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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

Isaiah

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IT was the day of atonement in the Temple. And a sadder day of atonement had never dawned on Jerusalem. For King Uzziah, one of the best kings Jerusalem had ever seen, had been struck of the Lord with leprosy but yesterday. For fifty years Uzziah had reigned in Jerusalem, and had done judgment and justice till he was accepted of his people as almost the promised Messiah Himself. But his great services, and his great successes, and his great honours had all exalted and intoxicated Uzziah's heart till he fell in his old age into what was the unpardonable sin of the Old Testament. And thus it was that on that atonement day he lay in a lazar-house waiting for his death and burial, a castaway from before both God and man. And thus it was that all Judah and Jerusalem were afflicting their souls that day because of the fall of their aged king, and because of his hopeless leprosy. And thus it was that Isaiah also, the son of Amoz, came up to the Temple that day clothed with sackcloth, and with ashes upon his head, and with the leper's rag upon his upper lip. You speak of your preachers, and you praise their power of imagination, and their eloquence, and their dramatic passion, and the way they sink and lose themselves in their work. But if you had lived in Israel in those days you would have seen imagination, and eloquence, and dramatic passion, and all else to astonish you. You would have seen Elijah running with girded-up loins before Ahab's chariot from Mount Carmel to the entrance of Jezreel, while the little cloud like a man's hand made the heavens black with wind and with a great rain. And then you would have seen the same prophet in his old age casting his mantle in silence on the shoulders of Elisha the son of Shaphat, as he ploughed in his father's field with the twelfth yoke of oxen. At another time, you would have seen the prophet Jeremiah hiding his girdle in the hole of a rock of Euphrates till it was marred so that it was profitable for nothing. Again, you would have seen the same sad prophet preparing a prophecy as he stood in the potter's house while the potter wrought a work on the wheels. Again, the same prophet at another time took a potter's earthen bottle, and taking with him of the ancients of the people, and of the ancients of the priests, he brake the bottle in the valley of Hinnom and said, This will I do to Jerusalem, saith the Lord. At another time Jeremiah made him bonds and yokes upon his neck, and even went up into his pulpit with the bonds and the yokes upon his neck. At another time he buys a field in Anathoth and weighs the money, and subscribes the evidence, and takes witnesses, and seals the purchase according to law and custom, and then takes that field in Anathoth for his text. And, then, toward the end of his ministry, this same prophet wrote in a book all he had ever said about Babylon, and bound a stone to the book, and cast it into the river Euphrates, and said, Thus shall Babylon sink, and shall not rise again from the evil that the Lord shall bring upon her. And you would have seen Ezekiel actually lying on his right side for three hundred and ninety days, while he ate his bread off the dunghill, and thus preached the hardness of the famine that the Lord would send upon his people for their sin. And again we read in Ezekiel: I did so as I was commanded; I brought forth my stuff by day, as stuff for captivity, and in the even I digged through the wall with my hands; I brought it forth in the twilight, and I bore it upon my shoulder in their sight. And, in like manner, with all the passion and sin and shame of the future foremost prophet of God, Isaiah, the son of Amoz, put the leper's filthy rag upon his lip, and took up all Uzziah's sin and misery upon his heart, and went and stood beside the altar that day of atonement in the Temple. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a lire coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: and he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Also I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I: send me. And thus it was that that day of atonement for King Uzziah's leprosy was the day of Isaiah's call to be the prophet of the Lord to the leprous people of Jerusalem. The son of Amoz 'offered himself to great inspiration by means of great humiliation,' as Pascal so often repeats it, and so delights to repeat it.

'Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?' Why does the Lord ask that question with such anxiety when He has all these shining seraphs standing at His side, and each one of them with six wings? Why was Isaiah, the son of Amoz, a man of such unclean lips, and a man so woful 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. It was not a seraph burning with heavenly love that was sent to preach to Jerusalem in Uzziah's day, but a young man who but a moment before had been full of leprosy to his lips, and laden to the earth with his own and his people's sin. It was Isaiah, the son of Amoz, who took boldness to say. Here am I, send me. And it was to that same Isaiah that the Lord said, Go and tell this people. And 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 to announce to Mary that the fulness of time had come and that the Word was to be made flesh, but it was John, who was less than the least in the kingdom of heaven, 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 face of 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, as never before, 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 putrefying 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 call, and ordain, and inspire a leper if you would have passion in your pulpits like that. And you must be lepers yourselves to put up with passion in your pulpits like that. You cannot have preaching like that from your commonplace men, and from your commonplace sinners. 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 eyes and 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. He takes great pleasure in that. He bows down from His high throne at the sound of that. He sees what pleases Him in every syllable of that. With that young man will I dwell, He says to Himself, as He sees and hears Isaiah on that day of atonement. 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 as 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 to him of God. From unclean, he had washed him and made himself clean. From doing evil, he had put away the evil of his doings from before God's eyes. He had judged the fatherless, and he had pleaded for the widow. We hear him doing all that in tremendous words in this very sermon. And then the Lord had commanded His most evangelical seraph to take a live coal with the tongs from off the altar till Isaiah's iniquity was taken away and his sins purged, and till all Jerusalem knew that a prophet of the Lord had arisen among them.

Saint Jerome called Isaiah the evangelical prophet, and it was a very happy hit of the great translator. But we are entangled with a whole net-work of questions about the evangelical prophet that had not yet arisen in men's minds in Jerome's day. Are there two Isaiahs bound up together in this great evangelical book? Or is it the same son of Amoz we have here from the first chapter to the last? I do not know. I am like Mr. Spurgeon: my heart leans to one Isaiah, but the facts must be heard. And I shall resist to the death every attempt to keep the facts from being heard by those who are able to hear them. But I shall also claim for them and for myself that the common people shall be allowed to come to church to worship God without being teased and tormented about the age and authorship of this and that chapter of Holy Scripture. I shall take it for granted tonight, therefore, that the name of the son of Amoz may, with the utmost confidence and the very best propriety, be used here of the whole of his sixty-six bold and eloquent chapters. I shall always say 'Isaiah' here, just as the New Testament, and Jerome, and the universal Church of Christ has said 'Isaiah' about this book from the beginning down to our own day.

The now well-known name that Jerome first gave to Isaiah out of his cave at Bethlehem is a great name. There is no greater name that Old Testament prophet or New Testament preacher can bear. You will all think that you know quite well already how great a name Jerome's name to Isaiah was. But there is nothing that we know less than just those things that we think we know so well that we do not need to know any more about them. Feeling very sure that I did not know all that Jerome meant in his great name that he gave to Isaiah, I took down Dr. Murray's New English Dictionary, and turned to the part containing the word 'evangelical.' All who are able should order Dr. Murray's magnificent dictionary. It is a patriotic act to order it. It is to support the best scholarship of our land and our day to order it. And it is nothing less than a liberal education to have it delivered every three months at your door. You can have no idea what an ancient, what a noble, what a deeply-rooted, and what a far branching name that was that Jerome gave to Isaiah till you have read through the seven quarto columns that Dr. Murray, with such exact scholarship, and with such exquisite carefulness, gives to it. Beginning with Isaiah, the greatest preachers have all along been evangelical preachers. There is everything in the Evangel of the grace of God and of the work of Christ to make every man who preaches it a great preacher: and, besides the Evangel, there is nothing to inspire, or to uplift, or to empower and embolden any preacher. From Isaiah to Spurgeon the evangelical succession has run on through Paul, and Augustine, and Luther, and Calvin, and Knox, and Rutherford, and Baxter, and Bunyan, and Edwards, and Wesley, and Chalmers. And the great doctrines that have made all those great men such great preachers are all what we call the doctrines of grace. They are very bold doctrines; but then, they were all given by divine inspiration to Isaiah and to Paul, and they are all backed up in the preacher of our day by the authority of the Word of God, and by the testimony of the Spirit of God, and by the deepest and best and surest experiences of nineteen centuries both of the best preaching and the holiest life. They are such doctrines as-the image of God in the soul of man; the dreadful depravity and loathsome corruption of the soul of man by reason of original and indwelling sin; the spotless heart and life, and the sin-atoning death, of Jesus Christ; the mission and work of the Holy Ghost in the spiritual enlightenment of the soul, and its new birth to God and holiness; and the gradual but sure sanctification of the renewed soul to the fulness of eternal life for ever. Isaiah did not preach explicitly, and in as many words, all these evangelical doctrines, but they are all latent and involved in his preaching; and had he lived in our day he would have preached them all as boldly and as unceasingly as Wesley or Spurgeon preached them. The great evangelical books you all know, by name at least; the great evangelical hymns we sing in our families and in our own hearts every day; and the great evangelical hopes form great part of our evangelical preaching to you every Sabbath-day.

