble, muffled sounds are the most we should have expected to proceed from them. Fancy the posts of the Lord’s house quivering, and the prophet’s heart stirred to its depths beneath the cries of those whose heads were bowed and hid behind their wings! Here, however, is an adumbration of much truth. Great, penetrating, inspiring utterances like the utterances of the seraphim of Isaiah’s vision--are they not always connected with some deep, still inwardness, with some profound withdrawal and retirement of soul? No one speaks with quickening energy, to the rousing of his fellows, who has not dwelt apart, who has not had his moments, his hours, of dumb absorption, with bent brows and folded hands, when thought and feeling have weighed upon him heavily, and held him bound. There is no life of noble activity and influence which does not rest on, and issue from, some inner, hidden life of careful self-discipline and quiet self-communion; which is not fed and sustained from behind with cherishings of faith and contemplation of ideas.
III. THE UNINTENTIONAL, UNPURPOSED EFFECT produced by the seraphim; the much commotion they created without in the least aiming at or meaning it. What were they doing, because of which the vestibule of the temple shook, and the prophet awoke to an overwhelming conviction of his unworthiness? Simply crying one to another, saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory.” They were conscious of no audience, were making no appeal, but were entirely absorbed in adoring together, in exchanging with each other their Divine thoughts and emotions. Yet see the deep agitations they caused, the deep stir in a human breast. It reminds me of the incidental effects of intense enthusiasm; how, in pursuing its object, in accomplishing triumphantly what it contemplates and desires, it will often overflow upon spectators, disturbing the idle with new dreams of work, rousing the lethargic, reanimating the faint and weary, moving some to attempt as they had not done, or to feel aspirations which they had not felt; how sometimes, one and another standing by, dull and inert, are caught by and swept on with it, and begin, themselves, to glow!
IV. And now, concerning THE ASPECT, THE SALIENT FEATURES OF THESE BURNING ONES who proclaimed the glory of the Lord, and were such moving powers. They were creatures with six wings: “with twain they covered their face, with twain they covered their feel and with twain they did fly”--in which composition of them we may see imaged three things which are always involved in real greatness of character, without which no real nobility is attained. “They covered their face”--it was the expression of humility, the humility of awe and worship, of those who were admiringly conscious of a splendour and majesty, a sublime strength and perfection, in the presence of which they felt their own littleness, their poorness and infirmity. And no lofty excellence is ever reached where there is nothing of this. They only grow fine and do finely who know what it is to kneel in spirit, to have visions before which their heads are bowed. “They covered their feet”--renouncing the use of these, though they had them, because it was theirs to fly. Meaning to be wholly “winged” ministers of the Lord, they wrapt up their feet. And, devotion to some chosen life purpose involves always some resolute self-limiting in relation to things lawful enough, but not expedient, and always impels to it. “With twain they did fly”--swift, so swift, to execute the errands of Jehovah; and faithful velocity, instantaneous and vivid movement in obedience to the voice of the Lord within you, action that drags not, nor halts, that is never reluctant or slow when duty is seen, when conviction speaks, but flashes forth at once in quick and bright response--this is the third of the three essentials to real greatness of character and nobility of life which Isaiah’s seraphim suggest. (S. A. Tipple.)
The six wings
I. THE WINGS THAT COVERED THE FEET. When we see the seraph spreading his wings over the feet, there comes a most useful lesson--the lesson of humility at imperfection. The brightest angels of God are so far beneath God that He charges them with folly.
II. THE WINGS THAT COVERED THE FACE. Another seraphic posture in the text. That means reverence Godward. How many take the name of God in vain, how many trivial things are said about the Almighty! Not willing to have God in the world, they roll up an idea of sentimentality and humanitarianism and impudence and imbecility and call it God. No wings of reverence over the face, no taking off of shoes on holy ground! Who is this God before whom the arrogant and intractable refuse reverence? Earthly power goes from hand to hand, from Henry I to Henry II and Henry III; from Louis I to Louis II and Louis III; but from everlasting to everlasting is God; God the first, God the last, God the only. Oh! what a God to dishonour! The brightest, the mightiest angel takes no familiarity with God. The wings of reverence are lifted. “With twain he covered his face.”
III. THE WINGS OF FLIGHT. The seraph must not always stand still. He must move, and it must be without clumsiness. There must be celerity and beauty, in the movement. A dying Christian not long ago cried out, “Wings, wings, wings!” The air is full of them, coming and going. You have seen how the dull, sluggish chrysalid becomes the bright butterfly, the dull and the stupid and the sluggish turned into the alert and the beautiful. Well, in this world we are in the chrysalid state. Death will unfurl the wings. See that eagle in the mountain nest. It looks so sick, so ragged-feathered, so worn out, and so half asleep. Is that eagle dying? No. The ornithologist will tell you it is the moulting season with that bird. Not dying, but moulting. You see that Christian, sick and worn out, on what is called his deathbed. The world says he is dying. I say it is the moulting season for his soul--the body dropping away, the celestial pinions coming on. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
The seraphim are not angels; they are rather the expressions of the forces of the universe waiting there beside the throne of God. They are titanic beings, in whom is embodied everything of strength and obedience which anywhere, in any of the worlds of God, is doing His will. Since man is the noblest type of obedient power, these majestic seraphim seem to be human in their shape; but, as if further to express their meaning, there are added to each of them three pairs of wings, whose use and disposition are with particularity described. If the highest attitude of any man’s life is stand waiting for what use God will choose to make of him, then we have a right to seek for something in the fullest life of consecrated manhood--of manhood standing by the throne of God--correspondent to each indication of temper and feeling which Isaiah shows us in the seraphim. How shall man stand, then, in a world where God sits in the centre on His throne? We gather so many of our impressions of humanity from poor stunted human creatures--poor wingless things who strut or grovel in their insignificance--that it will surely be good if we can turn for once and see the noblest image of consecrated power, and say to ourselves, “This is what man is meant to be. This it is in me to be if I can use all my powers and let God’s presence bring out in me all that it really means to be a man.” (Phillips Brooks, D. D.)
The wings of the seraphim
Each of the three pairs of wings has its own suggestion. Let us see how they represent the three qualities which are the conditions of a complete, effective human life.
I. With the first pair of wings, then, it is said that the living creature, standing before God, “COVERED HIS FACE.” There was a glory which it was not his to see. There was a splendour and exuberance of life, a richness of radiance coming from the very central source of all existence which, although to keep close to it and to bathe his being in its abundance was his necessity and joy, he could not search and examine and understand. There was the incomprehensibleness of God! We talk about God’s incomprehensibleness as if it were a sad necessity; as if, if we could understand God through and through, it would be happier and better for us. The intimation of Isaiah’s vision is something different from that. It is the glory of His seraphim that they stand in the presence of a God so great that they can never comprehend Him. No man does anything well who does not feel the unknown surrounding and pressing upon the known, and who is not therefore aware all the time that what he does has deeper sources and more distant issues than he can comprehend. I know, of course, how easily corruptible the faculty of reverence has always proved itself to be. The noblest and finest things are always most capable of corruption. I see the ghosts of all the superstitions rise before me. I see men standing with deliberately blinded eyes, hiding from their inspection things which they ought to examine, living in wilfully chosen delusions which they prefer to the truth. I see all this in history; I see a vast amount of this today; and yet all the more because of this, I am sure that we ought to assert the necessity of reverence and of the sense of mystery, and of the certainty of the unknown to every life. You can know nothing which you do not reverence! You can see nothing before which you do not veil your eyes! But now take one step farther. All of the mystery which surrounds life and pervades life is really one mystery. It is God. Called by His name, taken up into His being, it is filled with graciousness. It is no longer cold and hard; it is all warm and soft and palpitating. It is love. And of this personal mystery of love, of God, it is supremely true that only by reverence, only by the hiding of the eyes, can He be seen. Isaiah says of the seraphim not merely that their eyes were covered, but that they were covered with their wings. Now the wings represent the active powers. It is with them that movement is accomplished, and change achieved, and obedience rendered; so that it seems to me that what the whole image means is this--that it is with the powers of action and obedience that the powers of insight and knowledge are veiled. The being who rightly approaches God, approaches Him with the powers of obedience held forward; and only through them does the sight of God come to the intelligence which lies behind. The mystery and awfulness of God is a conviction reached through serving Him. Behold, what a lofty idea of reverence is here! It is no palsied idleness. The figure which we see is not flung down upon the ground, despairing and dismayed. It stands upon its feet; it is alert and watchful; it is waiting for commandments; it is eager for work; but all the time its work makes it more beautifully, completely, devoutly reverent of Him for whom the work is done.
II. Let us pass on to the second element in Isaiah’s image of a strong and consecrated life. With twain of his wings, he says, each of the seraphim “COVERED HIS FEET.” The covering of the feet represents the covering of the whole body. As the covering of the face means not seeing, the covering of the feet means not being seen. It signifies the hiding of one’s self, the self-effacement which belongs to every effective act and every victorious life. Here is a man entirely carried away by a great enthusiasm. His heart and hands are full of it. What is the result? Is it not true that he entirely forgets himself? Whether he is doing himself credit or discredit, whether men are praising him or blaming him, whether the completion of the work will leave him far up the hill of fame or down in the dark valley of obscurity, he literally never thinks of that,. He is obliterated. Consider your own lives. Have you not had great moments in which you have forgotten yourselves, and do you not recognise in those moments a clearness and simplicity and strength which separates them from all the other moments of your life? The man who forgets himself in his work has but one thing to think of, namely, his work. The man who cannot forget himself has two things to think of--his work and himself. There is the distraction and the waste. Efface yourselves; and the only way to do it is to stand in the presence of God, and be so possessed with Him that there shall be no space or time left for the poor intrusion of your own little personality. Here, as before, it may mean something to us that the feet are not merely covered, but covered with the wings. The meaning is that the thought of one’s self is to be hidden and lost behind the energy and faithfulness and joy of active work. I may determine that I will not be self-conscious, and my very determination is self-consciousness; but I become obedient to God, and try enthusiastically to do His will, and I forget myself entirely before I know it.
III. “WITH TWAIN HE DID FLY.” Here there comes the simpler, and, perhaps, the healthier thought of obedience purely and solely for itself--the absolute joy and privilege of the creature in doing the Creator’s will. There are two extremes of error. In the one, action is disparaged. The man says, “Not what I do but what I am is of significance. It is not action. It is character.” The result is that character itself fades away out of the inactive life. In the other extreme, action is made everything. The glory of mere work is sung in every sort of tune. Just to be busy seems the sufficient accomplishment of life. The result is that work loses its dignity, and the industrious man becomes a clattering machine. (Phillips Brooks, D. D.)
Reverence, an element of power
It is not only a pleasing sentiment, it is a necessary element of power--this reverence which veils its eyes before something which it may not know. What would you give for the physician who believed that he had mastered all the truth concerning our human bodies, and never stood in awe before the mystery of life, the mystery of death? What would you give for the statesman who had no reverence, who made the State a mere machine, and felt the presence in it of no deep principles too profound for him to understand What is more dreadful than irreverent art which paints all that it sees because it sees almost nothing, and yet does not dream that there is more to see; which suggests nothing because it suspects nothing profounder than the flimsy tale it tells, and would fain make us all believe that there is no sacredness in woman, nor nobleness in man, nor secret in nature, nor dignity in life. Irreverence everywhere is blindness and not sight. It is the stare which is bold because it believes in its heart that there is nothing which its insolent intelligence may not fathom, and so which finds only what it looks for, and makes the world as shallow as it ignorantly dreams the world to be. (Phillips Brooks, D. D.)
Reverence should be universal
To make the sentiment of reverence universal would be the truest way to keep it healthy and pure. It must not seem to be the strange prerogative of saints or cranks; it must not seem to be the sign of exceptional weakness or exceptional strength; it must be the element in which all lives go on, and which has its own ministry for each. The child must have it, feeling his little actions touch the infinite as his feet upon the beach delight in the waves out of the boundless sea that strike them. The mechanic must have it, feeling how his commonest tools are ministers of elemental forces, and raise currents in the air that run out instantly beyond his ken. The scientist needs it as he deals with the palpable and material which hangs in the impalpable and spiritual, and cannot be known without the knowledge of the mystery in which it floats. Every true scientist has it; Newton or Tyndal pauses a moment in his description of the intelligible, and some hymn of the unintelligible, some psalm of delight in the unknown, comes bursting from his scientific lips. (Phillips Brooks, D. D.)
A seraph’s wings
This is the only mention in Scripture of the seraphim. I would notice, before I deal with the specific words of my text, the significance of the name. It means “the flaming” or “burning ones,” and so the attendants of the Divine glory in the heavens, whether they be real or imaginary beings, are represented as flashing with splendour, as full of swift energy, like a flame of fire, as glowing with fervid love, as blazing with enthusiasm. That is the type of the highest creatural being that stands closest to God. Cold religion is a contradiction in terms, though, alas! it is a reality in professors.
I. THE WINGS OF REVERENCE. He covered his face, or they covered their faces, lest they should see. As a man brought suddenly into the sunlight, especially if out of a darkened chamber, by an instinctive action shades his eyes with his hand, so these burning creatures, confronted with the still more fervid and fiery light of the Divine nature, fold one pair of their great white pinions over their shining faces, even whilst they cry, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty!” And does not that teach us the incapacity of the highest creature, with the purest vision, to gaze undazzled into the shining light of God? I, for my part, do not believe that any conceivable extension of creatural faculties, or any conceivable hallowing of creatural natures, can make the creature able to gaze upon God. “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” But who is the “Him”? Jesus Christ. And, in my belief, Jesus Christ will, to all eternity be the medium of manifesting God. “No man hath seen God at any time,” nor can see Him. But my text does also suggest to us by contrast the possibility of far feebler sighted and more sinful creatures than these symbolical seraphs coming into a Presence in which God shall be manifest to them; and they will need no veil drawn by themselves across their eyes. God has veiled Himself, that “we, with unveiled faces, beholding His glory, may be changed into the same image.” So the seraph, with his white wings folded before his eyes, may at once stand to us as a parallel and a contrast to what the Christian may expect. We can see Jesus, with no incapacity except such as may be swept away by His grace and our will. There is no need for you to draw anything between your happy eyes and the Face in which we “behold the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father.” All the tempering that the Divine lustre needed has been done by Him who veils His glory with the veil of Christ’s flesh, and therein does away with the need for any veil that we can draw. But, beyond that, there is another consideration that I should like to suggest, as taught us by the use of this first pair of the six wings, and that is the absolute need for the lowliest reverence in our worship of God. It is strange, but true, I am afraid, that the Christian danger is to lose the sense of the majesty and splendour and separation of God from His creatures. What does that lofty chorus that burst from those immortal lips mean: “Holy, holy, holy!” but the declaration that God is high above and separate from all limitations and imperfections of creatures? We have need to take heed that we do not lose our reverence in our confidence, and that we do not part with godly fear in our filial love.
II. THE WINGS OF HUMILITY. “With twain he covered his feet.” The less comely and inferior parts of that fiery corporeity were veiled lest they should be seen by the Eyes that see all things. The wings made no screen that hid the seraph’s feet from the eye of God, but it was the instinctive lowly sense of unworthiness that folded them across the feet, even though they, too, burned as a furnace. The nearer we get to God the more we shall be aware of our limitations and unworthiness. And it is because that vision of the Lord sitting on “His throne, high and lifted up,” with the thrilling sense of His glory filling the holy temple of the universe, does not burn before us that we can conceit ourselves to have anything worth pluming ourselves upon. Once lift the curtain, once let my love be flooded with the sight of God, and away goes all my self-conceit, and all my fancied superiority above others. Get God into your lives, and you will see that the feet need to be washed, and you will cry, “Lord! not my feet only, but my hands and my head!”
III. THE WINGS FOR SERVICE. “With twain he did fly.” That is the emblem of joyous, buoyant, easy, unhindered motion. It is strongly, sadly contrary to the toilsome limitations of us heavy creatures who have no wings, but can at best run on His service, and often find it hard to walk with patience in the way that is set before us. But service with wings, or service with lame feet, it matters not. Whosoever, beholding God, has found need to hide his face from that Light, even whilst he comes into the Light, and to veil his feet from the all-seeing Eye, will also feel impulses to go forth in His service. For the perfection of worship is neither the consciousness of my own insufficiency, nor the humble recognition of His glory, nor the great voice of praise that thrilled from those immortal lips, but it is the doing of His will in daily life. Some people say the service of man is the service of God. Yes, when it is service of man, done for God’s sake, it is so, and only then. Now, we, as Christians, have a far higher motive for service than the seraphs had. We have been redeemed, and the spirit of the old Psalm should animate all our obedience: “O Lord, truly I am Thy servant.” Why? The next clause tells you. “Thou hast loosed my bonds.”
The seraphs could not say that. The seraphim were winged for service even while they stood above the throne and pealed forth their thunderous praise which shook the temple. May we not discern in that a hint of the blessed blending of two modes of worship which will be perfectly united in heaven, and which we should aim at harmonising even on earth? “His servants serve Him and see His face.” There is possible, even on earth, some foretaste of the perfection of that heavenly state in which no worship of service shall interfere with the worship of contemplation. The seraphs sang “Holy, holy, holy!” but they, and all the hosts of heaven, learn a new song from the experience of earth, and redeemed men are the chorus leaders of the perfected and eternal worship of the heavens. For we read that it is the four-and-twenty elders who begin the song and sing to the Lamb that redeemed them by His blood, and that the living creatures and all the hosts of the angels to that song can but say “Amen!” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The use of faculty
Is it not strange, that of those parts of an angel’s figure which seem as if they were made only for action, four out of six are used for an entirely different purpose? It is to teach us, that it is not every power which we have--and which we might think given us for public service, and for the outer life--which is really intended by God for that use. Never think that large faculties are fitted only for large enterprises, and that all your endowments are to be spent on that which is to meet the general eye. Remember that of six wings an angel uses only two to fly with. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Why is an angel so very humble?
1. An angel is very great, and therefore he grows humble.
2. An angel is always conversant with the great things of God.
3. An angel knows and is sure that he is loved. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts
The holiness of God
We consider holiness as essential to the very being of God.
Holiness is originally in God. If angels are holy, God made them so. If believers are holy, God made them so. But the holiness of God is not derived; it was eternally, originally and unchangeably in Him. Let us now produce some evidence of this truth.
1. The holiness of God appears from the positive, uniform, repeated testimony of the sacred writers.
2. We refer to the original state of all rational and immortal beings. When formed by God they were holy.
3. Consider the nature of the law, originally given to man in paradise, and, long after, renewed at Sinai. It is “holy and just and good.”
4. Let us take a view of the holiness of God as awfully displayed in His anger against sin and sinners.
5. But we must visit Calvary if we would behold at once the most awful and the most engaging display of the Divine holiness. It was because He was infinitely displeased with sin that the Lord was pleased to bruise His Son and put Him to grief.
6. The holiness of God appears in the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers, and in all the means appointed for that purpose.
