Then I said, "Woe is me, for I am ruined, because I am a man of unclean lips dwelling among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of Hosts."
I. THE ALARM OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT UNDER THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE DIVINE PRESENCE. Anything which brings us into close contact with the unseen world powerfully affects our spirit and produces an apprehension for which we may not be able to account.
1. Any visitant, real or imaginary, from the spiritual realm fills us with fear (see Judges 6:22; Judges 13:22; Job 4:15; Daniel 10:8; Luke 1:12; Luke 2:9). We have not the slightest reason to apprehend any act of hostility from such a being, and may be said to have a positive interest in knowing that such as they are do exist and do concern themselves in our welfare. But there are few men who would not be considerably agitated if they believed themselves to be in the presence of a disembodied (or unembodied) spirit.
2. We are affected with lively apprehension when we think ourselves to be on the confines of the future, the spiritual world.
3. The conception of the near presence of the Lord himself awakens the greatest disquietude of soul. So was it with Isaiah now. "Woe is me! I am undone," he exclaimed. So was it with Peter when the miraculous draught revealed the presence of his Divine Master. "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord," was his prayer. And whenever we are brought into such a spiritual condition that we are ready to say, "Surely God is in this place," whenever the hand of the Lord is felt to be upon our souls and his voice to be manifestly addressing our hearts, we are awed, agitated, even alarmed, with a peculiar and inexpressible apprehension.
II. ITS JUSTIFICATION IN OUR HUMAN GUILT. We may not be able to explain our alarm at the nearness of any created being from the other world, but we can well understand how it is we are affected as we are under the consciousness of the divine presence. It is that our littleness is abashed at the presence of Divine majesty, our ignorance in presence of Divine wisdom, our feebleness in presence of Divine power. But this is not the explanation of our alarm. It is found in the fact that when we find ourselves before God we are conscious that a guilty soul is in the near presence of the thrice-holy One (see ver. 3). The clue to our agitation is in the words, "I am a man of unclean lips;" "I am a sinful man." There is a twofold reason why sinful men should be alarmed at the felt presence of God: one, that all sin by its very nature shrinks and cowers in the conscious presence of purity; the other, that the guilty human soul knows well that it is the province, and is in the power, of the righteous God to inflict the penalty which is its due; and it knows that the rightful penalty of sin is sorrow, shame, death.
III. ITS DIVINE REMOVAL. (Vers. 6, 7.) Under Divine direction (as we may assume) one of the cherubim took a live coal from that altar of sacrifice which God had caused to be built for the purging of the sins of the people, and with the coal he touched the "unclean lips" of which the prophet had made confession and complaint; so was his "iniquity taken away," and, we may conclude, his spirit calmed. The removal of that spiritual agitation which comes to our soul when we realize that our guilt is in the full view of the Holy One can only come from God himself. We may bless his Name that he has made such ample provision for this gracious purpose.
1. He has provided the sacrifice and the altar; that is found in him who is the Propitiation for our sins, in the cross of Calvary.
2. He has provided the messengers of mercy; these are found in those faithful servants who carry the gospel of his grace on the wings of their ardent love.
3. He has provided the means by which the sacrifice and the soul are connected, and the virtue of the one is made to touch and heal the other; this is found in that living faith by which the Lamb of God takes away our sin, and our soul, "being justified by faith, has peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ." - C.
Then said I, Woe is me!
Homilist.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."
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 the sincerity 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.)
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.)
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.)
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.)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. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
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.)
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.)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.)
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.)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.)
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 , 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.)
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.)I. THE EMOTION WHICH THE MAN EXHIBITS. (Ver. 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.)
(Joseph Parker, D. D.)
(S. Cox, D. D.)
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
(W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)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.)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.)
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