Above Him stood seraphim, each having six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.
I. THAT THE LOWLIEST REVERENCE BECOMES THE HIGHEST CREATED BEINGS. "With twain [of his wings] he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feel." Of the six wings each seraph possessed, four were used to indicate their sense of unworthiness in the near presence of God; two only were in readiness for active service. May we not fairly infer that, as we go upward in the order of intelligence, we become more impressed with the majesty and greatness of the Divine, and consequently with our own littleness? Elevation in rank does not mean diminution, but increase in reverence of spirit and in homage of worship. The higher the intelligence, the deeper the sense of lowliness, and the fuller the devotion of power in the attitude and act of adoration.
II. THAT THE HEAVENLY LIFE IS LARGELY SPENT IN ACTIVE SERVICE. "With twain he did fly." The seraphim are represented as so equipped as to be ready for the most prompt and speedy service. The heavenly life may be one of sacred song and peaceful rest; but it certainly is also one of joyous, holy activity. It will be the very crown of our blessedness that, unclothed of all that hampers and impedes, and clothed upon with those celestial organs which fit for fleetest and strongest service, we shall do the King's behests with untiring wing, with unflagging energy, with unfading love and joy.
III. THAT THE CELESTIAL INTELLIGENCES HAVE A KEEN APPRECIATION OF THE DIVINE. HOLINESS. "Holy, holy, holy," etc. It is significant enough that, in this ascriptive utterance, only one of the attributes of God finds a place. The repetition of the epithet marks the fullness and clearness of the thought, as also the intensity of the feeling. In Jesus Christ we rightly magnify the grace and mercy, the gentleness and considerateness, of the heavenly Father to whom we are reconciled through him; but we must see to it that we do not so dwell on the more gracious aspects of the Divine character as to lose sight of, or even dwarf his other and opposite attributes. As we draw near to the heavenly world we must take the celestial view, which is one of a deep and strong conviction of his perfect purity, of his stainless holiness, of his utter and eternal hostility to every shade and taint of sin.
IV. THAT THE HIGHEST INTELLIGENCES SEE ALL THINGS IN THEIR RELATION TO GOD. "The whole earth is full of his glory." Those who will receive no more helpful and decisive teaching than that of science and philosophy fall short of this; they come to the irreverent conclusion that the heavens and the earth declare the glory of those only who have studied their secrets and discovered their laws. But the highest, the heavenly intelligences find God everywhere and his glory in everything. The psalm of the seraphim declares that "the whole earth is full of his glory." And we as we ascend in mental power and spiritual worth, shall let all earthly things speak to us of God. The multitude of all created things and of all living creatures will speak of his power; the intricacy and delicacy and adaptation of all things will tell of his wisdom; the vast and measureless amount of happiness scattered over all the earth's surface and even in its depths will sing of his beneficence; the sorrow and the death which are beneath its skies will chant the righteousness of his holy rule; the upward struggle and the better life, which grow clearer and stronger age by age, will beat' witness to his regenerating goodness. All things will speak of God, the whole earth will be full of his glory. - C.
Above it stood the seraphim.
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.)
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 ray or 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.)
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.
(Brooke Lambert, M. A.)
(Brooke Lambert, M. A.)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.)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.)
(Phillips Brooks, D. D.)
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.)
(Phillips Brooks, D. D.)
(Phillips Brooks, D. D.)
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.)
(J. Vaughan, M. A.)
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.)
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