1. Is God so holy? then how base and sinful is the hatred of holiness!
2. Is God so holy? then what cause is there for humiliation!
3. Is God holy? then let us also be holy. (G. Burder.)
The holiness of God
I. THE SUBLIME REPRESENTATION WHICH IS MADE OF THE HOLINESS OF JEHOVAH. Holiness is the glory of God’s nature, and that which entitles Him to the supreme love, confidence, and worship of all His creatures. We may view the holiness of God more particularly--
1. As that which He has Himself declared and made known in the sacred Scriptures.
2. As that which is displayed in the representations given us of the heavenly world.
3. As exhibited in the punishment of rebellious angels and lost spirits in hell.
4. As made known to the inhabitants of earth in the moral law and in the glorious Gospel.
II. THE EFFECTS WHICH THE CONTEMPLATION OF IT SHOULD PRODUCE ON US. It has been revealed for our benefit, and in proportion to its importance and glory should be its influence on our minds and characters. With what feelings of adoring reverence and humility was it beheld by the holy inhabitants of heaven! What was the effect which the vision of it had on the prophet Isaiah? “Then said I, Woe is me!” etc. A similar impression was made on the mind of Job. (Job 42:5-6) If such impressions were made on the minds of these eminent saints by the discovery of Jehovah’s holiness, what effects should it produce on us? It should lead--
1. To the deepest humiliation and contrition of soul.
2. To an immediate application to the blood of sprinkling.
3. Such a believing view of the character of God will produce love to holiness and earnest desire to possess it. The contemplation of the holiness of God should lead--
4. To earnest supplications for the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit.
5. To active efforts for the diffusion of His glory. (Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)
The holiness of God
God has been pleased to declare to mankind His views as to what constitutes a holy or an unholy action; consequently, when we say that God is holy, we mean that He is both by nature and character originally, essentially, and infinitely inclined to the approbation and performance of those actions which He has Himself thus pronounced to be holy; and, by converse, that He is originally, essentially, and infinitely removed from the approbation of any action or disposition which He has declared to be sinful. The holiness of God may be established--
I. BY APPEARING TO THE CONDUCT OF GOD AS IT MAY BE FREQUENTLY OBSERVED IN PROVIDENCE. It is of essential importance to remark that, although Divine providence affords many proofs of the holiness of God, yet there are many reasons why we may presume that the whole displeasure of God against sin is not thus exhibited. The present life, amid other purposes, serves that of a state of trial; it is impossible, therefore, that in it a complete exhibition of His holiness can be made. Notwithstanding these considerations, the providence of God affords the most abundant testimony to His holiness. The proof I allude to is this, that evil and misery invariably, in the common course of things, follow the practice of those actions, and of those actions only, which God has declared to be sinful.
II. BY APPEALING TO THE CONDUCT OF GOD AS IT IS RECORDED IN THE SCRIPTURES.
1. The event which first claims our regard, as being the first in the order of time, is the condemnation of the apostate angels.
2. The fate of our first parents.
3. The destruction of the world by an universal deluge.
4. The sufferings and death of Jesus Christ.
III. BY APPEALING TO THE EXPRESS TESTIMONY OF REVELATION. Everything too that has the slightest relation to Him is said to be holy, as partaking of this essential perfection of His nature: hence, His name is said to be holy. He is said to sit upon the throne of His holiness, to dwell in the most holy place. The hills on which His people meet to worship Him are said to be holy mountains. His promise, His covenant, His commandment, His law, His sabbath, His people, His prophets, His angels, His Son, His Spirit, are all respectively called holy in numerous passages. (J. F.Denham, M. A.)
God’s holiness and God’s glory
Two of the Divine attributes form the theme of the seraphs’ hymn.
I. GOD’S HOLINESS AS INHERENT IN HIMSELF. Holiness denotes, fundamentally, a state of freedom from all imperfection, specially from all moral imperfection; a state, moreover, realised with such intensity as to imply not only the absence of evil, but antagonism to it. It is more than goodness, more than purity, more than righteousness; it embraces all these in their ideal completeness, but it expresses besides the recoil from everything which is their opposite.
II. AS IT IS MANIFESTED IN THE MATERIAL WORLD. “The fulness of the whole earth is His glory.” By “glory” we mean the outward show or state attendant upon dignity or rank. The glory, then, of which Isaiah speaks, is the outward expression of the Divine nature. Pictured as visible splendour, it may impress the eye of flesh; but any other worthy manifestation of the being of God may be not less truly termed His glory. It is more than the particular attribute of power or wisdom; it is the entire fulness of the Godhead, visible to the eye of faith, if not to the eye of sense, in the concrete works of nature, arresting the spectator and claiming from him the tribute of praise and homage.
1. Wherein does the world so reflect the being of God as to be the expression of His glory? It is visible
(1) in the fact, as such, of creation;
(2) in the means by which an abode has been prepared for the reception of life and intelligence, and the majestic scale upon which the process has been conceived and carried out;
(3) in the rare and subtle mechanism which sustains the world in every part, and the intrinsic adequacy and beauty of the results.
2. Can we trace any evidence of the moral character of God, or is the earth full merely of the tokens of His power? It is difficult to think that we are mistaken in tracing it in the constitution of human nature, in the affections and aspirations which it displays, in the conditions upon which social life is observed to depend. He who has inspired human nature with true impulses of justice and generosity, of sympathy and love, with admiration for the heroic and noble, with scorn for the ignoble and the mean, cannot but be possessed of a kindred character Himself. Though the rays are broken and the image is obscured, the moral glory of the Creator shines in the world; it is reflected in the verdict of the individual conscience; it is latent in the ethical sanctions upon which the permanence and welfare of society depends. (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)
The doctrine of the Trinity
This is a great deep where faith must receive mysteries on the authority of God, and reason be satisfied with the fact that He has revealed it. The objection that it is contrary to reason is weak, for nothing can be contrary to reason except what lies within its boundary. This lies in a region far above it. We can only know so much of God as He reveals. He would not be God if His nature were not mysterious to us. We are mysteries to ourselves. God’s works are often mysteries to us. Can we expect to comprehend Himself!
I. THE DOCTRINE IS INTERWOVEN WITH THE WHOLE TEXTURE OF REVELATION. Indications of plurality in unity meet us in the first chapter of the Bible (Genesis 1:26-27), “Our image.” “His image.” This becomes more definite as we advance (Numbers 6:22-27). Threefold mention of Jehovah, yet “My name” (see Isaiah 61:1). These Old Testament indications are remarkable because given to a people prone to polytheism. They are inexplicable except on the ground that a mysterious trinity existed in the unity of the Godhead, This mystery was breaking out amidst the shadows of the darker dispensation. A seed of truth only needing fuller light to develop it. It came out most distinctly in the New Testament. Besides many passages which assert the Deity of Christ and of the Spirit take three cardinal passages (Matthew 3:16-17; Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14). At Christ’s entrance on His ministry this truth shines out not so much as dogma but as fact. The very porch of the church, facing the world, has “the name” (not names) of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost inscribed on it. Dedication to the Trinity in baptism is dedication to the one God. The apostolic benediction invokes a Divine blessing from each Person; indicates their equality and their unity.
II. THE SCRIPTURES PRESENT THIS MYSTERY IN A PRACTICAL ASPECT. It is interwoven throughout with the living realities of faith; presented to the heart for affectionate embrace, rather than to the head for intellectual apprehension. Explanations of the infinite would be lost on finite minds: so the Bible reveals the Persons of the Trinity, not in their incomprehensible relations to each other, but in their appreciable relation to us. We find the doctrine underlying every truth, every hope of the Gospel. Take as illustrations Romans 8:9; Romans 8:16-17; 2 Corinthians 3:3; Ga Ephesians 2:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; Titus 3:4-6; Hebrews 9:14; Revelation 22:1. Thus each person cooperates in our redemption: the Father planning, the Son performing, the Spirit applying the work of redeeming love. If angels bowed and adored, with what reverence and gratitude should we exclaim, “Glory be to the Father,” etc.
1. How much they reject, who reject the Gospel! A whole Trinity of grace, and love, and power!
2. How much they secure, who embrace the Gospel! What a Father, Saviour, Sanctifier!
3. Not a mere orthodox profession will bless us, but the sanctifying power of this creed in our hearts. Christ found and received by faith, through the Spirit, as the Son of God and our Redeemer, will unlock that mystery to the heart, which is beyond our poor reason to comprehend. (W. P.Walsh, D. D.)
The Holy Trinity
The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us to think of God not in singularity or individuality, but as a harmony of Persons or manifestations. This is best seen when we look at the Divine working in nature, and especially in that human life which is the crown of nature and which He has united with His own. The Jewish Church is often thought to have worshipped God only in His lonely, distant majesty. The word “Holy” by which He is so constantly described means “Separate”; and God was to them the Separate One, far removed in His purity from a sinful world. But there is another side to this teaching. Jehovah was separate or withdrawn from the world--not as a material world, but as a sinful world. Where sin is not, there He abides; and His people are a kingdom of saints--a holy nation. They go with Him, so to speak, into the place into which He is withdrawn, that He may abide among them. And, further, the psalmists and prophets never lost sight of the universal hope; they looked forward to the Gospel times, when the Lord of Israel should sustain the same relation to the whole world which He sustained to His chosen people in their time. Thus it is that Isaiah in our text represents the seraphim as saying of the Holy or Separate God that the whole earth is full of His glory. What is the glory of God? It is the glory of Love. We are not to think of God as One resting in the self-complacency of a solitary majesty, but as Love, which goes forth continually to its object. When we read the highest expression of the conscious union of our Lord with His Father, this doctrine of love again and again appears. “The glory which Thou gavest Me I have given them; that they may be one, even as We are one: I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one.” And surely it is a worthy conception of the Divine nature which the doctrine of the Trinity presents to us, when it makes us think of the Godhead not as chiefly glorious because of certain abstract qualities which a lonely individual nature might possess within itself, but rather as a fellowship which was self-involved and self-embraced in mystic, eternal love. This Divine love, I repeat, as being the very nature of God, was felt by the prophets of Israel to be dwelling in them, immanent in their nation. “The Lord his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them.” Observe what this teaching or this consciousness implies. It is that the Divine nature of love is the soul of man’s social life, that this is the binding power which draws men together. By unity God realises Himself among men, or draws them into Himself, that He may live out His life of love in their relationships. In this sense it is that the whole earth is full of the glory of the Holy One. When, then, we treat of the Christian doctrine of the Church, or social union of men in God, we are guided by the experience of the older dispensation, which in this, as in all things, finds its completion in our Lord. If God was to the Jews Immanuel, God with us, in Jesus Christ He has come yet closer to us. The loving embrace of the heavenly Bridegroom has taken the human nature into God. The twain are one. He abides in us and we in Him. (W. H.Fremantle, M. A.)
The whole earth is full of His glory
God most fully displays His glory on earth
It is certain from the language of these holy beings that they delightfully contemplate the glory of God; and especially in this world, where it is most clearly displayed.
I. THE ANGELS OF HEAVEN HAVE ALWAYS BORN WELL ACQUAINTED WITH THIS WORLD. Though these exalted spirits have always been invisible to mankind except on particular occasions, yet we have abundant evidence from Scripture that they have always been acquainted with the objects and events of this world. When God laid the foundation of the earth, they sang together and shouted for joy. And from that day to this, they have been more or less concerned in executing the purposes of God respecting” mankind. They are “ministering” spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation. It is natural to conjecture that many of them continually reside here, while others are alternately employed on great and extraordinary occasions. (Psalms 68:17; Luke 2:8-14; Matthew 26:53; Luk 13:43; Matthew 28:2; Acts 5:19.)
II. THEY HAVE DISCOVERED MORE OF THE GLORY OF GOD IN THIS WORLD THAN IN ANY OTHER PART OF THE UNIVERSE. It may be presumed that they have explored the whole circle of creation, which, though widely extended, is certainly limited, and capable of being surveyed by finite beings. They have been friendly to God, and taken pleasure in contemplating the displays of His glory. They have always possessed great intellectual powers and capacities, which have enabled them to receive, retain and digest the most extensive and sublime ideas of their Maker and His works. And being spirits, unencumbered by such gross bodies as we have, they have always been capable of passing from world to world, and from one part of the universe to another, with inconceivable ease and rapidity. They say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;” i.e., the Lord of the whole vast number of created beings, in every part of His extensive dominions. They add, “The whole earth is full of His glory”; by which they intimate that, after surveying heaven and hell and the whole empire of God, they discover greater displays of His glory in this world than in any other.
1. God has established such a connection between one creature and another in this world as He has not, as we know, anywhere else established. Angels were all created at once, and stood independently of each other. And while some maintained their integrity and attachment to God, others renounced their allegiance and rose in rebellion against their supreme Sovereign. But when God made man, He constituted an intimate and important connection between him and all that should proceed from him, to the end of time.
2. The method which God has devised and adopted to save the guilty and perishing children of men from destruction has given a display of His glory which He has not given in any other part of the universe.
3. In this world God has been constantly increasing the number of His moral subjects. There has been no increase of either good or bad angels; but there has been an immense increase of mankind for nearly six thousand years. If the glory of a prince consists in the multitude of His subjects, then the glory of God must be displayed by the vast numbers of rational and immortal beings which He brings into existence in this part of His dominions.
4. God subjects mankind to greater, more numerous and more surprising changes than He does any other of His intelligent creatures. The angels of light have never been subjected to any great or peculiar changes since their creation; and evil angels have experienced but one great and dreadful change. But all mankind, from their birth to their death, are perpetually subject to great, sudden and unexpected changes. Their bodies, their minds, and all their external circumstances are perpetually changing. Still greater changes and revolutions are frequently passing over whole nations and kingdoms. And as all these are ordered and Drought about by God, so He here gives peculiar displays of His glory, which are not to be seen in any other part of the universe.
5. The angels of God behold Him here forming the moral characters of men for eternity. Though the angels of God have seen their fellow angels changed from holiness to sin in heaven, yet they have never seen any of their fellow creatures changed from sin to holiness anywhere but in this world; which is a distinction among equally guilty creatures that eminently displays the awful and glorious sovereignty of God.
6. The angels of God see Him, in this world, continually calling off mankind from the stage of life and from the state of probation into their eternal states.
1. If angels discover more of the glory of God in this world than in any other part of the universe, then we may justly suppose that this world is, on the whole, better than it would have been if neither natural nor moral evil had ever entered into it.
2. If angels discover the brightest displays of the glory of God in this world, then it is certain that He treats all mankind perfectly right, in all His conduct towards them in the dispensations of providence and grace.
3. If angels view this world as the most important and interesting part of the creation, then secure sinners are extremely stupid. They see the same world, the same objects, the same persons, and the same changes, which angels admire; but they take no notice of the glory of God manifested by them, though they are far more deeply concerned in the objects with which they are surrounded, and the scenes through which they are passing.
4. If the angels of heaven discover the brightest displays of the glory of God in this world, then all real Christians have great advantages, while they are passing through the changing scenes of life, to make constant and swift advances in Divine knowledge.
5. If angels see and admire the glory of God in His conduct towards mankind in this world, then there can be no doubt but they will see and admire the glory of God in His conduct towards them, in their eternal state.
6. If God gives brighter displays of His glory here than anywhere else, then all men, in this life, are in the most important stage of their existence. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
And the posts of the door moved
The shaken temple
It is stated that, at a musical festival which was held in Westminster Abbey on one occasion, the strains were so powerful in a certain part of the performance, that the whole building was shaken.
So it was on this occasion. The sacred edifice trembled at the presence of God, and at the voice of those who were engaged in His praise.
Then said I, Woe is me!--
The moral history of a rising soul; or, the way up from depravity to holiness
Whilst holiness is the normal, depravity is the actual state of man.
A restoration to his spiritual condition is his profoundest necessity. What is the path of the soul up from the depths of depravity to those sunny heights of holiness where unfallen spirits live an exultant life?
I. A VISION OF THE GREAT RULER AS THE HOLIEST OF BEINGS. Three facts show this.
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 moral powers are in a chrysalis state.
2. The means which the great 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.
II. A PROFOUND CONSCIOUSNESS OF OUR FALLEN STATE. “Then said I, Woe is me!” etc. The prophet’s consciousness included four things.
1. A deep sense of his personality. “I am undone.” He feels himself singled out from the millions.
2. A sense of personal ruin.
3. A sense of personal sin.
4. A sense of personal sin heightened by a remembrance of his neighbours’ sins. 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,” etc. Three thoughts are suggested by this.
1. There are Divine means for the removal of sin.
2. The means are something in connection with sacrifice.
3. The means are employed by a Divinely appointed ministry. Let that seraphim 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. He has to take burning thoughts, and burning thoughts must come from the Cross.
IV. AN EVER-OPEN AND SENSITIVE EAR TO THE VOICE OF GOD. “I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Three thoughts will develop the general and practical meaning of these words.
1. The great God has deep thoughts about our race.
2. Just as the soul is cleared of sin does it become conscious of these thoughts. It will hear the voice of God in every sound, and see His glory in every form.
3. This consciousness of the Divine thoughts about the race is a necessary stage in the moral progress of the soul.
V. A HEARTY READINESS TO DO WHAT THE SUPREME WILL DEMANDS. “Here am I; send me.” To reach this point is to be in sympathy with the great and good every where; this is heaven. Conclusion--Art thou in the first stage, O my soul? Stay not there; a mere vision of the holy God will only fire thee with remorse; struggle on. Art thou in the second? Stay not there; hell is somewhere in that direction; struggle on. Art thou in the third? Stay not there; freedom from sin is but negative excellence; struggle on. Art thou in the fourth? Happy spirit! thou hast scaled the mountains of difficulty and darkness. Thy jubilee has commenced. Thou art in conscious companion ship and concert with the Infinite. Still stay not there; struggle on. Ascend to the last; and from that supernal altitude, with the vast and beaming universe around thee, look ever, in waiting attitude, to thy Maker, and say, “Here am I; send me.” (Homilist.)
The vision of the King
Every man’s course is shaped by the view that he forms of the Supreme Ruler. If a man has no such view, he has no principle, and he is living either in anarchy or in slavery to some other mind. There are hours in every earnest life, and especially in every powerful leading life, when new truths or new views of old truths breaking in upon the eye of the soul change all the aspects of being, and give an impulse that never loses its force. Such an hour of insight as came to Jacob at Bethel and afterwards at Penuel now came to Isaiah in the temple.
I. THE VIEW OF THE SUPREME RULES. Isaiah now passed through a great spiritual excitement, such as marks the hours of conversion, the chief turning point in the careers of great souls. The leading idea is described in these words, “Mine eyes have seen the King.” A new regal power had arisen within his life. Now, in his first natural, unenlightened, unregenerate state, a man sees no supreme authority that has a right to rule his inner and outer being. But when the light of God dawns upon his soul, then man becomes conscious of a personal will that claims to rule his life, and of a personal mind that knows his downsitting and his uprising, and understands his thoughts afar off. In this vision of the Triune Godhead Isaiah saw the Divine life now more fully and more clearly than he had ever seen it before. In words he paints for us the impressions made by it upon his soul. Hitherto God had been to him a dim floating idea, far away in the clouds, like a distant monarch exercising no constant sway over existence; but now he recognises that the Divine life is everywhere; that all things are united to God; that all the duties, all the energies and the scenes of existence are, as it were, parts of the royal train, wide as the world, filling the vast floor of the temple of being. This change in the spiritual ideas of Isaiah seems to have been very similar to the change that was wrought in the disciples by the power of the resurrection, the sight of the ascension, and the inspiration of Pentecost. They had before acknowledged Jesus as their Master, but their ideas of His Divine authority were dim and uncertain. But when He rose from the grave and ascended to realms out of sight, when He sent down the light and heat of His Spirit into their hearts and minds, then they recognised Him with the sight of the soul as the King; they then realised that all power was given to Him in heaven and in earth, that the height and the depth, that life and death, that sickness and health, that the cross of suffering and the crown of sovereignty, that the earthly course and the silent grave, the temporal home and the great hereafter, were all subject to the sovereignty of His Divine human sceptre. Similar to that is the change wrought in every human soul when religion comes instead of a misty, cloudy, speculative theory, as a living power to rule our daily being. This revelation of Jesus as the King is going on forever through the ages.