John Foster has one of his masterly Essays entitled, 'The Aversion of men of Taste to Evangelical Religion.' It is a piece of such great intellectual power on some of the besetting sins of evangelical preachers that all we who are evangelical preachers, and all you who are evangelical people, should read it till we have all laid it up in our hearts, as our evangelical catechism has it, and have practised it in our lives. John Foster was a preacher himself of such intellectual strength, and depth, and suggestiveness that I should have included his name in my too rapid enumeration of the great names of the evangelical succession. But many great names belong to that shining succession who would not by everybody be included in it Law for one; Newman, one of Law's spiritual children, for another. I am bold to include Newman, for there is not a bolder sermon on substitution in the English language than Dr. Newman's post-Anglican sermon on 'The Mental Sufferings of our Lord in His Passion.' I was proceeding to say that Isaiah's style, so to call it, is one of the secrets of his so splendid and so abiding power. The Evangel of Salvation was his one goodly pearl, to buy which he had sold all; and then he always set that so goodly pearl in the shining casket of his superb style. 'In every kind of discourse,' says Dante in The Banquet, 'the speaker ought to think of what will be sure to charm his hearers'-a rhetorical rule that the eloquent author of the Divine Comedy never neglected to observe and obey. 'Because,' he says, 'if a hearer is not well disposed to us our best teaching will be but badly received.' Now, that is what the evangelical prophet always does. He always charms us with the music, and the melody, and the march of his style. Even when his message is the most accusing and condemning; even when there is no beauty in his doctrine that we should desire it, even then we are spellbound and held to the end in the great preacher's splendid hands. You will not have read or thought much about Isaiah's style. You have other things of more importance, and more worth your time and trouble to read in that prophet and to think about continually. But, for once, you will not grudge to hear a few words on that not irrelevant matter out of one who has given a long and a laborious lifetime to such subjects. 'Isaiah,' says Ewald, 'is not the especially lyrical prophet, or the especially elegiacal prophet, or the especially oratorical or the hortatory prophet-as we should describe a Joel, a Hosea, a Micah, with whom there is a greater prevalence of some particular colour. But just as the subject requires it, Isaiah has immediately at command every several kind and quality of style, and every several change and variety of delineation. And it is precisely this that, in point of language, establishes the prophet's personal greatness, as well as forms one of his most towering points of intellectual excellence. His discourse varies into every possible complexion: it is tender and stern, it is didactic and threatening; it is mourning and again exulting in divine joy; it is mocking and it is in earnest; but, ever, at the right time, Isaiah's style returns back to its original elevation and repose, and never loses the clear ground-colour of its divine seriousness.'

Yes; Esaias is very bold-
With mouth of gold, and morning in his eyes.

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Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Isaiah'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wbc/i/isaiah.html. 1901.

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Tuesday, May 21st, 2019
the Fifth Week after Easter
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