II. THE EFFECTS OF THIS VISION UPON THE SOUL.
1. It produces an abasing sense of personal sin. Why did the vision of the King create this sense of guilt and misery? In the King is the law of our life; it is only when we see the King’s life that we know what our own life ought to be. So it is forever. Where there is no vision of excellence there can be no pangs of self-reproach. The village artist, who has never seen any works better than his own, is self-satisfied in his ignorance; but the man who has seen the master works of sovereign genius, recognises in the light his own nothingness in the presence of an ideal unapproached, high-throned, and lifted up: he cries, abased, “Woe is me! I am nothing, I have everything to learn.” So is it in the moral world. When the vision of a pure life breaks in upon the eyes of the impure it creates bitter self-reproach, and at first rebellious impatience.
2. It quickens the sense of social sin. We cannot separate our personal life from our social life; therefore, in the moment when we begin to desire a nobler personal life we desire also to create around us a nobler social state. So Isaiah, when he saw the King, looked with agony upon the depravity of the society of which he was a member, and cried, “Woe is me! for I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” And what were the sins that defiled the lips of Israel in those days? We have a description of them in the five preceding chapters. The fountain of all uncleanness, ever the same, is the self-will of our lower nature, that rebels against the King whose higher law is that love which constrains man to sacrifice his baser instincts for the Divine glory and the social good. Sin is not peculiar to any age. Our nation has its great social evil. There are, amongst us sometimes, men who defile their lips with commercial fraud, but still the motto of the British merchant is “Integrity,” and “Thoroughness” is the boast of the British workman. But there is one fountain of uncleanness that pours forth a poisonous stream to defile the lips of the nation. The curse of strong drink is an overflowing well of shame, of sin, of vice, of woe. We feel pain at social evil in exact proportion to the clearness with which we have seen the King--in other words, to the strength of our religious convictions, and thesincerity of our religious emotions. If we take low views of human destiny we do not feel much pain when existence around us is without high ends here, or high hopes of hereafter; then we can bear to look with calmness on the masses of human misery. But if we have seen the King; if, in the light of His face, we have learnt what life is to be, and what by His royal grace He will make it to be, then we never can look at these social evils without feeling our own share of responsibility, without feeling a bitter, salutary self-reproach and crying out, “Woe is me! for I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”
3. It brings to bear upon the life a purifying power. The altar is a place of sacrifice; sacrifice is an expression of love, and love is a leading feature in the countenance of the King, and therefore the power that redeems us into the likeness of the King is the Spirit that brings to bear upon us the burning influence of love from the altar. The altar is the Cross of Calvary, on which the Son of Man gave Himself for the good of many. Love is the source of all personal and of all social good.
4. It gives to the life an ardent mission. (H. T. Edwards, M. A.)
The vision of Isaiah
There was a veil before the Holy of holies, so that the prophet, who is evidently supposed to have stood in the outer sanctuary, could not ordinarily have seen the throne of the Lord; but the veil is here supposed to be taken away--a circumstance in itself emblematical; for the vision related to the future kingdom of Christ, when the veil of separation was to be removed, and all distinctions destroyed between the Gentile and the Jew.
I. THE CONDUCT OF ISAIAH.
1. Observe how affecting a testimony is given to the corruption and alienation of our nature by the fact that a manifestation of the Divine glory could produce in him nothing but dread and confusion.
2. The reason which Isaiah gives for being sorely confounded at beholding the glories of Christ. By specifying his “lips” and the “lips” of the people, as unclean, and thus calling to remembrance sins of the tongue rather than any other offences, the prophet appears to have in mind the office to which he had been appointed, and the difficulties which attended its faithful discharge.
II. THE EMBLEMATICAL ACTION of which the prophet was the subject, and THE COMFORTING WORDS by which he was addressed. It was in consistency with the general course of the Divine dealings that the prophet’s confession should be followed by an assurance of the Almighty’s forgiveness. And it was, further, a sort of anticipation of the privileges belonging to believers in Christ, that one of the seraphim should be employed in conveying to Isaiah an assurance of pardon. There was no virtue naturally in the coal--the whole virtue must have been derived from some fire or some burnt offering to which the coal bore a typical relation. And no one living in Christian times and blessed with Christian privileges can doubt for a moment what this typical relation was. And if this were a vision of Christ in His glory, rather than of Christ in His humiliation--a vision more fitted to instruct Isaiah as to the exaltation of the Mediator, than to show him that He might be a propitiation for sins--yet observe, that the scenery of the vision was laid in the temple, all whose furniture and whose every rite was emblematic of the suretyship and offering of Christ. The fire was still burning on the altar, though the Lord was on His throne, clad in that glory which was to be gained by the extinguishing the sacrificial flames--extinguishing them by the one oblation of Himself; and therefore might it justly be said, that the temple, thus lit up and thus crowded with brilliant forms, presented to the prophet a complete parable of redemption. From the altar of burnt offering whose fire went not out, though celestial shinings flooded the sanctuary, might he learn, that the Divinity of the Person of the Mediator would not rescue humanity from the flames of God’s wrath against sin; from the throne, with all the attendant gorgeousness, might he be instructed, that when the work of suffering was complete, there should be given to the Saviour “a name above every name,” and that He should sit in heavenly places, the “Head over all things to the Church.” But then it is as “a live coal” that Christ acts. He was to baptize “with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” (H. Melvill, B. D.)
There were two purposes which might be served by this magnificent vision: it could hardly fail to be profitable both to the prophet to whom it was originally given, and to the people to whom he would assuredly reveal it.
I. We have, perhaps, the most affecting possible illustration of HUMAN DEPRAVITY.
II. THE SENSE OF DEFICIENCY IN THE PERFORMANCE OF DUTY.
III. THE COMFORTING ASSURANCE OF PARDON.
IV. THIS WORK WAS ACCOMPLISHED BY PERSONAL AGENCY. One of the burning ones came and took the live coal with the tongs from off the altar and touched with it the lips of the delinquent prophet. And a fair inference from this will land us in the grand New Testament doctrine and privilege of the direct witness of God’s Holy Spirit to the adoption of the believer not the family Divine. (W. M. Punshon, LL. D.)
Sin and its cure
“Then said I, Woe is me!” etc. It is always thus when God draws near to man. When Moses saw that bush in the desert, which burned and was not consumed, he took the shoes from off his feet and hid his face, for it is written, “He was afraid to look upon God.” At Sinai the people trembled and said, “Let not God speak with us lest we die.” And when that glorious vision of the living Christ appeared to the apostle in Patmos, he says, “I fell at His feet as dead.” Revelations of the unseen, of the eternal, of the unnameable Jehovah have filled men always with alarm and with fear. And when the saints of God--men of pure and irreproachable lives--have been going home to heaven, it has been said of many of them, “They died under a cloud.” The sense of eternity drawing near has filled even them with apprehension. Is it that the unseen, the mysterious, must always be to creatures such as we are, the source of terror? as it was with those disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration, of whom revelation records, “They feared as they entered into the cloud.” It is nothing that you say our fears are vain and foolish under the circumstances, that blessings in disguise coming in this way have filled men with terror, that Jesus Christ Himself drawing near to His tempest-tossed disciples upon the Sea of Galilee, and drawing near to bless them, approached after this fashion and alarmed them in this way--the fear is there, and the trouble is that this bondage of fear is upon some men all their lives, and that we do not leave it behind even in the most exalted moments that come to the saints of God. Men may have their theories which explain, or which contradict, the fact--it is true nevertheless. Isaiah’s experience sums up that which is noblest and best in human life.
I. First of all, it was THE SENSE OF SIN, which moved Isaiah in that hour and in this way; sin in himself, sin in others, sin in the world around, sin which the sense of the nearness of God’s presence made all the more vivid and real to him, just as the light reveals the darkness and the things of darkness to men who are immersed in it, men who otherwise may not have had and would not have had a thought concerning it. Live away from God, and sin is nothing, lies light as a gossamer upon the conscience; draw near to God, and sin begins to be a trouble, a perplexity, a burden to man.
II. In the Divine way of dealing with men there is A PROVISION MADE FOR REMOVING THIS FEAR AND PURGING THIS INIQUITY. It is not so much the method which is illustrated here as the fact itself. Sense of sin and unworthiness there must be to that man who comes near to God. But it need not be an abiding sense as of terror. There comes a day, or there ought to come a day, when God says, “Thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.” The sense of the remission of sin is as real as the sense of sin itself. (W. Baxendale.)
The Holy One the Purifier
I. WHAT IS THERE IN THE VISION OF GOD THAT NEED A MAN, AND ESPECIALLY A RELIGIOUS MAN, WITH SUCH OVERWHELMING TERROR.
1. No doubt certain very impressive contrasts are suggested between God and man when the Divine Majesty comes into close contact with His frail and feeble creature; but these are not, at any rate, all of them, of such a kind as to cause alarm.
(1) There is the contrast between God’s greatness and man’s littleness and insignificance. This is, indeed, humiliating, and should lead us to abandon all foolish feelings of self-importance and self-sufficiency; but it need not induce overwhelming terror and alarm. So far from this, is there not something in our nature that seems to delight in the contemplation of greatness? Do we not go in search of greatness?
(2) Or, again, there is the contrast between man’s weakness and God’s omnipotence. Yet here, again, we can but notice that in the mere revelation and exhibition of power, as of greatness, there is nothing necessarily alarming. All that we need to know is, that the power is friendly, or, at least, not actually unfriendly.
(3) Or, just once more, there is something very humiliating in the contrast between God’s eternal and ineffable wisdom and man’s ignorance and blindness. Yet there is nothing alarming in superior wisdom; nay, there is something necessarily attractive in it.
2. What was the thought, then, that broke the prophet down, and what the contrast between God and himself that impressed him so powerfully and so painfully? For an answer we have but to listen to that song of the adoring seraphim that was sounding in his ear at the moment he was seized with this uncontrollable agony of terror. When he heard them cry, “Holy, holy, holy!” there rushed into his mind the thought of his own unfitness to stand before One to whom the intelligences of glory bore such witness. And it is to this that God brings us when we yield to the convicting influence of the Holy Spirit. There comes in most men’s lives who yield to God--it is not equally marked in all--a moment of utter breakdown; a moment when all our self-respect seems to be humbled, and our self-confidence to melt away; a moment when the sense of sin seems indeed an intolerable load, that crushes the staggering conscience beneath its weight, and suggests the gloomiest anticipations of judgment, the forecast of despair. Some are led to God through Christ in very early days, and retain no recollection of any such experience, even if it ever occurred with them; though my personal observation leads me to conclude that it often does occur, even with very young children. Such an experience would doubtless occur in many more cases, were it not for our successful efforts at evasion. We endeavour to get away from reality, and take refuge in what is superficial and conventional; we flatter ourselves into the deep stupor of self-complacency by the cry, “Peace, peace!” when there is no peace. “He speaks to us just as if we were a pack of sinners,” said the indignant churchwarden of a church in which I once conducted a mission, and yet that man had probably joined in repeating the Litany that very morning!
II. But let us look again at this trembling man as he lies there in his terror and anguish. WHAT IS TO BECOME OF ONE WHO IS, BY HIS OWN CONFESSION, GUILTY AND CONDEMNED IN THE PRESENCE OF HIS JUDGE?
1. At the very moment when the man felt himself undone, at the moment when the contrast between God’s dazzling purity and awful holiness and his own uncleanness and sin had taken possession of his moral consciousness, and he could think and speak of nothing else, then flew one of the seraphim, speeding on a congenial errand, to bring the provisions of Divine mercy to bear upon this trembling soul. “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.” No doubt the phrase represents a feature of God’s providence that is, at any rate, frequently illustrated in the incidents of our natural life. But I think we may say the words represent a law of the spiritual world, a great principle from which God seldom, if ever, departs in His dealings with human souls. How often, when men think they are waiting for God, and wondering why He does not intervene on their behalf, is He waiting for them to reach the end of their own resources, in order that He may find His opportunity!
2. Let us notice, too, how Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are alike concerned in the provision of this Divine consolation. It is at the behest of the eternal Father, responsive to the voice of His child’s bewildered terror, that the great seraph speeds on his mission. God so loved the world that He sent His Son, and God so loves still, that He is ever sending--sending fresh influences of grace, fresh messages of mercy, fresh flashes of spiritual light. But further, notice how the mission of mercy is performed through the Divinely-appointed means. There stands the sacrificial altar where the expiatory sacrifices had that day been offered. Cleansing must reach the guilty in God’s own appointed way. And as we have the love of the Father, and the sacrifice of the Son, presented to us here as the conditions on God’s side of the cleansing of the sinner, so have we also a symbolic presentation of the work of the Holy Ghost. The spirit of burning, the “refiner’s fire,” that alone can cleanse the heart, and consume the dross and filthiness of our sin, breathing health and infusing purity, approaches us through the sacrificial work of Christ. And thus the night of sorrow and of self-despair melts into the blessed dawn of pardon.
3. As we contemplate this marvellous transformation scene, it is as well to dwell upon the fact that these effects were produced, not only by forgiveness, but by the knowledge of forgiveness.
4. And, most of all, was it not the expression of forgiveness to the heart of the awakened sinner that drew him towards the heart of his God, and led him in grateful love to present himself to God for service? (W. HayAitken, M. A.)
The three “thens” of Isaiah’s temple vision
The prophet commenced his narrative by a note of time, and he makes his time bell ring again and again--striking “then, then, then.”
I. The first “THEN” occurs thus--The prophet was led to feel his own uncleanness, and the uncleanness of those among whom he dwelt. When was that? For it is important for us to feel the same conviction, and we may do so by the same means. Was it when he had been looking into his own heart, and seeing its dire deceitfulness, and the black streams of actual transgression which welled up from that inward fountain of depravity? He might certainly have said “Woe is me!” if he had been looking there; but he was not doing so on this occasion. Had he been considering the law of God, had he observed how exceeding broad it is, how it touches the thoughts and intents of the heart, and condemns us because we do not meet its demands of perfect obedience? Assuredly if he had been looking into that pure and holy law he might have well bewailed his guilt, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. Or, had he been turning over the pages of memory, and noting his own shortcomings and the sins of his fellows? Had he noted his own failures in prayer, or in service, or in patience? Had he watched himself in private and in public, and did the record of the past bring a consciousness of sin upon him? If so, he might well enough have lamented before the Lord and cried, “Woe is me! for I am undone.” I might even say, had he been carrying out self-examination for a single day of his life, and had that day been the Sabbath, and had he been acting as the preacher, or had he been sitting under the most stirring ministry, and had he been at the holy feasts of the Lord, he might have found reason for confession. But none of these things are mentioned here as the occasion for this humbling cry. It was “then”--when he had seen the Lord. If you have never seen God, you have not seen yourselves; you will never know how black you are till you have seen how bright He is; and inasmuch as you will never know all His brightness, so you will never know all your own blackness. Learn, however, this lesson, that to turn your face away from God in order to repent is a great mistake; it is a sight of God in Christ Jesus which will breed humiliation and lowly confession of sin. Now, did I hear you say, “I am a man that lives very near to God,” etc.? No man who has come fresh from God ever speaks in tones of self-congratulation. What said Job? (See Job 42:5-6.) This was the experience of a perfect and an upright man.
II. You see the man trembling; in himself unclean and conscious of it, and surrounded by a people as unclean as himself, and it is while he stands in that condition that we meet with our second “THEN.” “Then flew one of the seraphim,” etc.
III. Let me now speak of the third “THEN.” “Then said I, Here am I; send me.” Knowing that we are now clean in the sight of God, through that altar which sanctifies all that it touches, we shall have all our fears removed, and then with grateful love burst out into the cry of full surrender and complete consecration. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The essentials of true worship
These verses teach us the essentials of true worship and of acceptable approach to God. And they seem to indicate these essentials as threefold, involving--
I. A SENSE OF PERSONAL WRETCHEDNESS. To worship truly, there must be a sense of our own nothingness and need. The sense of wretchedness is first induced by the contemplation of the holiness and majesty of God. It is relieved by the condescension and mercy of the King. “Mercy and truth meet together; righteousness and peace embrace each other”; and in that embrace the man who is undone is folded, and invited to bring forth his offering.
II. A SENSE OF PARDON. “Our God is a consuming fire,” and our first contemplation of Him thus is one which appalls and overcomes us. But a little further prostration before the Holy One shows that the fire is a purging fire, not to consume the man, but only to erase the confessed uncleanness from his lips. With the anointing of the holy fire on the lip there comes the new life into the heart, and now the mortal may mingle his praises with the seraphim themselves.
III. But worship is not complete without SERVICE. To the ascription of the heart and lip there must be added the alacrity and obedience of the life. There was service for the seraphim: to fly with the live coal. And there is service for the seer: to fly with the living message. “Here am I; send me.”
Here is the alacrity of obedience. There is no curious inquiry about the nature of the service. The man becomes as winged as the seraph. (A. Mursell.)
I. In the text we have PERSONAL UNCLEANNESS ACKNOWLEDGED.
II. Observe, GOD’S METHOD OF DISCOVERING THIS CONDITION TO HIS PEOPLE.
1. A vision of Himself.
2. The prophet discovered his corruption by a particular manifestation. “Unclean lips.” Lips are indicative of character; they reveal the state of the heart.
III. THE PROPHET WAS FILLED WITH KEEN DISTRESS when he discovered that there was corruption within him.
IV. The text reveals GOD’S WILLINGNESS AND ABILITY TO SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM ALL SIN.
V. The text points out THE DEFINITE NATURE OF THIS FULL SALVATION.
1. As to date. “The year that King Uzziah died.”
2. As to place. The sanctuary. It has been said that of all places in the world there are two which a man never forgets--the place where he was converted, and the place where he got his wife. A sea captain says, “I was crossing the Channel one day, in command of a passenger steamer, when a person rushed up to me, and said, ‘Captain, why, that is Jersey! Jersey,’ I said, ‘I know that, right well, for I have seen it hundreds of times’; but the speaker was not to be shaken off with my reply, and, with greater emphasis, repeated, ‘But, sir,--Captain, that is Jersey!’ I replied, ‘Well, my good woman, what of that?’ ‘Why,’ said she, ‘I was born to God there!’”
3. As to results. Readiness and fitness for service. (H. Woodcock.)
The views of the glory of Christ which produce humiliation and penitence
I. REPRESENT THE GLORY WHICH EVERY TRUE SAINT BEHOLDS IN JESUS CHRIST.
1. The saints behold the Son of God undertaking, and in the fulness of time accomplishing, the work of our redemption.
2. They contemplate the exalted Redeemer, calling and entreating sinners to accept of the benefits of His purchase as the free gift of God.
3. They behold the great Redeemer setting up that kingdom which shall never be destroyed; taking possession of those by His Spirit, whom He hath purchased with His blood; and adorning and beautifying them with His own image.
4. They behold, with awful reverence, the majesty of Christ, when those who have heard the Gospel, but have not received the truth in the love of it, are given up to judicial blindness and hardness of heart.
II. EXPLAIN THE PECULIAR MANNER IN WHICH THE TRUE SAINTS BEHOLD THE GLORIES OF “THE KING, THE LORD OF HOSTS.”
1. The saints, having the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the know ledge of Christ, behold a glory and excellency, and taste a sweetness in Divine things, which other men cannot and do not perceive.
2. The saints alone are spiritually convinced of the reality and certainty of the great doctrines of the Gospel.
III. CONSIDER THE TENDENCY OF SUCH VIEWS OF THE GLORY OF CHRIST, AND OF THE SCHEME OF SALVATION THROUGH HIM, TO PROMOTE THE VARIOUS EXERCISES OF PENITENCE AND SELF-ABASEMENT.
1. Such views of the great Redeemer will produce deep and serious thoughtfulness about salvation.
2. They will excite those who receive them to a strict and close examination of their hearts and lives.
3. They will produce low and debasing thoughts of ourselves.
4. They will promote in the mind of a saint a godly sorrow and a holy indignation on account of his personal sins.
5. They will determine those who receive them to turn from sin unto God, and by His grace to devote themselves entirely to His service.
6. They have a transforming or sanctifying influence.
7. They wean the affections from things below and place them on things spiritual and Divine. (J. Erskine, D. D.)
Personal responsibility of man as the possessor of speech
Like the coins which we daily pass through our hands without reading the superscription or testing the metal, we use language for our momentary needs without thinking whence it came to us, or what is its worth. But words are a great gift of God so man, language is our inheritance from the ages that are gone; it grows richer as generations pass from the accumulations of their thought. Descending to us, it educates us. But if language does so much to fashion us, it is an instrument for us of wonderful power in moulding other minds. God’s work, or else Satan’s work, it is forever doing.
1. If we were to decide what was the commonest fault of the tongue amongst ourselves, we should almost all answer that it was the making light of sin. We can allude to any sinful act in three ways: we can speak of it as the Bible speaks, as a sin against the Holy God; or as prudent men of the world speak, as a mistake, and a blunder, and a want of self-command and dignity; or, as the thoughtless speak, as something to be laughed at and forgotten, a natural and admissible thing. Our language is copious enough for any of these. One of the greatest dangers to souls is impurity. What shall we say of one who in that moment of trial when a soul is suspended between life and ruin, steps in, with no interest in the case except the love of evil, to unloose the bands that hold him to life, and so to help his downfall? If there is any retribution for sin, is not this the sin to call it down? Tell him that modesty is weak and boyish, and that a certain measure of dissipation befits the finished character of a man. Disconnect this sin, in all that you say about it, from every thought of God; speak never of fornication and adultery; language is rich in words that soften and disguise the guilt of this sin. Show how common the sin is. Throw on nature and on youth the blame, if there is blame, of passions too strong for restraint. You will extinguish, by such means, the last spark of that shame, which, fostered in a home where all was pure and chaste, has been sustained till now from extinction by a mother’s pure prayers, by her solicitous efforts to keep enfolded even when far off, her darling in the invisible arms of her chaste affection. You will succeed. It were better that a millstone were hanged about your neck, and you drowned in the depth of the sea, than to reap ouch an accursed success against one of those for whom our beloved Lord died.
2. This brings us to another peril of the tongue. Two of the safeguards against sin are the love of God and the fear of judgment. But they suppose a faith that God indeed is, and that He verily is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. A theology of suppositions has no force as a safeguard. Faith may be strong or weak, but it cannot be faith and not faith at the same time. Through this state of division and doubt men have sometimes had to pass, but to linger in it is death. It is not a phase of religion, but a suspension of it. He for whom nor God, nor Christ, nor conscience, nor the life to come for a reality, has nothing on which he may support himself. But how are these questions, this state of doubt, treated in common talk? People mean no harm when they jest about the last new theory in science, yet when they come to consider what is the tendency of the conversation in the circle in which they live, they may have to confess that its tone tends to encourage doubt, and to make them contour with the darkness.
3. Might not even our religious conversation be more fruitful than it is? St. James, from whose Epistle we might derive a complete code of rules for the government of the tongue, says, “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” He is speaking of religions things, of hearing and speaking “the word of truth,” mentioned in the former verse. Does not religion suffer often from our hot and impetuous advocacy? We are zealous for God, and that, we think, excuses everything; and we are ready with the nickname or the good story against those whose views differ from our own, and we separate readily from those that will not go as far as we; and the lines that separate Church parties are daily more deeply marked God’s great purposes, in the growth of His kingdom, will gain nothing from our noisy warmth. (Archbishop Thomson.)
The making of a prophet
I. IF WE SEE GOD WE SHALL SEE OUR SIN.
II. Note the second stage here, in the education of a soul for service--THE SIN RECOGNISED AND REPENTED OF IS BURNED AWAY. I would notice about this stage of the process--
1. That Isaiah singularly passes beyond all the old ritual in which he had been brought up, and recognises another kind of cleansing than that which it embodied. He had got beyond the ritual to what the ritual meant.
2. But far more important than that thought is the human condition that is required ere this cleansing can be realised. “I am a man of unclean lips.” “I am undone!” It was because that conviction and confession sprang in the prophet’s consciousness that the seraph winged his way with the purifying fire in his hands. Which being translated is just this: faith alone will not bring cleansing. There must go with it what we call, in our Christian phraseology, repentance, which is but the recognition of my own antagonism to the holiness of God, and the resolve to turn my back on my own past self.
3. Again, note that we have here set forth most strikingly the other great truth, the two being as closely synchronous as the flash and the peal; namely, as soon as the consciousness of sin, and the aversion from it, spring in a man’s heart, the seraph’s wings are set in motion. Remember that beautiful old story in the historical books, of how the erring king, brought to sanity and repentance by Nathan’s apologue, put all his acknowledgments in these words, “I have sinned against the Lord”; and how the confession was not out of his lips, nor had died in its vibration in the atmosphere, before the prophet, with Divine authority, replied with equal brevity and completeness, and as if the two sayings were bits of the one sentence, “And the Lord hath made to pass the iniquity of thy sin.” That is all. Simultaneous are the two things.
4. Still further, notice how the cleansing comes as a Divine gift. The Lord is He that healeth us.
5. But, further, the cleansing is by fire. By which, as I suppose, in the present context, and at Isaiah’s stage of religious knowledge and experience, we are to understand that great thought that God burns away our sins; as you put a piece of foul clay into the fire, and the stain melts from the surface like a dissipating cloud, as the heat finds its way into the substance. “He will baptise with the Holy Ghost and with fire”--a fire that quickens. A new impulse will be granted, and that will become the life of the sinful man’s life, and will emancipate him from the power of his own darkness and evil. Now, let us remember that we have the fulness of all that was shadowed to the prophet in this vision, and that all these emblems are gathered together, not with confusion, but abundance and opulence in Jesus Christ Himself. Is He not the seraph? Is He not Himself the burning coal? Is He not the altar from which it is taken? All that is needed to make the foulest clean lies in Christ’s great work.
III. The third stage here is--THE PURGED SPIRIT IS READY FOR SERVICE. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The true messenger of God
Though the prophecies of Isaiah are amongst the most evangelical portions of the Old Testament, and though we read them with true delight, yet the history of the prophet himself, the writer of this splendid poem, is only very partially revealed. He is like a summer bird who sings sweetly on the branch of a tree, but hides himself from view. In this chapter we have an account, if not of his conversion, at least of his call to the prophetic office. It took place in the year of Uzziah’s death. That was more than a date, or he would have probably said the year when Jotham began to reign. We find here the essential qualifications of the true messengers of God.
I. A VIEW OF GOD’S HOLINESS. He saw the Lord “sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up,” and heard the heavenly choir chanting: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.” The word “holy” means “separate” Israel was a holy nation, separate from all the people of the earth, and Canaan was the holy land. But God Himself is the holy, the separate, dwelling in light inaccessible. God is love, but He is holy love. He is a Father, infinitely excelling any earthly parent in kindness and compassion; but He is a “holy Father.” God’s holiness was revealed to Isaiah in a remarkable manner. He saw God, not with his natural eyes, but in such a manner as every quickened spirit must see Him. He saw God; that is, had a true conception of His character He had heard of Him before when attending the national festivals, but he never saw Him properly until Uzziah was stricken with leprosy for his presumption. Every prophet and every messenger has a certain truth which has sunk deeper into his soul than any other truth, and it is not strange, therefore, if he enters into a covenant with that truth, as it were, that he will be faithful to it at all costs; and, on the other hand, he will receive great comfort to himself from such a truth, and find shelter under its branches from the heat of the day or the fury of the storm. Every worker for God in order to be successful must first have a vision of God. This must be the foundation of our work and the source of our success. To have a firm building, the foundation must be sound. We have never understood holiness, righteousness, and truth unless we have seen God. We can never have any idea of law except in the light of the Lawgiver. Great reformers have been great believers. This is the place to grow a creed in the sunshine of God’s presence, and in contemplation of His supreme will. A short creed of thirty-nine letters burnt into our soul by the fire of conviction is better than a long creed of thirty-nine articles conveyed to our mind by traditionalism. A personal contact with God will ever leave its mark on the soul. This was experienced by Augustine, Anselm, Calvin, Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, and other men of valour in the religious world. When Christmas Evans was once on his travels between Dolgelly and Machynlleth he had such a view of God’s glory that he felt that the barren mountain of Cader Idris had become a Holy of holies. He wrestled with God for several hours, praying for the Churches and ministers of Wales by name. What wonder that he returned to Anglesey like a giant refreshed, and that a strong religious awakening was the natural result.
II. ANOTHER NECESSARY QUALIFICATION IS A SENSE OF MAN’S SINFULNESS. The vision of God’s holiness created within Isaiah’s mind a sense of his own unworthiness. “Then, said I, Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips.” Why does he say unclean lips? Because he was called to speak for God, and therefore he must be, before all things, a man of pure lips, and must utter true words. He is only a voice uttering the thoughts of God, and it requires a clean channel for the waters of God’s blessings to flow. He appears to be anxious to join the seraphic song, but how could he with his lips unclean? A sense of man’s sinfulness will naturally follow a true view of God’s holiness. No one with a light view of sin, viewing it only as mere weakness, the result of circumstances, or the effect of man’s environment, can effect any real deliverance.
III. ANOTHER NECESSARY QUALIFICATION IS FAITH IN THE POSSIBILITY OF A MAN’S RENEWAL. Isaiah looked upon God, the Holy Being, as dwelling apart. On the other hand, the prophet views man in the darkness of his corrupt nature as far from God--the distance being measured, not by miles or geographical distinctions, but by sins and man’s shortcomings. The prophet, first of all, seeks his own purity, and cries for renewal, and one of the seraphs, the agents of God’s mercy, becomes the medium of that blessed work. We very often find during the first real awakening of a religious activity that men become very pessimistic in their views They have passed through these two stages--the contemplation of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness--and think of the great gulf between, but before they can expect to effect a great improvement, and turn any portion of the vast wilderness into God’s garden, they must reach a further stage, and possess faith in the possibility of a man’s renewal. They must look upon sin as a terrible enemy, but as an intruder in the city of Mansoul; look upon it as a serious blot upon our nature; but still to be removed by the healing influences of the grace of God. Michael Angelo saw in the rough stone at Florence the necessary material for the picture of an angel. So our Saviour looked with a prophetic eye upon all conditions of men, and He saw in Matthew, the publican, the making of an apostle. We need preachers of the Gospel of joy and of hope. John Newton said that he never doubted the power of God to save any, since he himself had been rescued from the bondage of sin. William Carey, studying a map of the world that hung in his workroom, thought with pain how small a portion of the human race had any knowledge of the Saviour; but he determined that something should be done, and he conversed, corresponded, preached, and published in order to awaken men, so as to expect great things from God, and to attempt great things for God. To love God and love our neighbour are two parts of the same law.
IV. ANOTHER QUALIFICATION IS A DESIRE TO PARTAKE IN THE WORK OF RESTORATION. Isaiah heard the voice of God saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” This voice is only heard by those who are possessed of an obedient nature.
1. Man does not lose his personality in the work of God. “Here am I; send me.” He offers himself. Nothing less will do, and nothing more is possible. The grace of God does not destroy man’s identity, nor his personality. The most solemn thought possible is the responsibility of personal man to a personal God. We should lay our best at the feet of our Saviour, and put every faculty under tribute to Him. There is room in His service for the gifts of the imagination, the strength of the intellect, the power of the will, and the emotions of the heart. Let us do duty first, and then we can leave the consequences to God. Let us say, Send me, and let us consecrate the entire man on the altar of service.
2. The true worker must also feel that he is the object of Divine commission. “Send me.” He feels, though willing and anxious to do his best, that he can accomplish nothing, unless he receives Divine commission, is endowed with Divine wisdom, and inspired by Divine fellowship. With this equipment a man can weather many a storm, and struggle manfully against many foes. Paul came face to face with God on the way to Damascus, and that made him strong to fight the battle and run the race. (H. C. Williams.)
In the temple
Jerusalem was the London of the Holy Land, the capital of Palestine. Well, a very dreadful thing had just happened in Jerusalem. The king was dead, and he died in the saddest possible way. The people were very sorry, and talked a great deal about it; and Isaiah, too, was filled with grief and wonder. What could it all mean? But there was nobody in all Jerusalem who could tell him. But God, who had a great work for the youth to do, took him and told him what it all meant. He showed him a vision. Just as we see things with our minds when our eyes are closed, so God taught Isaiah the meaning of the king’s death, by making him see and hear wonderful things with the eye and ear of his mind.
I. WHAT ISAIAH SAW. He saw the Lord sitting on a throne. The King Uzziah was dead, but the eternal King never dies. He was on His throne, high and lifted up, and the glory of His garments filled the temple, so great and glorious was He. And then Isaiah heard angels singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” If you went into a great picture gallery you would probably come to one room which would be called the “Rubens room,” where all the pictures would be by Rubens; then in another part of the gallery you would come to the “Turner room,” and all the pictures in that would be Turner’s, the great English painter; and so on through room after room. And if you went into a library, on one shelf you would find the works of Shakespeare, on another the works of Bacon, on another the works of Milton. But with regard to God, the angels say you may go up and down the world, and everywhere you go you will find every room, every shelf, filled with the glory of the same One. The whole earth is filled with the glory of One, and that One is God. Now, why does God say that to Isaiah? In order to teach Isaiah reverence; to teach him to fear God--not to be afraid, but to teach him to honour God. Uzziah had dared God, as it were. Uzziah had forgotten the greatness of God, and so the first thing God did with the boy was to stamp upon his mind that he must be reverent. And, dear children, it is one of the greatest lessons that we all need: have your play and fun and laughter in their right time and in the right way; but when you come to this place for worship, for prayer and praise, remember how great God is.
II. WHAT ISAIAH FELT. He knew that Uzziah had done wrong; and God taught him that, young as he was, he too had sinned, and so he cried out, “Woe is me, I am unclean.” He felt that he had sinned, and then lest his heart should be broken with sorrow, God made him feel that He--the God against whom he had sinned, could pardon and cleanse him. It is a grand moment when you find fault with yourselves. That is the finest thing a boy can do, to stand up and, as it were, pitch right into himself, find fault with himself, feeling that he has done wrong. Have you felt that, children--felt that you too have sinned? But if you have sinned it isn’t hopeless,for God can take your sin away. Ask Him for pardon, ask Him for power not to sin.
III. WHAT ISAIAH HEARD. He heard God asking for somebody to carry a message for Him and do work for Him. Well, but you say, “We never heard God say that.” No, you never heard Him in so many words, but if you know how to listen for God’s call, you can hear Him calling every day. How does God call? God calls by putting a need before you. When anything wants doing, that is God’s call to somebody.
IV. WHAT ISAIAH SAID. “Here am I.” He didn’t look about and say, “Who is there that will go?” No; he said, “Here am I; send me,” and God did not refuse him. You know that in arranging their play, the bigger boys choose who shall be on their side, and they always choose the best boys; the poor little fellows who can’t play well are left for the other side. They are always so anxious to be called; but are always passed by, or left to the very last. God doesn’t do that; He doesn’t say, “Oh no, no, I want somebody else.” He says, “Come, whosoever will let him come.” (J. M. Gibbon.)
Fear, as a preparation for duty
I. THE EMOTION WHICH THE MAN EXHIBITS. (Isaiah 6:5.)
II. THE BEARING IT HAS UPON HIS HISTORY. Inferences--
1. To make conviction of sin profounder a man needs to come up more and more evidently before the presence of the Divine purity. It never helps anyone to begin desperately to study his wickednesses with a view to outroot them. It is better for him to keep looking at God. The objective study of Christ, His life, character, etc., is far safer and more profitable for growth in grace than any painful act of self-examination.
2. He who has suffered himself to tolerate trivial notions of disobedience has not yet ever had a proper conception of his Maker, who is one day to be his Judge. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
A vision of God humbles
The prophet does not come away triumphing in what he has seen; he does not hold the vision as a prize, and mock other men because they have not seen similar revelations; he says, in effect, If ever you see God you will fall down in humility, self-abhorrence and self-helplessness. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
Isaiah’s true character
Only the pure in heart can see God. But he who is sufficiently pure in heart to see God is, by that very vision, convicted of an unspeakable impurity. Isaiah was not a bad man but a good, one of the excellent of the earth in whom God took delight. But the very light that is in him turns to darkness in a glory so ineffable; and he finds a sentence of death in the very life which alone can quicken and renew him. (S. Cox, D. D.)
Self-humbling a preparation for service
I have noted in my own experience that whenever I have been most blessed in the winning of souls, it has generally been just after I have endured a thorough stripping in my own heart, or when by soul trouble I have been brayed as in a mortar among wheat with a pestle till I seemed ground into dust. Trial has preceded triumph. A wider field has been opened to me by the breaking down of my hedges. I have shrunk into self-oblivion, and then the Lord has moved me to speak in a burning manner to His glory. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God’s holiness, a revelation of sin
Like some searchlight flung from a ship over the darkling waters, revealing the dark doings of the enemy away out yonder in the night, the thought of God and His holiness streaming in upon a man’s soul, if it is there in any adequate measure, is sure to disclose the heaving waters and the skulking foes that are busy in the dark. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The thought of God in the heart
The sleeping snake that is coiled in every soul stirs and begins to heave in its bulk, and wake when the thought of a holy God comes into the heart. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
No heaven possible to the uncleansed man
Oh, you who think that you are sure to go to heaven, are you quite sure that you would be happy if you got there? Might not the vision of God produce a similar effect upon you to that which was produced upon one who was probably a better man than you, by this august display? And what would heaven be but a moral hell if you found yourself grovelling in the dust, crying out in anguish and terror, “Woe is me! for I am undone”? (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
Consciousness of sin
When one turns to look with a steadfast eye upon one’s own doings, the terrible revelation comes as a sickening fear to each of us, that the dark side of our life is practically limitless. President Edwards used to exclaim for months together, “Infinite” upon infinite! “Infinite upon infinite!” And many an awakened soul has felt that the words were hardly exaggerated. (D. M. Mclntyre.)
The sense of sin
Augustine of Hippo records in his “Confessions”: Thou, O Lord, while he [Pontitianus] was speaking, didst turn me round towards myself, taking me from behind my back, where I had placed me, unwilling to observe myself, and setting me before my face, that I might see how foul I was, how crooked and defiled, besotted and ulcerous. And I beheld and stood aghast; and whither to flee from myself I found not.
Self-revelation a preparation for great usefulness
Students of religious biography are familiar with the strange tale of the great mediaeval preacher, Dr. John Tauler, of Strasburg, and know how popular he was while sermons were of the letter only, and not from the Spirit, and how he was set to the child’s task of learning the very A B C of Christianity ere he could preach with the tongue of fire which reaches the hearts and consciences of the hearers. Falling into great weakness of body and continual sorrow of soul, losing all trust in himself and his own doings, he owned with bitter tears, “I am wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” It was at that moment he received the blessed knowledge of Christ as the sin offering, and the Spirit of the Lord used him thenceforth in a marvellous manner for the convicting and comforting of the citizens, in the midst of earthquakes and wars and famine and pestilence, so that the great power of God fell upon that town as probably never before nor since. (F. Sessions.)
Jonathan Edwards’ conversion
Jonathan Edwards was suddenly converted, ms by a flash of light, in the moment of reading a single verse of the New Testament, into contact with which he was brought by a series of unusual circumstances. He was at home in his father’s house; some ordinary hindrance kept him from going to church one Sunday with the family; a couple of hours in prospect with nothing to do sent him listlessly into the library; the sight of a dull volume with no title on the leather back of it piqued curiosity as to what it could be; he opened it at random and found it to be a Bible; and then his eye caught this verse: “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.” He tells us in his journal that the immediate effect of it was awakening and alarming to his soul; for it brought him a most novel and most extensive thought of the vastness and majesty of the true Sovereign of the universe. Out of this grew the astonishing pain of guilt for having resisted such a Monarch so long, and for having served Him so poorly. And whereas, he had hitherto had slight notions of his own wickedness and very little poignancy of acute remorse, now he felt the deepest contrition. Here is a precise reproduction of Isaiah’s experience. (C. S.Robinson, D. D.)
Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand
The live coal from the altar
These words seem to address themselves in the way of encouragement and consolation--
TO THE MINISTERS OF THE WORD SPECIALLY. Like Isaiah they feel the importance of the work to which they are called, and their inability to discharge aright the commission with which they are entrusted. The more they contemplate the holiness of Jehovah, the purity and excellency of His Word, the distance between God and the sinner, the awful majesty of the Almighty, and the ineffable glory in which He is enshrined, the more they perceive their own unworthiness, and grieve over the sinfulness which adheres to them. They feel their shortcoming, and are disposed to say with the prophet, “Woe is me!” etc. But they have consolation. The coal from the altar, when brought in contact with the prophet’s lips, purged his sin, cleansed his iniquity, and fitted him for the work to which he was Divinely called.
II. TO BELIEVERS GENERALLY. Not only to the prophet of old, nor yet to the minister of the Gospel, but to every child of Adam, is there need for cleansing of sin in order to effect reconciliation, and make him a child of God. (T. R. Redwar, M. A.)
The ceremony of purification
It shows that contact with the fire of the Divine holiness is not necessarily destructive even to man. It is possible to “dwell with devouring fire.” (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
The peace of forgiveness in Judaism
What was the meaning of this to Isaiah? If I am not mistaken, it is this: Up to this time all that system of sacred rites to which he had yielded all perfunctory obedience had been to him but as dead ceremonies, but now he sees that each of them is a living thing instinct with Divine life and power; each a splendid sacrament of grace to him who in conscious spiritual need will approach not it, but the God of Israel in and through it. And he realises how that, sinner as he is, he is by the providence of God in the midst of a great and glorious spiritual system in which his craving for peace is met, and where the Divine absolution is brought home to him. (Canon Body, D. D.)
The peace of forgiveness in Christendom
What is it that gives to this great system of Christendom the peace-giving power that by the confession of nineteen centuries it has? It is this. Behind all the ministries of the Church, vocal and sacramental, lies the pleading Priest, at the golden altar in heaven, forever present and pleading before the Father the consummated sacrifice of Calvary. That sacrifice takes the form of a great offering of propitiation. And it is this that lies behind all the Church’s rites, the powerful pleading by the living Christ of the death died on Calvary, through which pleading comes the living power of the Holy Ghost into the Divine society, holding her in her weird, mysterious life, through which pleading simple rites are Divinely efficacious, through which pleading the coal becomes the coal that burns with living fire. And it is in the midst of this wondrous system of sacred ministries that the blessed Jesus applies to each the peace of reconciliation. (Canon Body, D. D.)
The Holy Spirit as fire
Fire is something pure, burning, purifying; it lays hold of, penetrates, and, as it were, converts into its own substance whatever is susceptible of its action, thus hallowing the gifts laid on the altar. All these are the attributes of the Holy Spirit, whose office it is to purge and illuminate man, to excite him to the love of God, to affect him with zeal for His glory, to arouse him from sloth to fervour, to inflame him with courage and constancy, with energy and devotion of all his powers to the cause of God, and to enable him to make supplications to God according to His will. And in this place fire signifies the spirit of prophecy, which spirit, like fire, sanctifies men in a peculiar manner to this great work, kindles, inflames, makes them glow with zeal; and, what is true in itself and specially applicable here, converts them into seraphs. (C. Vitringa.)
“A live coal”
The rendering of the A.V., “a live coal,” i.e., a burning log (for of course in those days the fuel was wood), is totally wrong, and, indeed, the conception is too grotesque to be for a moment entertained. (P. Thomson, M. A.)
The hot stone
A stone kept in all ancient Oriental households as a means of applying heat to household purposes. In order to bake cakes 1 Kings 19:6, “cake baked on the hot stones”), or to roast flesh, the stone was first heated in the fire, and the wet dough or the flesh spread out upon it, the stones as they grew cold being exchanged for hot ones fresh from the fire. To boil milk, the hot stone was plunged into it when contained in the leathern skin that served alike as cauldron and pitcher. In short, the heated stone was a primitive means of applying fire wherever fire was needed. The prophet, carrying the similitude of an earthly household into the heavenly palace, assumes the presence of such an utensil on the hearth, which here, of course, must be conceived as an altar on the model of God’s earthly dwelling place. (P. Thomson, M. A.)
The symbolic act of the angel
This would, perhaps, be quite intelligible to the contemporaries of the prophet; but it is undoubtedly very obscure to us. The act is intended to shadow forth in some way the cleansing of the prophet from sin; but what is the connection between such cleansing and the touching of Isaiah’s lips with the stone heated on the altar fire? The stone is a means of applying fire; when, therefore, it is brought to the lips of the prophet, it is the same as if the whole altar fire had been brought there; and that again is the same as if the prophet’s “unclean lips” had been laid on the altar. The everyday use of the stone would at once suggest this to the mind of Isaiah’s hearers. The angel’s act, therefore, is as much as to say: “Lo, I lay thy sinfulness on the altar fire; and thou art cleansed from sin thereby.” But how should laying on the altar cleanse from sin? To lay on the altar is to give up to God--to make wholly His. Here, then, the angel says to Isaiah in substance this: “Thy sin-defiled nature (‘lips’) I lay on God’s altar. I make it all His again. The uncleanness of thy nature consisted in its opposition to God, for all sin is selfish action, as opposed to action for God, and now all the opposition of thy nature to God is taken away. Thy nature is, by this act, devoted wholly to God. By Divine power thou hast been suddenly, miraculously, turned into one from whom all selfish thoughts and words and deeds are taken away, into one whose every thought and desire is toward God; into one wholly consecrated and devoted to God; and therefore into one wholly pure.” All this is done only in symbol, of course; not in reality. What the prophet receives is in truth only God’s twice-repeated assurance that He looks on the prophet as one thus cleansed and devoted; that He overlooks the prophet’s past sins; that He imputes to him the purity of consecration; or, in short, that God pardons and forgives him. The essential core of the idea of forgiveness, in the New Testament as well as in the Old, is just this, that God treats guilty but penitent men as if they were not guilty, with a view to freeing them from their guilt and making them righteous. Isaiah conceives of His forgiveness under forms familiar to his time. He, a sinful man, is laid on the altar of God, and made wholly clean in God’s sight, whatever the imperfections that may still cling to his nature, whatever selfishness or self-will may still mar his reconciliation to the will of God. Of course, however, the change of will does not long continue merely imaginary, or in symbol only; for, in all time, God’s treatment of men as if their wills were devoted to Him, God’s loving forgiveness of men’s sins, has been the chief means of subduing man’s will to Him in actual fact. (P. Thomson, M. A.)
Christ symbolised by fire
A traditional saying attributed to our Lord--“He that is near Me is near fire.” (B. F. Westcott, D. D.)
Holiness and service
Had the prophet need of a coal? Oh, then grant for me a whole globe of fire, to remove my impurity and make me a fit messenger to Thy people. (Bernard.)
Sin and God’s treatment of it
No intelligent man can read the entire Bible without discovering four things--
1. That God considers sin a positive element in human affairs, to be talked about and dealt with as a fact.
2. That sin is the one abominable thing God says He hates, and will heavily punish.
3. That every sin is inherent in some personal factor.
4. That Almighty God Himself has provided a way by which every sinner can be relieved from the penalty of his transgressions, and graciously restored to holiness. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
John Woolman’s experience
That eminently holy man, “Saint John Woolman,” as the poet Whittier called him, who struck the first blow against domestic negro slavery in America, notwithstanding the Divine illuminations he had been blessed with in early boyhood, had to pass through an analogous baptism ere he was able to follow the Master’s call into public service. “I sought deserts and lonely places, and there with tears did confess my sins to God, and humbly craved His help. And I may say with reverence, He was near me in my troubles, and in these times of humiliation opened my ears to discipline. From an inward purifying, and steadfast abiding under it, sprang a lively operative desire for the good of others. All the faithful are not called to the public ministry; but whoever are, are called to minister of that which they have tasted and handled spiritually.” (F. Sessions.)
Of all the men of recent generations, Stephen Grellet, the French refugee nobleman, seems to have come nearest to the ancient Hebrew “evangelical” prophet, and to the apostles of Christ. Pope, emperors, kings, and princes were the objects of his solicitude, and to these exalted personages he was permitted access, and personally delivered messages from God, as straightforward and cogent as those he gave to the veriest offscourings of the slums and purlieus of European cities, or to the formalists of Catholic and Protestant creeds. “One evening, as I was walking in the fields alone [this was when he was twenty-two years of age], my mind being under no kind of religious concern, nor in the least excited by anything I had heard or thought of, I was suddenly arrested by what seemed to be an awful voice, proclaiming the words Eternity, Eternity, Eternity! It reached my soul,--my whole man shook,--it brought me, like Saul, to the ground. The great depravity and sinfulness of my heart were set open before me, and the gulf of everlasting destruction to which I was verging.” In this state he remained for many days, till it pleased God to deliver him, not by the agency of a hot stone brought by a winged angel from a visible altar, but by that of some loving sentences spoken by a lady preacher from England who was visiting the American home of the exile. “No strength to withstand the Divine visitation was left in me. Oh, what sweetness did I then feel! It was indeed a memorable day. I was like one introduced into a new world; the creation and all things around me bore a different aspect,--my heart flowed with love to all.” From that “awful day,” as he calls it, deep convictions laid hold of his mind, which, as he cherished them, led him to a full surrender, and a willingness to devote himself to the life of an ambassador of Christ to the rulers and peoples of the world. (F. Sessions.)
Another inward vision
He tells us that once again an inward vision came to him. It was during a period of silent worship among the members of the religious body to which this quondam disciple of Voltaire had joined himself. He was here granted such a view and sense of his sinful nature, though he was at that time a converted man, that he was like one crushed under millstones. “My misery was great, and my cry was not unlike that of Isaiah, Woe is me, for I am undone!” Then there came to him a revelation of perfect salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. (F. Sessions.)
Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send?
I. THE PERSON WANTED, as described in the questions, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for Us?” The person wanted is viewed from two points. The person wanted has a Divine side: “Whom shall I send?” Then he has a human aspect: “Who will go for Us?” But the two meet together--the human and Divine unite in the last words, “for Us.” Here is a man, nothing more than a man of human instincts, but clad through Divine grace with superhuman, even with Divine authority. Let us look, then, at this two-sided person.
1. He is Divinely chosen.
2. Cheerfully willing.
3. Sent by the Three-One. When we tell others the story of the Cross we speak for God the Father. Nor must we forget our tender Redeemer. Moreover, that blessed Spirit, under whose dispensatorial power we live at the present hour, He has no voice to speak to the sons of men audibly except by His people; and though He works invisibly and mysteriously in the saints, yet He chooses loving hearts, and compassionate lips, and tearful eyes to be the means of benediction.
II. THE PERSON OFFERING HIMSELF. “Here am I; send me.” The person offering himself is described in the chapter at very great length--he must be an Isaiah. Being an Isaiah, he must--
1. Have felt his own unworthiness. Notice how it was that Isaiah was made to feel his unworthiness.
(1) By a sense of the presence of God.
(2) Isaiah saw the glory of Christ.
(3) It will strike you, too, that the particular aspect in which this humiliation may come to us will probably be, a sense of the Divine holiness, and the holiness of those who see His face.
2. We must possess a sense of mercy.
3. The man who will be acceptable must offer himself cheerfully. “Here am I.” How few of us have in very deed given ourselves to Christ it is with most professors, “Here is my half-guinea, here is my annual contribution”; but how few of us have said, “Here am I.”
4. The person who thus volunteered for sacred service gave himself unreservedly. He did not say, “Here am I; use me where I am,” but “send me.” Where to? No condition as to place is so much as hinted at.
5. He gives obediently, for he pauses to ask directions. It is not, “Here am I; away I will go,” but “Here am I; send me.” Some people get into their head a notion that they must do something uncommon and extraordinary, and though it may be most irrational, it is for that very reason that the scheme commends itself to their want of judgment. Because it is absurd, they think it to be Divine; if earthly wisdom does not justify it, then certainly heavenly wisdom must be called in to endorse it. Now, I conceive that you will find that whenever a thing is wise in God’s sight it is really wise, and that a thing which is absurd is not more likely to be adopted by God than by man; for though the Lord does use plans which are called foolish, they are only foolish to fools, but not actually foolish.
III. THE WORK WHICH SUCH PERSONS WILL BE CALLED TO UNDERTAKE. Isaiah’s history is a picture of what many and many a true Christian labourer may expect. Isaiah was sent to preach very unpleasant truth, but like a true hero he was very bold in preaching it. “Isaiah is very bold,” says the apostle. Now, if you are called of God either to preach or teach, or whatever it is, remember the things you have to preach or teach will not be agreeable to your hearers. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Some people are militia Christians--they serve the King with a limitation, and must not be sent out of England; but others are soldier-Christians, who give themselves wholly up to their Lord and Captain; they will go wherever He chooses to send them. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Some professors appear to belong to God by copyhold. They grant a limited kind of Divine right to their energies and substance; but there are many clauses which limit the holding. I hope that you are God’s portion upon an absolute freehold. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God’s call for servants
Several questions arise as we read these words. Why is God asking for service instead of discharging the work Himself? He can speak in tones which would make the proudest quail; He can unfold a majesty before which the whole nation should be subdued. Or again, if He needs service, why does He wait for volunteers? Why does He not compel servants to enter upon this mission, as He imposed on Moses the task of leading the people of Israel out of the land of bondage?
I. THE DIVINE CALL:--“Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”
1. Why should God thus ask human service? We cannot doubt for a moment how independent our glorious God might be of all mere human resources.
(1) The great purposes which God seeks to accomplish can best be achieved through human instrumentality. God craves from men, not the unconscious response which the mown grass makes to the showers, or dewdrops to the sunlight. He desires intelligent, trustful, loving union with Himself, and it may be that such ends as these are better obtained through human instrumentality than by an overpowering exhibition of the Divine majesty and glory. As the light comes to us through the atmosphere, which lessens its dazzling power, so that we are illuminated instead of being blinded with excess of light, so God gives to us His commands and messages through human tongues and language, lest we should be overpowered.
(2) God means to educate His servants by using them for His purposes. When He says, “Whom shall I send,” it is not that He is destitute of angelic hosts who would thankfully accept the commission. He knows how our human hearts will be educated by the very ministry we render.
2. Notice what is involved in such a call as this. When God says, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us,” He pledges Himself to endue with authority, and to endow with all needful gifts, the man who answers the call.
II. THE RESPONSE OF THE PROPHET. “Here am I; send me.”
1. What could have led the prophet to offer himself for a Divine mission? How had he the courage to step forward and volunteer? Did he not shrink from the vast issues involved in the work? Did he not understand the dangers into which he would plunge? Did he not know how hard it would be to reach men’s hearts around him with the solemn message? He knew it all, but he stepped forward in the simplicity of a perfect faith, and said, “Here am I; send me.” You will perceive in the foregoing verse an account of his preparation for receiving this call. He was prepared by a sense of pardoning love. In the fulness of a loving, grateful heart, he stepped forward and accepted the mission.
2. Notice the willingness with which the prophet offered himself. He steps forward as one who feels it an honour, and is ready for any sacrifice which the honour may entail. This is the light in which we may wisely look on Christian service.
III. THE DIVINE ACCEPTANCE OF THE PROPHET’S OFFER. God said, “Go.” You have just that very simple succession of events. God asking for service, the prophet offering himself, and God accepting his services. If God has given you aptitude in dealing with the experiences of men, go into the homes of the poor and destitute, ministering consolation to their sorrows. If God has given you warm sympathies with the young, go into the ranks of the Sunday school, draw young hearts around you, and win them to Christ. If God has given you influence with men, go to the drunkard and the fallen and seek to reclaim them from the depths of degradation in which they are sunk. If God has given you the tongue of the wise to speak a word in season, which shall be as apples of gold in pictures of silver, go and use the power in private talk with the men you meet in daily life. (C. B. Symes, B. A.)
The commission of a sinful but cleansed man
“Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Why does the Lord ask that question with such anxiety when He has all those shining seraphs standing at His side, and each one of them with six wings? Why was Isaiah, the son of Amoz, a man of unclean lips, and a man woeful and undone, so accepted, and so sent? Seraphs, not sinners, should surely be the preachers of such holiness as that of the God of Israel, and the heralds of such a Saviour--that is what we would have expected. But God’s thoughts in these things are not as our thoughts. This has always been God’s way in choosing and in ordaining and in sending both prophets, and psalmists, and priests, and preachers for His Church on earth. Only once did God choose a completely sinless preacher. Always, but that once, God has chosen sinful men; and, not seldom, the most sinful of men He could get to speak to their fellow men about sin and salvation. Gabriel might come with his six wings and his salutation to announce to Mary that the fulness of time had come and that the Word was to be made flesh, but it was John, the son of Zacharias, who was not that light, who was sent to preach repentance to the vipers of his day, and to urge them to flee from the wrath to come. And just as for the awakening and the warning of sinners, so for the edification and the comfort of saints. “For every high priest is taken from among men, who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity.” Isaiah, accordingly, of all men on the earth at that moment, and of all angels in heaven, was the man chosen of God to preach repentance to Jerusalem, and to prophesy to her the coming of her Messiah. And he preached on all these matters as no angel in all heaven could have preached, he preached as only a leper could preach to his brother lepers, and as only one undone man could preach to other undone men. Just hear him in his first sermon. “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib. Ah! sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil-doers. Why should ye be stricken any more? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds and bruises and putrifying sores.” All God’s seraphs taken together could not preach like that. It takes a great sinner to preach as well as to hear like that. You must have a man of men to see, and to feel, and to say things like that. And then, on the other hand, no seraph of them all, with all his wings, had seen down so deep, and had come up so close to the holiness of God as Isaiah had seen and had come close. The seraphs cry Holy, holy, holy, to one another, but they do not know what they are saying. The seraphs are innocent children. And He whom they so innocently praise charges His seraphs with folly. But, “Woe is me! for I am undone!” The Lord likes to hear that. This young preacher, then, having seen both sin and holiness as no seraph ever saw these terrible things, proceeds in his sermon in this way: “Wash you, make you clean; cease to do evil, learn to do well; judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow: though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Every syllable of all that is out of Isaiah’s own experience. Preaching like that never yet came out of the schools of the prophets, any more than it ever came out of the mouth of an angel. Isaiah had done it all to himself, and had had it all done unto him of God. (A. Whyte, D. D.)
The challenge of service
I. THE CHALLENGE. “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” The Lord’s ordinary manner of appointing His messengers is to select them Himself, and without consulting them send them to do their work. He commanded Jonah to go to Nineveh with every consideration for Jonah’s fitness, and no consideration for Jonah’s tastes. The work is always more important than the man, for the man has a brief life, and the work is immortal. It ought not, therefore, to be expected that the Lord should regard anything in choosing a servant for duty but that servant’s qualifications for the duty. But there are exceptions to this rule of selection for work. When the task is a peculiarly hazardous one; when the performance of it demands the highest attributes of the intellect, the rarest qualities of the heart, and an extraordinary stimulus of inspiration, it is better that these gifts should go to the work under the impulse of a self-moving passion rather than under the enforcement of command. The General of an army wisely relaxes the routine discipline of duty when in the fortunes of the campaign the troops have to face the desperate service of some forlorn hope. “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” is the proclamation from the Commander’s tent, and a storming party of volunteers is told off, to mount the breach and take the van of danger.
1. In the year that King Uzziah died it seemed as if the last hope of the people of God had expired with him.
2. The nature of the work may be inferred from the condition of the people. They were an old and not a young nation: they were wicked and not ignorant: the two fountains of power, the Church and the State, were corrupt at their sources, authority of every kind was on the side of licentiousness; and since, with all this, the outward forms of order and of piety were preserved, the people grew up to be as remarkable for their hypocrisy as for their immorality. It has always been supposed that, whether in the case of a nation, or an individual, suffering is a powerful moralist; and that a mind which is proof against the humbling and cleansing effects of pain is reprobate and beyond redemption. The people of Israel and Judah had been punished by every species of chastisement; invasion, captivity, pestilence, famine, and sword, nothing that a people loves or a man cherishes had been left untouched; from the sole of the nation’s foot to the crown of her head, the lash of retribution had been laid on so heavily that nothing was to be seen but “wounds and bruises and putrifying sores.” Yet they continued to revolt more and more. This was the state of things for which the Lord demanded a voluntary workman. Who will be a bearer of evil tidings? who will reprove kings for My sake? Who will expose and denounce wickedness in high places? Who will proclaim the insincerity of the priests, their robbery of the flock, and the fiction of their ceremonial? Who will go to the market places and declare the dishonesty of their traffic? Who will beard the army and charge the soldiers with cowardice and treason? Who will be hated of all men, and be the victim of the conspiracies of the crafty, of the insults of the street rabble, and of the desertion of false and incompetent friends? Who will endure to fail; to be simply a witness; to speak without convincing; to sow without a harvest?
3. The voice of the Lord cries loudly in the midst of the Churches of today, inviting voluntary service for difficult work; missionary work abroad and missionary work at home.
II. THE ACCEPTANCE OF THE CHALLENGE, “Here am I; send me.” Looking at this acceptance by itself, it seems an extraordinary sacrifice on the part of Isaiah. He was a youth, probably not more than eighteen or nineteen, when he answered the Lord’s challenge; he was a member of the first circle of the Jewish aristocracy, and, according to some authorities, a prince of the royal blood. He was nurtured in the soft and sumptuous luxuriance of palaces. There had been in his training everything to satisfy sense and to kindle ambition. Having great natural parts and a fine genius, and commanding both means and leisure, the career of a great State ruler, or a Church dignitary, or the easy splendour of an intellectual voluptuary, any or all of these distinctions were within reach of the gifted kinsman of Uzziah. Youth as he was, his social position and quick observation enabled him to appreciate the service demanded in the challenge. He knew the people to whom the message would be sent; he conjectured what the character of that message would be; and what kind of service awaited the man who should deliver it; that it would be hard, unthankful, and dangerous; and yet this youth, born to be a fine gentleman, accepted a task which might well have made the strongest and most experienced natures shrink, “Here am I; send me!” Let us seek the explanation of this simplicity, devotion, and courage in that which went before the acceptance of the challenge. (E. Jenkins, LL. D.)
Visions of God
I. THE VISION OF GOD TO THE SOUL. The vision of God to the soul implies these two facts, namely, that God can communicate, speak, and make Himself manifest and known to the soul, and that the soul has capacity to receive what God makes known, or communicates to it. This capacity has been impaired, more or less, in all human beings.
II. THE VISION OF GOD HAS EFFECTS UPON THE SOUL. It has a creative power that calls several new forces into action.
1. The sense of sin.
2. The sense of forgiveness.
3. The sense of duty.
4. Power to perform duty. (W. Thomas.)
The Divine call for missionaries
I. Let us gaze upon THE VISION OF GLORY which Isaiah saw. It was necessary for him to see it in order that he might be brought into the condition of heart out of which should come the full consecration expressed in--“Here am I; send me.” Observe what he saw.
1. The supreme glory of God. See the patience of His infinite majesty,--He sits in calm glory upon His eternal throne. Nor is it a mean throne either, nor one of little dignity; it is “high and lifted up.” It is not merely above all other thrones by way of greater power, but over them all by way of supreme dominion over them.
2. The court of the great King. He beheld the glorious attendants who perpetually perform homage, nearest to His throne.
3. The perpetual song, for these sacred beings continually cried, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” While you praise His holiness do not forget His power, but adore Him as “Jehovah of hosts.” And then dwell, that you may feel a missionary spirit, on that last part of the song, “The whole earth is filled with His glory,” for so it really is in one sense. “Jehovah of hosts is the fulness of the whole earth.” Turn this ascription, for it may be so read, into a wish: “Let the whole earth be filled with His glory.” Read it, if you please, as a prophecy: “The whole earth shall be filled with His glory,” and then go you forward, O ye servants of the Most High, with this resolve, that in His hands you will be the means of fulfilling the prophecy by spreading abroad the knowledge of His name among the sons of men.
II. Let us now turn our thoughts to THE VISION OF ORDINATION. This man Isaiah was to go forth in Jehovah’s name, but in order to preparation for so high an embassage he must undergo a process peculiar but necessary.
III. When a man is prepared for sacred work he is not long before he receives a commission. We come, then, to think of THE DIVINE CALL. Notice the particular kind of man for whom this voice is seeking. It is a man who must be sent, a man under impulse, a man under authority--“Whom shall I send?” But it is a man who is quite willing to go, a volunteer, one who in his inmost heart rejoices to obey--“Who will go for Us? “What a strange mingling this is!” Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel,” and yet “taking the oversight of the flock of God not by constraint but willingly.”
IV. Now comes the last point, THE EARNEST RESPONSE. “Here am I; send me.”
1. I think I see in that response a consciousness of his being in a certain position which no one else occupied, which rendered it incumbent upon him to say, “Here am I.”
2. Then, he makes a full surrender of himself. Isaiah gave himself up to the Lord none the less completely because his errand was so full of sadness. He was not to win men, but to seal their doom by putting before them truth which they would be sure to reject.
3. Then comes Isaiah’s prayer for authority and anointing. If we read this passage rightly we shall not always throw the emphasis upon the last word,
“me,” but read it also thus, “Here am I, send me.” He is willing to go, but he does not want to go without being sent. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Here am I; send me
“Here am I; send me.” These few simple words express the crisis, the turning point in the life of Isaiah. If he had never uttered these words you would never have heard of him. But the uttering of these words in profound sincerity from the bottom of his heart made him one of the greatest of the prophets of God. The very first condition of whole-hearted service is the conviction that the cause which we serve will ultimately prevail. The day is coming when the Christian religion will prevail everywhere, when the will of God will be done on earth as literally and really as angels do it in heaven. Even now things are not as they seem. Even now the glory of God fills the whole earth. So young Isaiah realised in days much darker and more ominous than these. (H. P. Hughes, M. A.)
The birth of the true missionary
In the fellowship of the cleansing, the fellowship of the Cross, the missionary is born. (R. J. Campbell, M. A.)
Seeing and saying
Men must see before they can say. (R. J. Campbell, M. A.)
Ecstasy and self-immolation
Bless God for any ecstasy that leads to self-immolation. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Seers and servants
We must become seers before we can become servants. (S. Cox, D. D.)
Experience to be used for the benefit of others
Isaiah saw the King that he might serve the King. He was convinced of sin that he might convince his fellows, he was purged from his iniquity that he might proclaim the love, the sacrifice, which takes away the iniquity of us all. (S. Cox, D. D.)
The whole life should be devoted to God
Though at times he had to rebuke princes and to pronounce the doom of nations, yet it was his whole life that he dedicated to God, with all its petty details of daily conduct. It was part of his work to live with the prophetess he took to wife according to a Divine law; to name and train his children so that little Immanuel and little Maher-shalal-hash-baz should be “for signs and for wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts.” And, in like manner, God sends us to our own people, to our kinsfolk and acquaintance. (S. Cox, D. D.)
“To let the love out”
If there were no humanity to save, none but our own, yours and mine, the fellowship of the cleansing would still be ours, but we would be seeking for something to do to express to the Christ our sense of what that fellowship had brought. Two sisters brought this fact home to me. One was weak, suffering, dying, though the other did not know it at the time. The one who was watching by the bedside said, “It seems dreadful to be so helpless, to feel I can do so little to assuage the suffering of the dear one. I can do nothing whatever. If I only could do something that hurts, hurts me, I think I should feel better, to let my love out.” I know what she meant quite well--to let the love out. The love that we bear the dear Redeemer compels us to see the Divine in mankind. There is a sweet and holy sympathy born of that urgent desire to let the love out which was born in the fellowship of the cleansing. (R. J. Campbell, M. A.)
Every church member should be a missionary
In looking over a certificate of membership which I had received from a church in New York, concerning one of its members who was a sailor, I was pleased to observe that at the back of the certificate there were directions given to the member; and the first one was this, “You are to remember that as a member of this church going upon a voyage, you are sent by us as missionary. You are to understand that you and every other member of the church are bound to spread abroad the Saviour’s name.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
“Ready to obey”
Of a man chosen by the church council of a Uganda mission, to act as father to the boys and see that they kept out of mischief, a missionary writes: “An ordination candidate, whose name is Jacob the elephant, an extremely nice, sensible man, was suggested, and I was much struck by his reply when asked if he would undertake the post. He at once said, ‘Is it for me to choose my work? You tell me what to do, and I am ready to obey.’” (Christian Endeavour.)
The missionary spirit
General Booth once wanted fourteen recruits for India. He had his whole company about him, and he said: “This is very dangerous work, and it requires great self-sacrifice. I might detail you for the work, but I will not detail any one of you. I will tell you what I will do: if any of you want to volunteer for it, you will have the privilege to do so after one hour. Go away now and pray about it.” They went away and prayed about it, and at the end of the hour General Booth said, “Are any of you willing to undertake this work?” And fourteen stalwart men stepped forward and said, We are ready to sad tomorrow morning. (A. H. Bradford, D. D.)
A true missionary
Speaking at Exeter Hall, in 1886, James Chalmers said, in reference to his New Guinea experiences: “Recall the twenty-one years; give me back all its experiences, give me its shipwrecks, its standings in the face of death; give it me surrounded by savages with spears and clubs; give it me back again with spears flying about me and the club knocking me to the ground; give it me back, and I will still be your missionary.” (Sunday School Chronicle.)
David Brainerd prayed for such a complete absorption in the Divine will that he might become utterly indifferent to every outward circumstance of discomfort and trial, if only he could make known the love of Christ. He says in his journal:--“Here am I, Lord, send me; send me to the ends of the earth; send me to the rough and savage pagans of the wilderness; send me from all that is called comfort in the earth; send me even to death itself, if it be but in Thy service and to promote Thy kingdom.” (Sunday School Chronicle.)
A man once rose in one of Mr. Moody’s meetings, and gave his experience. “I have been for five years on the Mount of Transfiguration.” “How many souls did you lead to Christ last year?” was the sharp question that came from Mr. Moody, in an instant. “Well, I don’t know,” was the astonished reply. “Have you led any?” persisted Mr. Moody. “I don’t know that I have,” answered the man. “Well,”--said Mr. Moody, “we don’t want that kind of mountain-top experience. When a man gets so high that he can’t reach down and save poor sinners, there is something wrong.” (Sunday School Chronicle.)
Every Christian should be an evangelist
Dr. Howard Crosby used to say, “When will New York city be evangelised? I’ll tell you--when every Christian becomes an evangelist.” (Christian Endeavour.)
God’s call: the anti-slavery and other crusades
Those who do the best work in the world’s redemption, and yet may never preach a sermon, have had a “call” to accomplish it. The “call” may have been felt only as an overwhelming and disinterested desire to accomplish some noble end, but it has been as truly there as if seraphim had announced it. Such great movements as the anti-slavery crusade are full of instances. Of Thomas Clarkson it is recorded that when about twenty-four years of age, after having composed and read a Latin prize essay at Cambridge University, he travelled to London to assist in founding a society for the suppression of the slave trade. Overwhelmed with the awfulness of the traffic he had been denouncing, he alighted from his horse, and sitting by the roadside prayed that God would raise up some devoted champion of the oppressed African. Suddenly the thought flashed into his mind that he should offer himself to this cause. How he, under this overmastering feeling, ultimately surrendered the clerical life for which he was preparing, how he laboured till the slave trade was excised from the body politic, and how he was followed in a true “apostolic succession” by William Wilberforce, in the further attack upon domestic slavery, is recorded in the pages of history. Wilberforce, too, passed through times of deep self-conflict till the necessary new habits of mind and life were formed. He, in turn, gave place to such men as Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton and Joseph Sturge, who also were “called” and “ordained” by the Spirit of God to the Christlike work of securing liberty to the captive. Prison reformers and uplifters of the criminal, like John Howard, Elizabeth Fry, and Sarah Martin, passed through periods of probation, when there seemed to be in their minds “a prophetic stir of coming duties outside the usual sphere” of their daily lives. (F. Sessions.)
Richard Knill’s call
I was studying for the ministry, with a view to labour in England; it happened that there was a missionary meeting in the neighbourhood, and one of the ministers said to me, Come to me over, and bring “the students with you, it will do them good,”--and as one inducement he said, “There is an eminent Scotch minister in town, Dr. Waugh, who is to preach.” We went--and, I have no doubt, we went praying to receive a blessing. Dr. Waugh took for his text that beautiful verse in Isaiah, “It shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come who were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem.” In the first part of his subject he spoke of the perishing condition of the man who was ignorant of the Gospel, and he said, “It is a fact, there are four hundred millions of our fellow creatures in this deplorable condition, without God, and without hope.” After he had dwelt on this, he spoke of the infinite wisdom and goodness of God, which had provided a remedy for perishing sinners. After speaking on this for some time he stopped, and looking around on the congregation, he said, “This trump cannot blow of itself, we must have men to blow it,--pardoned sinners--redeemed men--those who have tasted the love of Christ, and who feel for their fellow creatures--those who know what a precious Saviour Christ is, from sweet experience. We want such men--the heathen are perishing, and will perish, unless God’s remedy is sent to them--that remedy is in your possession.” He then paused again, and looking around, as if wanting to fix his eyes on some object, he said in a moving manner, “Is there one disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ who has love enough for his Divine Master in his heart to say, Here am I; send me?” Oh, when he said that, I felt it thrill through my soul, and I silently said to Him who searcheth my heart, “Lord, I will go.” It was a memorable day to me, I can never forget it. The sermon was soon ended; the congregation was broken up; my friends went to dine; I was invited to dine with my fellow students; I had no appetite for food, my heart was full--and I said to a friend, Can you procure me a garret, where I can spend the remainder of the day in fasting and prayer? He procured it for me; and in that garret I spent some of the happiest and most solemn moments of my life; and seeing the agony of Him whose blood was shed a sacrifice for my sins, I said, “Lord, I will go.” (R. Knill.)
Ready for service
When the Moravian Brethren in Germany were carrying on their great mission work in heathen lands, Zinzendorf, their distinguished leader, sent one day for one of the ministers, and said to him, “Will you go to Greenland tomorrow as a missionary?” The minister, after a moment’s hesitation, said, “Yes, if the shoemaker can finish the boots which I have ordered of him by tomorrow, I will go.” (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
God’s call: Cobden and Bright
Cobden and Bright believed--to quote the language of the former - that “a moral and even religious spirit might be infused into the question of the repeal of the Corn Laws.” The story of Mr. Bright’s dedication to this most beneficent idea is admirably reproduced in Vince’s life of the great Tribune. There came to his soul’s vision no forthshadowing of God’s glory in any manmade temple, but the story is thus told by himself: “I was at Leamington when Mr. Cobden called upon me. I was then in the depths of grief,--I might almost say of despair,--for the light and sunshine of my house had been extinguished. All that was left on earth of my young wife, except the memory of a sainted life and of a too brief happiness, was lying still and cold in the chamber above us. Mr. Cobden called upon me as a friend, and addressed me, as you may suppose, with words of condolence. After a time he looked up and said, ‘There are thousands of homes in England at this moment where wives, mothers, and children are dying of hunger. Now,’ he said, ‘when the first paroxysm of your grief is passed, I would advise you to come with me, and we will never rest till the Corn Law is repealed.’ I accepted his invitation. I knew that the description he had given me of the homes of thousands was not an exaggerated description. I felt in my conscience that there was a work that someone must do. From that time we never ceased to labour hard on behalf of the resolution we had made.” In this case a Lancashire manufacturer brought the “call,” but surely the angels of sorrow and sympathy assisted in the “consecration,” and the Holy One of Israel worked with His servant. (F. Sessions.)
And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not
Isaiah: his heaviness and his consolation
Isaiah summed up his whole future life in those two words, “Behold me; send me.” Then on his ardent soul was poured the heavy message, “Go, and thou shalt tell this people” (God speaks of them no more as His own), “Hear ye on, and understand not; and see ye on, and know not. Make thou dull the heart of this people, and its ears make thou heavy, and its eyes close thou; lest it see with its eyes, and with its ears hearken, and its heart understand, and it return and one heal it.” Startling office for one so sanguine and so young! Heavy burden to bear for probably sixty-one years of life, to be closed by a martyr’s excruciating death! Outside of that commission there was hope: hope, because the promises of God could not fail of fulfilment: hope, because in the worst times of Israel there had been those seven thousand which the prophet knew not of, but whose number God revealed to him, who had stood faithful to God amid the national apostasy; hope, because when God pronounces not a doom, we may take refuge in the loving mercy of Him who swears by Himself, “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure individuals: the people, not to individuals, only as they were such as the mass of the nation was, as they themselves made up that mass. This, in all seeming, was the thankless office to which Isaiah was called, to be heard, to be listened to, by some with contempt, by others with seeming respect, and to leave things in the main worse than he found them.
3. Isaiah’s office was towards those, in part at least, who were ever hearing, never doing, and so never understanding. And so (so to speak) he was only to make things worse. So St. Paul says, “The earth which drinketh in the rain which cometh oft upon it--if it bring forth thorns and briars, is accounted worthless and nigh unto cursing,” not yet accursed, yet nigh unto it, “whose end”--if it remains such unto the end--“is to be burned.” There were better among the people; there were worse; but such was the general character; it was an ever-hearing,--hearing,--hearing (such is the force of the words, “hear ye hearing on,” evermore), never wearied of hearing, yet never doing; ever seeing, as they thought, yet never gaining insight; and so becoming ever duller, their sight ever more and more bleared, until to hear and to see would become well-nigh, and to man, impossible. The more they heard and saw, the further they were from understanding, from being converted, from the reach of healing. Such they were, a little later, in Ezekiel’s time. So it was when He came of whom Isaiah prophesied. They thought that they knew the law, but only to allege their interpretation of it against Him. The more they heard, the more they were blinded. And their imagined seeing and their real blindness, was their condemnation (John 9:41). This is inseparable from every revelation of God, from every preaching of the Gospel, from every speaking of God inwardly to the soul, from every motion of God the Holy Ghost, from every drawing or forbidding of that, judge which He has placed within, our conscience, from every hearing of God’s Word. All and each leave the soul in a better condition or a worse. Not by any direct hardening from God, not through any agency of the prophet, but by man’s free will, hearing but not obeying, seeing but not doing, feeling but resisting, the preaching of the prophet would leave them only more hopelessly far from that conversion, whereby God might heal them.
4. And what said the prophet? Contrary as the sentence must have been to all the yearnings of his soul, crushing to his hopes, he knew that it must be just, because “the Judge of the whole world” must “do right.” He intercedes, but only by those three words, “Lord, how long?” He appeals to God. Such could not be God’s ultimate purpose with His people. The night was to come; sin deserved it; but was it to have no dawn? Hope there is yet, but meanwhile a still-deepening night, a climax of woe; and that in two stages. In the first, “cities left without inhabitants”; and not cities only, as a whole, but “houses” too “tenantless”; nor these alone, but “the whole land desolate, and God removes the inhabitants far away, and there shall be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.” Nor this only, but when, in this sifting time, nine parts should be gone, and one-tenth only remain, this should be again consumed: only, like those trees which survived the winters and storms of a thousand years, while the glory, wherewith God once clad it, was gone, its hewn stem was still to live; “a holy seed” was to be the stock thereof. The vision, opened before him, stretches on until now and to the end. His question, “How long? Until when?” implied a hope that there would be an end; the answer “until,” declared that there would be an end. We have, in one, that first carrying away, the small remnant which should return; its new desolation; the holy seed which should survive; the restoration at the end, of which St. Paul says, then “all Israel shall be saved.”
5. And this message fell on one of the tenderest of hearts in its early freshness. As he is eminently the Gospel-prophet, the evangelist in the old covenant, so he had already been taught by the Holy Ghost the Gospel lesson, “Love your enemies.” He denounces God’s judgments; but he himself is the type of Him who wept over Jerusalem.
6. Yet where there is desolation for the sake of God, there is also consolation. Wherein was Isaiah’s? Not in the solace of his married life. His daily dress was like John Baptist’s, the hair cloth pressing upon his loins, wearing to the naked flesh, although mentioned only when he was to put it off and himself to become a portent to his people, walking naked and barefoot (Isaiah 20:2). His two sons were, by their names, the continual pictures of that woe on his people. What, then, was his solace? Isaiah had seen, as man can see, Christ’s Deity (John 12:41). He had seen Him, the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of His person. Yet he had not seen the Son alone. He himself says, “Mine eyes have seen the King,” Him who is the Lord of hosts. And the Holy Ghost says by St. Paul that He spake by Isaiah in these words (Acts 28:25-27). It was a human Form which he beheld, sitting enthroned as the Judge, and receiving the worship of the glowing love of the seraphim. How should not this vision live in him for those threescore years? So God prepared him to be, above all “the goodly company of the prophets,” the evangelic prophet, in that he had seen the glory of the Lord. He, too, was a man of longing. His darkest visions are the dawn streaks of the brightest light. He lived in a future for himself, a future which God had promised to the remnant of His people He looked on beyond this world of disappointment and shadows. God Himself is the everlasting bliss of those who wait for Him.
7. Be not dismayed, then, though men who think that they see, see not, or though they see not, because they think that they see. It is but the condition of the victories of faith over the soul, free, if it will, to disbelieve. Be not discouraged, if iniquity abound, or mankind seem to deafen itself in its pleasures or gains, or at the stupidity of an intellect which will not acknowledge a God whom it does not see, or own its own free will, which it has used against God continually, and, by repeated choices of its own evil against God’s good, has well-nigh enslaved to its master passion, which God would have subjected to it. Jesus foretold at once His victories and His sorrows; His victories in those who willed to look to Him as their Master, their Saviour, their Regenerator, their Life, their Resurrection, their Immortality of joy; His sorrows, in those who would not be redeemed. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
The prophet’s thoughts at this period
The prophet’s thoughts at this period are few, if great. They are in the main these three:
1. His though of the Lord, the King.
2. His thought of the people in their insensibility to the majesty and rule of the King.
3. These two thoughts when brought together inevitably create the third--that of the annihilation of the people down to a remnant, that the Lord may be exalted in that day. (A. B. Davidson, D. D.)
The importance of understanding truth
The vast importance of people’s understanding what they hear, our blessed Saviour frequently inculcated upon those who attended His ministry. He often introduced His subject by calling upon them to hear and understand: after discoursing to them He sometimes asked if they understood what they heard? He blamed them if they did not understated, and commended those who were so happy as to know the things which were freely given them of God. (R. Macculloch.)
Israel’s punishment necessary
We, reading this prophecy in the light of history, can say that if it were anywhere necessary thus to assert God’s righteousness against sin, most especially was it so in this the chosen nation of Israel. Israel had been set apart that in him all the nations of the earth should be blessed; and if he became reprobate, where were this promise to the world? “If gold rusteth, what should iron do?” Therefore the cities were to be wasted without inhabitant, and the land utterly desolate; and even after a partial recovery from this punishment, and a humble restoration of a small part of their ancient glory, the stern process should be repeated again and again: the invasion of Pekah and Rezin would be repaired only to be followed by that of Sennacherib; the captivity of Manasseh would succeed the peaceful reign of Hezekiah; Josiah would restore the kingdom only to be laid waste by the Egyptian and the Assyrian; the Roman would come after the Greek, and even Hadrian after Titus, All thought of an earthly glory of the nation must give way before such a, prospect. If the prophet could have looked so far forward, and with a patriot’s hopes alone, there was nothing but humiliation and despair before him; he could, at most, expect but such temporary alleviation and restoration as might enable him to do his work while he was there. (Sir E. Strachey, Bart.)
The meaning of the message intrusted to Isaiah
Did it represent the ministry to which he was solemnly deputed as a forlorn hope, because, from the moral temper and confirmed habits of the people, an unfavourable result was antecedently certain? This seems the sense in which it was understood by the authors of the LXX, and its form, if Hebrew idiom be taken into account, is by no means inconsistent with this meaning. It is a mode of expression, very characteristic of Hebrew thought, to represent the result of a course of action as designed which is only foreseen or confidently anticipated. Familiar with forms of government in which the sovereign power appeared wholly without control, the Hebrews transferred ideas derived from this source to the government of God. They had a conviction that the Judge of all the earth must do right, but the conception of the rights of the creature and correlative responsibilities of the Creator did not lie within the horizon of their thought. Their overwhelming sense of the Divine power, absolutely ordering all events and giving no account of its dealings, permitted them to say, without any idea that they were imputing evil to God, “Why hast Thou made us to err from Thy ways, and hardened our heart from Thy fear?” (E. W. Shalders.)
The message from God
It may be said that in the passage under consideration the utterance is not the prophet’s, but God’s. But this makes no difference, since Isaiah’s mind was the field of revelation; and, strictly speaking, there is no more difficulty in the idea of God’s accommodating Himself to modes of human thought than in His employing our modes of speech. It is a necessity limiting the absolute truth of revelation. If men’s minds are to be reached, the Spirit must use such avenues of approach as have been thrown up for other occasions. God’s communications to Isaiah would be tinctured by Isaiah’s habits of thought as inevitably as the prophet’s publication of them. (E. W. Shalders.)
A college professor would not be doing his duty towards his conscientious and diligent students if he forbore to proceed to the higher branches of the subject of his prelections, because his teaching would have the inevitable effect of confusing and discouraging the idle men who had failed to master his elementary course. So it is the appointment of Isaiah’s mission, notwithstanding its foreseen failure in the case of all but a remnant of the nation, which gives it a judicial character, and makes it a menace of judgment. (E. W. Shalders.)
Judgment and mercy
Hence our Lord’s use of the passage to justify His having recourse to parables while prosecuting His ministry in the midst of a nation that had already shown a strong disposition to reject Him. He puts His teaching into a form in which it could be apprehended by such as were willing to do the will of His Father, but which would hide it from those whose disobedience to known truth had deprived them of spiritual insight. This was a chastisement upon their perverse and prejudiced minds, because a virtual withdrawal of His saving ministry from them. It was like closing their day of visitation. Yet in another aspect the adoption of this course was an act of mercy; for teaching, the meaning of which is obscure to the unwilling hearer, is less hardening than plain truth, because it does not provoke such obstinate resistance. So also there was mercy in Isaiah’s ministry to his hardened fellow countrymen. It was to be continued until their cities were desolate, without inhabitant, and the Lord had removed men far away. Then its gracious purpose to them would become manifest, for when suffering Divine judgments they would be thrown back upon neglected warnings. Though so long unavailing, as unavailing as if their very design had been to confirm them in their disobedience, these warnings would eventually become weird fingers pointing to the cause of their sufferings, and indicating the way of salvation through repentance and turning to God (verses 11-13). For the severest lines of the prophet’s message plainly imply that, even after a course of obstinate impenitence, to turn to put a constraint upon God’s mercy, and draw forth His forgiveness: “lest,” He says, “they convert and be healed.” (E. W. Shalders.)
A loud call to repentance
Four the prophet to represent God as actually no longer inviting men to repent, but only desiring their greater condemnation, was a new and most forcible call to repentance for men who had rejected many previous calls. It was like digging a grave for a man in his own sight, after you have failed to convince him by word that his course of conduct must end in death. It brought the far-off results of men’s behaviour most vividly before their eyes. It roused them to thought by the unwonted cry that the hour of repentance was past. (P. Thomson, M. A.)
God vindicating Himself
It is most important, when a boy at school is careless, and makes little or no progress in learning, that his teacher should put himself in a right position--that he should be able to declare that he paid attention to him, and did his utmost to promote his education. It is most important, when a son turns out badly, that the parents should put themselves in a right position--that they should be able to declare that they did their duty by him. In like manner, it was most important that, relative to the people of Judah, God should put Himself in a right position, or in a position to appeal to facts; that He should be able even to appeal to themselves, as to whether He had not interested Him self in them, borne patiently with them, and wrought with them in every possible way to guide their feet into right paths. But if Isaiah had not been sent to them, would God have been in a position to appeal to facts? He would not. It is not strange, then, that he was commissioned to go to them in the character of a prophet, and deal with them in order to their reformation. (G. Cron, M. A.)
Opposite effects from the same agencies
The same fire reddens the gold and burns the dross. Under the same threshing sledge the grain is cleansed and the chaff crushed out. By the same press beam the oil is separated from the dregs. The same sunshine and rain which cause the living tree to grow and flourish, are the most potent influences to bring the dead tree to decay. (Sunday School Chronicle.)
A hard ministry
“On the morning before I was licensed,” says the late Rev. John Brown, “that text was much impressed on my spirit.” He said, Go and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not, etc. Since I was ordained at Haddington, I know not how often it hath been heavy to my heart to think how much this Scripture hath been fulfilled in my ministry. Frequently I have had an anxious desire to be removed by death, from being a plague to my poor congregation. Often, however, I have checked myself, and have considered this wish as my folly, and begged of the Lord, that if it were not for His glory to remove me by death, He would make me successful in my work.”
See ye indeed, but perceive not
Sight without insight
(with Mark 8:18):--They had sight, but no insight. They exercised the power of observation, but had no imagination. They were ritualistic, but not poetic. In their company could be found scribes, but no prophets. They had many politicians, but no statesmen. Eyes had they, but no vision. Life to these people was a superficies, not a profundity. Facts were planes, not cubes. Everything was a surface phenomenon, a mere skin with no wondrous internal ministry to arouse the imagination and to fill the being with awe. Now the suggestion of the Scriptures is this: Life is cubical, every fact being a cube. To see only the surface is elementary and primitive. The crown of life consists in being able to comprehend with all saints what is the length, and breadth, and depth, and height, of every fact which we encounter in the common paths of daily life. The practical which we can measure with a foot rule has mystical relationships; the material has spiritual significance. To see the larger relationships of things, to discern their spiritual pose and set, to peer into their possible issues, is vision. “Thousands of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see.” (J. H.Jowett, M. A.)
Two ways of looking at things: the superficial and the cubical
Let me illustrate a little more clearly these two ways o flocking at things, the superficial and the cubical; the so-called practical and the imaginative; the way of sight and the way of vision.
1. There are two ways of looking at a little child. “Sight” exercises the power of observation and beholds a little animal, compounded of material atoms in varying quality, a cunning product of material forces; a little bundle of hungers and thirsts. “Insight” beholds in the child a germ of wondrous possibility, a promise of the eternal, a vehicle of unnamed endowments, a possible image of Christ.
2. There are two ways of looking at a flower. There is the way of “sight”--
A primrose by the river’s brim
A yellow primrose was to him,
And it was nothing more.
And there is the way of “insight”--
Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the cranny.
I hold you here root and all, in my hand,
Little flower, but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.
3. There are two ways of looking at a book: “sight” and “insight.” Here is a book. It is a dictionary. A man gave years of ceaseless labour to its creation. What is it? A Chinese dictionary. Who compiled it? A missionary. And this when he might have been teaching the multitude, feeding the hungry, carrying consolation to the terrified and depressed. To what purpose is this waste? Why were not these years invested and given the poor? So says “sight;” How does “insight” regard the labour! The dictionary is a door of hope, the carrier of light, the key to an empire, a living way into the thought and heart of a vast people.
4. There are two ways of looking at the fabric of this building in which we at present worship. “Sight” says, “How plain the structure, made of common brick! And the windows! nothing about them tasteful and refined.” “Insight” gazes at the building and recalls the men and women who have found their Saviour here. A panorama of spiritual ministers passes before it, the consecration of wedlock, the dedication of little children, the illumination of death, the transfiguration of sorrow, the heightening of joy! To the soul’s vision this plain brick house is an earthly vessel, precious because of the heavenly treasure of which it has been, and is, the shrine.
5. There are two ways of looking at the bread upon the Communion table. To “sight” it is common baker’s bread, bought at so much a loaf, and there is much more like it. To “vision” it is a token of a broken body and of shed blood. By vision we realise the spiritual significance of things, and by fixing our regard upon them we appropriate their contents into our own spirits. (J. H.Jowett, M. A.)
Religious, but without spiritual discernment
Now let me mention an astounding thing. This word of the prophet’s, and the stern warning as to the perils of blindness with which this book abounds, are addressed not to the men of the world, the jauntily irreligious, the men who treat the affairs of the Highest with levity or derision. They are addressed to the religious, to the regular churchgoers, to the recognised adherents of the synagogue and the temple. They are addressed to men and women who are religious but who have no vision, who pay scrupulous attention to ritual but who are devoid of spiritual discernment. They had given undue emphasis to the formal. Their life had been lived on the superficies. In the realm of religion they were geographers, not geologists; registrars, not poets. They lived and moved on the piano of rules, they did not enter into the roomy depths of principles. They were great at surface measurements; the measure of a Sabbath day’s journey, the length of a rope, the hang of a tassel, the fixing of a pin, the duration of a fast. Now when the formal is unduly emphasised it is at the expense of the moral. When ritual is obtrusive the spiritual is impaired. These exalted the trellis and forgot the fruit! But when the spiritual is minimised, life becomes callous. We become indurated by worship of form. What therefore do we find? We find that in the speech of the prophets it is the formally religious people who are denounced for their senselessness; the formal have become the brutal. They have lost their spiritual refinement, and with it their sympathy for their kind. And when the refinement has gone from the spirit, men lose their insight, their power of seeing the invisible. “They have eyes, but they see not.” (J. H.Jowett, M. A.)
Conditions of spiritual vision
How can we gain and keep the power of vision?
1. Let us seek our answer in the Book of Revelation: “Anoint thine eyes with eye salve that thou mayest see.” Mark the connection of this passage. The anointing follows an adorning; before the eyes are mentioned attention has been drawn to the garments. The garment must be changed; the raiment must be made “white.” The life must attain unto purity. Then, succeeding the purity, comes the vision--the insight. First, there is the “washing of regeneration”; then “the vision and faculty Divine.” “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” “Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things.”
2. And there is one other condition which must be named. It is suggested to us by a word of the Apostle Paul: “I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.” When we have discerned a heavenly meaning, when we have seen the Divine significance of things, when we have entered into the spiritual purpose, we are to be true to what we have seen. I must bring my life into conformity with my light. “Hold fast that which thou hast.” I must not batter the gates of heaven for more light if I am rebellious to the light already given. I must be true to what I see. If I live truly I shall see truly. Obedience is the way to the larger vision. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
Israel’s detective insight
The great objects which were presented to the view of this people were, the astonishing wonders which were brought before their eyes, the many terrible judgments inflicted upon their enemies, the signal victories with which they were crowned, the glorious deliverances and remarkable interpositions of kind Providence in their behalf. (R. Macculloch.)
Responsibility of having the Gospel
A writer says, “You may buy a New Testament for a few pence, yet it may be to you at last the most costly possession you ever had.” (Sunday School Chronicle.)
The petrifying well at Knaresborough well known, and may illustrate this subject. It is a cascade from the river Nidd, about fifteen feet high and twice as broad, and forms an aqueous curtain to a cave. The dripping waters are used for petrifying anything that may be hung up in the drip of the water ledge, which flows over, as it were, the eaves of the cave. This ledge of limestone rock is augmented unceasingly by the action of the water--which flows over it. In the cascade a great variety of objects are hung up by short lengths of wire, and these are petrified, turned into rock, by the water trickling over them; sponges, books, gloves, veils, animals, and birds subjected to the action of the shower are changed into stone. A sponge is petrified in a few months; some things require a year or two. Petrifying streams threaten our spiritual life, and unless duly resisted, steal away our vitality and leave us with the coldness and hardness of stone. (W. L.Watkinson.)
Make the heart of this people fat
The power of self-cursing
“Make the heart of this people fat,” etc.
By this it is not meant that Isaiah was to aim at and put forth what power he possessed to lead the people of Judah deeper and ever deeper into error and sire That was an errand on which God was morally incapable of sending him. His business was to teach them, not error, but truth; to set them an example not of rebellion, but obedience to the Divine win; to diminish and do away with their moral insensibility and wickedness, not increase them. The meaning is, that they would so act that the effect of all his diligence and ingenuity to instruct and reform them would be to render them still more stupid and wicked, and still more the objects of the Lord’s displeasure. Accordingly, both in Matthew 13:14-15 and Acts 28:25-27, we find the passage so quoted and interpreted as to bring out the guilt of the people themselves, and constrain us to throw all the blame on them. (G. Cron, M. A.)
Then said I, Lord, how long?
The state of the Church
I. NOTICE A FEW THINGS AFFECTING THE STATE OF THE CHURCH AND OF THE WORLD WHICH ARE CALCULATED TO EXCITE THE ASTONISHMENT AND GRIEF OF THE CHRISTIAN.
1. The little progress which Christianity has made after a lapse of eighteen hundred years.
2. The prevalence of irreligion in those parts of the world which are professedly Christian.
3. The low state of religion in the Church itself.
4. The obstacles which the Church presents to the increase of vital piety.
II. HOW LONG THIS STATE OF THINGS IS TO CONTINUE, or when we may reasonably expect another, and a better.
1. There is a connection established between the spirit or the state of mind generally prevailing in the Church and its prosperity, or the extension of religion in the world. As soon as the Church is thoroughly alive and truly devoted to God, the time of her enlargement is at hand.
2. The second point respects the inquiry, what is that state of mind which must generally prevail in the Church in order to the extension of religion in the world?
(1) It is absolutely necessary that the Church should realise her position and feel her responsibility.
(2) It is absolutely necessary also that the Church should feel sympathy with her Lord in His intense solicitude, or in the accomplishment of the great purpose of His mediation.
(3) Until this state of mind prevail in the Church our efforts will not be of such a character as God can greatly bless.
III. HOW MAY THE CHURCH BE BROUGHT INTO THAT STATE OF MIND WHICH APPEARS TO BE ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY IN ORDER TO HER EXTENDED USEFULNESS AND TO THE DIFFUSION OF THE GOSPEL THROUGHOUT THE WORLD! Every man should begin with himself, and everyone who is awake should endeavour to awaken his brother. (J. J.Davies.)
Isaiah’s attitude towards his message
The prophet cannot venture to intercede for the people, nor does he dare to give vent to his sorrow over the need of this stern message save by the words, “How long, Lord?” How long shall I have this painful and fruitless duty to perform! (P. Thomson, M. A.)
But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return
In the worst of times God has a little remnant that kept their garments clean, and in the midst of the most sweeping and desolating calamities He will take special notice of it for good.
1. The remnant will be but small. “A tenth.” A certain number put for an uncertain. The tenth was God’s proportion under the law, consecrated for His use.
2. They shall return; i.e., from their sins and backslidings and the common defections of the Church of Israel. They shall return also from their captivity in Babylon to their native land.
3. It is asserted of this remnant that it shall be eaten; that is, say some, after they return they shall be devoured a second time by the kings of Assyria. God’s remnant, when they are delivered out of one trouble, must lay their account with another. Or, as some understand it, shall be accepted of God as the tithe was which was meat in God’s house. The saving of this remnant shall be meat to the faith and hope of them that wish well to God’s kingdom and interest.
4. It is said of this remnant, that it shall be “as a teil, and as an oak whose substance is in them, even when they east their leaves.” As if He had said, Though they may be stripped of their outward prosperity, and share in the common calamity; yet they shall recover like a tree in the spring, and sprout and flourish again: although they fall, they shall not be utterly cast down.
5. This distinguished remnant shall be the stay and support of the public interest. “The holy seed shall be the substance thereof.” (E. Erskine.)
How the religious of a nation are the strength of it
I. WHAT ARE WE TO UNDERSTAND BY THE RELIGIOUS OF A NATION?
1. Those who, as to the doctrine of Christianity, “hold the Head.”
2. Those who, as to the practice of Christianity, “fear God and work righteousness.”
II. HOW, AND IN WHAT RESPECTS, THEY MAY BE SAID TO BE ITS STRENGTH. “The holy seed” is here called “the substance,” or “stock,” of a people; so that in what respects the strength of a tree is in its stock, in those, or several of them, the strength of a people is in the religion of them.
1. The stock of a tree is the most firm and durable part of it.
2. The stock is that which propagates its kind. Cut off all the boughs, and yet the stem will shoot forth again, send out new leaves and fruit and seed, from which other trees will come. So here the righteous propagate their righteousness, communicate to others, beget children to God.
3. The stock of the tree is that for the sake of which the tree is dressed and watered and looked after. Men take care of the tree so long as there is life in the stock; they not only do not grub it up, but prune it, and bestow upon it what cost and labour is fit for it.
III. ON WHAT ACCOUNT THE RELIGIOUS OF A NATION MAY BE SAID TO BE ITS STRENGTH, or what influence they have on the welfare and security of a people.
1. As they are God’s favourites.
2. As they improve their interest with God for a people.
3. As they are a means many times to stop the current of wickedness, which is ready to overflow a land with judgments, and to bring swift destruction on it.
4. As they not only check the progress of sin, but propagate goodness to others, as well as promote it in themselves. This they do by their counsels, admonitions, example.
5. Sometimes the religious of a nation may have an influence upon its public welfare, by doing some eminent service, wherewith God is much pleased, and to which He hath a special respect. “Phinehas stood up, and executed judgment: and so the plague was stayed” (Psalms 106:30).
6. God may sometimes spare a people for the sake of His children among them, that they may be useful and helpful to them in His work. This end God had in sparing the Gibeonites; He intended they should be “hewers of wood and drawers of water” for His sanctuary, and so assistant to the priests and Levites in their service (Joshua 9:27). So, Isaiah 62:5,
7. God can make even Moab “hide His outcasts” (Isaiah 16:3-4); “the earth help the woman” (Revelation 12:16); Ahab favour a good Obadiah, that he may hide the Lord’s prophets (1 Kings 18:3-4); a heathen Cyrus “let go His captives and build His city” (Isaiah 14:13); a Darius, an Artaxerxes, an Ahasuerus, countenance and prefer a Daniel, a Nehemiah, a Mordecai, public instruments of good to His people. Sometimes God may so twist and combine the interest of worldly men with the interest of His children, that they cannot promote their own, without helping on the others’.
1. If the religious of a nation are the strength and defence of it, then the same may be said of the religious of the world,--they are the substance of it, the support, the strength of it. The world itself is preserved chiefly for the sake of the godly in it, “the holy seed.”
2. The religious of a nation are not its enemies.
3. The sinners of a nation are really the weakness of it.
4. It is the interest of any people where God hath a seed of righteous ones to favour them and make much of them.
5. It is folly in any people to persecute them that are truly religious. For by this means they lose--
(1) the benefit of the saints’ prayers;
(2) the help of the saints. (J. Collins, M. A.)
The doctrine of the remnant an antidote to discouragement
Though it belongs to the very essence of Biblical revelation, we find, we moderns, a strange difficulty in laying hold of it. In spite of the pathetic beauty of its exposition in Isaiah it never lays hold of us in our reasonable thinking, in our habitual imagination, as the truth of all truths in estimating and justifying the ways of Providence. We read these great and beautiful passages which tell of the remnant which shall return, to come again to Zion with joy and singing, and yet it does not fasten on us as the exhibition of a principle which should govern our conduct, and determine our growth, and solve our practical perplexities, and disperse depression and feed hope. Yet this is what it did to the prophets, and this is what it did to St. Paul. In every darkest hour, under every bewilderment, at every blow that smote the spirit of faith or wounded the heart of love, back they turned to this one prevailing theme--Never fear! Never give up! The remnant shall return; the remnant shall be saved. God has not forgotten His remnant, and in the safety of the remnant all is once more possible. The whole jeopardised salvation of Israel and the Church may yet be recovered. (H. Scott-Holland, D. D.)
Practical application of the idea of “the remnant”
Practically, in conduct, in handling your own lives, in dealing with your neighbours, surely this method of God’s should be yours also.
1. You are inclined to denounce the wickedness of the world, to despair of human nature, to abandon someone as hopeless, to see nothing in him that you can like or respect. Look again, consider it once more. Is there no place in that man’s heart where you may touch him, no point at which he will reveal a good side? It is strange how men we thought to be the very worst surprise us here; constantly we come upon something generous that they do, some touch of loyalty, some sign of tenderness and devotion. There it is; that is the one hope! God need not despair of the man so long as he has one spot left on which to work. One saith: “Destroy it not, for its blessing is in it”--the blessed words of mercy said over the dead trunk of a tree, bare and wasted and burned with fire, a stump charred to the naked ground, yet destroy it not; its seed, its substance is in it! So long as that can be said over a man, strive for him, pray for him, work for him at that spot to rescue it, to enlarge it, to save it.
2. And do the same with yourself when you are despairing, when you review your life and condemn it at every point, when you can see no use whatever in renewing resolutions which you are sure to break, and efforts which already foretell their own disaster. Nevertheless, go back on the holy substance--“Christ is in you, the eternal hope of honour.” “Yes,” you will say, “all else would have been lost but for that; verily, if God had not left me that seed, I should have been even as Sodom and Gomorrah, but, thanks be to God, it is not so; it never can be so if only I will believe it.” (H. Scott-Holland, D. D.)
The leafless tree
I. TO THE JEWS. What a chequered history has been the history of the Jewish nation! Why is it that the Jewish race is preserved? We have our answer in the text: “The holy seed is the substance thereof.” There is something within a tree mysterious, hidden and unknown, which preserves life in it when everything outward tends to kill it. So in the Jewish race there is a secret element which keeps it alive. We know what it is; it is the “remnant according to the election of grace.”
II. TO THE CHURCH OF CHRIST, whereof the Jewish people are but a dim shadow and an emblem. The Church has had its trials; trials from without and trials within. Why is it that the Church is still preserved, when she looks so dead? For this reason: that there is in the midst of her--though many are hypocrites and impostors--a “chosen seed,” who are “the substance thereof.” Let me draw your attention, as a Church connected with this place, to this point--that the holy seed is the substance of the Church. A great many of you might be compared to the bark of the tree; some of you are like the big limbs; others are like pieces of the trunk. Well, we should be very sorry to lose any of you; but we could afford to do so without any serious damage to the life of the tree. Yet there are some here--God knoweth who they are--who are the substance of the tree. By theword “substance” it meant the life, the inward principle. The inward principle is in the tree, when it has lost its leaves. Now, God discerns some men in this Church, I doubt not, who are towards us like the inward principle of the oak: they are the substance of the Church. Note here, that the life of a tree is not determined by the shape of the branches, nor by the way it grows, but it is the substance. The shape of a Church is not its life. In one place I see a Church formed in an Episcopalian shape; in another place I see one formed in a Presbyterian shape; then, again, I see one formed on an Independent principle. Here I see one with sixteen ounces to the pound of doctrine; there I see one with eight, and some with very little clear doctrine at all. And yet I find life in all the Churches, in some degree--some good men in all of them. How do I account for this? Why, just inthis way--that the oak may be alive, whatever its shape, if it has got the substance. Observe, again, that the substance of the oak is a hidden thing; you cannot see it. Thou art a Church member. Let me ask thee--art thou one of the holy seed? Some will say, “How is it that good men are the means of preserving the visible Church?” I answer, the holy seed doth this, because it derives its life from Christ.
III. This is true of EVERY INDIVIDUAL BELIEVER: his substance is in him when he has lost his leaves.
1. Christian men lose their leaves when they lose their comforts. The faith of the Christian, when shrouded by doubts and fears, is just as much there as when he rejoiceth devoutly in the display of it.
2. Some Christians lose their leaves not by doubts, but by sin. Many a child of God has gone far away from his Master, but His substance is in him. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Life in the root
A gentleman had a beautiful shrub in his garden. He set great store by it as the pride of his place. At the time of the great blizzard it was blasted and withered. The life of it seemed wholly gone. He did not give up hope, though there was nothing that gave him encouragement. But he loved that shrub, and longed to save it if he could. So what did he do? Tended it more than ever. Opened its roots to the genial sun, pruned it patiently and with care, cherished it all he possibly could. A year or two passed away. It was a slow and cheerless business, and he came near losing hope. But, one day, what was his joy to see signs of life returning. The sap began to rise, the stems to recover their spring, it put on fresh leaves, bloomed anew, and filled his heart with thankfulness. Be patient. God sees deeper than we do. (Sunday School Chronicle.)
A tall tree . . . an oak
The terebinth and the oak
The two most common forest trees of Palestine were the terebinth and oak. They were strong hardy trees. It was a matter of difficulty to kill them, so to cut and maim them as to take the substance or vitality out of them. So long as the trunk or stem was allowed to remain in the soil, they were sure, in course of time, to grow and flourish anew; and Isaiah was taught by God Himself that His people would be equally tenacious of life. The red rough hand of war might shake off the leaves and lop off the branches; It might also reduce the stem to the slenderest proportions; but the tree of Judah, at times a large fair tree, would not fall into a state of utter decay, and vanish away. Period after period there would be a tenth--a remnant, however diminutive, as many as would, by the blessing of Heaven, once more develop into a prosperous nation. Sooner or later, the judgments of God would have the desired effect, and the tree that had been hurt and peeled would give indications that it had not been deprived of all its substance or vitality. (G. Cron, M. A.)
The terebinth, a beautiful tree, the Pistacia terebinthus, growing to a large size in the countries around the east end of the Mediterranean, and in countries further to the east, especially in Syria, Palestine, Arabia, and Persia. It is also called the “turpentine tree,” and a transparent, pleasant-smelling resin of high value is procured in small quantities from slits made in the bark of branches and stems. Its blossoms bloom in April, and its fruit is a small bluish nut with an edible kernel, much used and relished especially by the Persians. In Palestine it wag found in valleys, not in woods, but generally isolated. The name does not occur in the A.V., but the Hebrews elah, rendered in Isaiah 6:13 “teil,” and in Hosea 4:13 “elm,” is most probably the terebinth. (J. Macpherson, M. A.)
So the holy seed shall be the substance thereof
The substance of a nation
“The holy seed” is the substance, the body, the life, the worth of any nation, any community, or any church.
I. First, therefore, we must contemplate “THE HOLY SEED” that we may know who they are.
1. This seed of God are they whom He has created anew by His Spirit, whom He has adopted into His family.
2. But this seed are evidenced and demonstrated by their holiness; they are “the holy seed.” Holiness signifies separation, seclusion, setting apart.
II. Our main point is to prove that THIS “HOLY SEED” IS, IN ANY COMMUNITY OR CHURCH, “THE SUBSTANCE” OF IT. The holy seed is the substance of a nation--
1. Because God regards all beside in a nation but as dross and foliage--dross without gold, foliage without fruit.
2. Because the holy seed alone diffuses a sanctifying, a saving and a savouring efficacy upon the land in which it is found.
3. Because for their sakes God spares a guilty land when otherwise His whole displeasure would be allowed to rise against it (ch. 1:9; Genesis 18:23, etc.).
4. Because the holy seed are the spiritual warders of a nation, who watch with prayer, and stand in the breach and implore God that He should not destroy it. (H. Stowell, M. A.)
The holy seed
I. GIVE A DESCRIPTION OF THE REMNANT spoken of in the text.
1. A remnant is a small piece taken from a greater. The Church of Christ is a remnant separated from the rest of mankind.
2. This remnant is different from the rest of mankind in their character.
3. They are also under a different government.
4. They also stand on a different foundation.
5. They are under the influence of another spirit.
6. They are travelling quite a different road.
7. They come to a different end.
II. SHOW WHY THEY ARE CALLED A SEED. Because--
1. They owe their spiritual origin to God.
2. They bear His likeness. As every tree bringeth forth its natural fruit, he that is born of God will be like God.
3. They are in respect to their dependence on God. God grafts us into Jesus Christ, and we are therefore dependent upon Him for nourishment and strength, as the branch depends on the stock of the tree for support and sap to grow thereby.
4. Because they are of the family of God.
5. Because they are heirs of His estate.
III. SHOW WHY THEY ARE CALLED A “HOLY” SEED.
1. They are holy by sanctification. They are set apart.
2. Because of their purification.
3. Because the Spirit of God dwells in them.
IV. WHAT IS MEANT BY THIS SEED BEING DENOMINATED THE “SUBSTANCE” OF A LAND OR CHURCH?
1. By the word “substance” I think the prophet means treasure, or the chief part, or that which constitutes the welfare of a land--that in which the chief excellency or support or wealth of a nation consists. This is true of the people of God.
2. Further, it implies that they are God’s only inheritance in the world.
3. This seed is called a substance because it is the support and stay of a land or a church.
V. SHOW IN WHAT RESPECT THIS SEED MAY BE SAID TO BE THE STAY AND SUPPORT OF A LAND OR OF A CHURCH. For their sakes ruining calamities are withheld from those nations which deserve to be visited with the judgments of God (Gen 19:22; 2 Samuel 5:12; Genesis 30:27; Genesis 39:3; Malachi 3:11). This remnant shall be the strength of the land by their prayers (Jeremiah 29:7; 1 Samuel 7:9). (T. Bagnall-Baker, M. A.)
The present obligations of pious men
I. WHAT IS THE CONDUCT WHICH IT NOW BECOMES PIOUS MEN TO CULTIVATE AND DISPLAY. In order that they may sustain the honourable station which is assigned to them, they are to cultivate and display certain habits of thought and character appropriate to the season in which it is their lot to live.
1. Pious men should cultivate and display uncompromising separation from the practical wickedness which is around them.
2. Pious men ought to cultivate and display firm and unwavering attachment to the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith.
3. Pious men ought to cultivate and display cordial, fraternal attachment towards each other.
4. Pious men ought to cultivate and display zealous exertion for the promotion of Christian truth and influence throughout the land.
II. WHAT ARE THE RESULTS WHICH, FROM THE CULTIVATION AND DISPLAY OF THIS CONDUCT, MAY BE PROPERLY ANTICIPATED. “The holy seed shall be the substance thereof.” Pious men are to be the safeguards of the national interests; and when the time of calamity has passed, those interests are to be maintained in security and in honour. God preserves nations for the sake of the pious men who are in them, and who duly display and vindicate their character.
1. Observe the anticipated results as they bear upon what is temporal and civil. There has not been a dynasty holding the reins of empire since genuine Christianity took its root amongst us, and there has not been a single reign of any one of those dynasties, but what might be summoned, as affording living testimony to the truth, that the temporal interests of the nation have been bound up with the piety of its people. Pious men will preserve--
(1) The order of our land.
(2) The freedom of our land.
(3) The peace of our land.
(4) The prosperity and honour of our land.
2. Notice the anticipated results as they bear upon matters spiritual and religious. Here the promise is more distinct and the consequences are more palpable.
(1) The defeat and destruction of erroneous opinions will be secured.
(2) The salvation of multitudes of immortal souls will be secured.
(3) Vastly increased facilities for the promotion of the Saviour’s kingdom throughout the earth will be secured. Conclusion--
1. The vast importance of being numbered amongst the “holy seed” yourselves.
2. Let us endeavour to arise to the performance of our obligations. (J. Parsons.)
The holy seed
1. The seed, like the tithe, is but little in respect of the rest of the field. Yet--
2. It is a numerous seed, absolutely considered in itself Revelation 7:9).
3. It is an honourable seed.
4. A costly seed unto our glorious Redeemer.
5. A flourishing and fruitful seed.
6. A troubled and persecuted seed in this world.
7. Yet a very durable seed (Psalms 89:28-29).
8. In this world a scattered seed.
9. A holy seed. (E. Erskine.)
The holy seed the substance
1. That the wicked of a land are but a heap of lumber in God’s reckoning, whatever be their station, quality, or estate.
2. That the saints, the truly godly, in a land are excellent and valuable persons (Psalms 16:3; Proverbs 12:26; Revelation 3:4; Hebrews 11:38).
3. That the saints of are His inheritance and portion in a land. He has a peculiar right and property in them beyond the rest of mankind; they are so much His that they are not their own, and therefore have not power to dispose of themselves, but for His glory.
4. That as they are His portion and property, so He has a great deal of pleasure in them, even as a man takes delight and pleasure in that which is his substance.
5. That there is something in and about the godly that is not to be found among other men. The wicked, when laid in God’s balance, are found wanting solidity; but the holy seed are the substance, they bear weight.
6. That the remnant of truly godly in a land are the riches thereof, for a man’s riches is his substance.
7. That the truly godly are the stay and support of the land where they live. (E. Erskine.)
The judgments threatened
We do not suppose that the prophet means to say that all the wicked men will be removed from captivity and the good men only left. (See on the contrary Jeremiah 24:5-7.) He is dealing with the nation as representing the kingdom of God, and means to say that the coming judgments will weed out the worldliness and carelessness that prevail at present, will deepen true spiritual religion in Israel, and fit her to be the centre from which the truth and grace of God shall go forth to all the world. (P. Thompson, M. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 6". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent