Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Isaiah 6:1 - 6:8

Online Resource Library

Return to | Commentary Index | Bible Index | Search | Prayer Request | Download

Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Isaiah 6:1 - 6:8

(Show All Books | Show All Chapters)

This Chapter Verse Commentaries:

The Making of a Missionary

In the year that king Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the foundations of the thresholds were moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he touched my mouth with it, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said, Here am I send me.—Isa_6:1-8.

This chapter is one of the most important in the history of revelation. Like a picture of wonderful beauty and subtle suggestion, it will repay repeated and careful study. The great words of the chapter are heard and spoken in vision, but they cannot be called visionary in any shallow sense; they are intensely practical, they contain the prophet’s call, they give the keynote of his life, and sum up in a few striking sentences the spirit and purpose of his ministry. The vision shows us how Isaiah became a prophet, and gives the secret of his strong, consistent career in the words, “Mine eyes have seen the King.”

The passage is particularly rich in material for the expositor and the preacher. Although it will be taken Here as a single great text, there is enough for a sermon in every verse of it, enough sometimes in a part of a verse. It has received many titles. The most popular title is, “The Making of a Prophet.” Perhaps that title should be enlarged now into “The Making of a Missionary,” letting it be understood, however, that the word “missionary” means anyone who is sent to do any work for God.

The passage is easily and almost inevitably divided into three parts—

1. A Vision of God, Isa_6:1-4.

2. A Vision of Self, Isa_6:5-7.

3. A Vision of Duty, Isa_6:8.


A Vision of God

There is an essential difference between the prophets of early times and the writing prophets. That difference is that the latter are conscious of an express call, at a definite moment, by Jehovah to their office. We have not an actual account of this in the case of all of them, but its preciseness in the case of five justifies our assuming that from the time of Amos onwards a similar call was experienced by all true prophets of Jehovah. The call to be a prophet surprised Amos in the midst of occupations of a wholly different kind—Jehovah took him from the herd. According to Hos_1:2 the commencement of Hosea’s prophetic ministry was contemporaneous with his recognition that Jehovah intended even the prophet’s unhappy experiences in his married life to be a reflection of Israel’s relation to Himself. Isaiah records a vision that he had in the year King Uzziah died, when the Divine commission was given him to drive the people by his message into ever-increasing obduracy. Attempts have been made to explain this vision—the only one in Isaiah—as simply the literary garb invented for inward reflections and conflicts, so that the prophet’s own determination would take the place of an express Divine call. But all such attempts are shattered by the earnest terms of the narrative, which will not permit us to think but of a real occurrence. The very same is the impression we receive from Jeremiah’s record of his call in the thirteenth year of Josiah. Quite remarkable there is the emphasis laid (Isa_1:5) on the choice and consecration of Jeremiah to the prophetic office even before his birth. How could anyone invent a thing of this kind and proclaim it as a word addressed to him by God? But as little could he have added the supplementary invention that he tried to evade the Divine commission (v. 7) by pleading want of skill in speaking, and youth. On the contrary, we must see here an experience the prophet once had which left an ineffaceable impression upon his memory. In the case of Ezekiel, his exact dating of his first vision (Isa_1:1-2) by year, month, and day is the pledge that he, too, is conscious that his call to be a prophet (Isa_2:3 ff.) was a definite occurrence.1 [Note: E. Kautzsch, in Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible, v. p. 672b.]

The normal mode, says Whitehouse, by which Christian ministers and statesmen have been led to realise their vocation constitutes the most interesting point in their life-story, because it is the turning-point. Among Christian statesmen we would instance the Englishman John Bright and the American Senator Sumner. The case of John Bright is not without its partial parallel to that of Hosea. That of Senator Sumner has been portrayed in Whittier’s immortal verses, beginning—

No trumpet sounded in his ear,

He saw not Sinai’s cloud and flame;

But never yet to Hebrew seer

A clearer voice of duty came.

i. The Occasion of the Vision

“In the year that King Uzziah died.”

There is more than a date given here; there is a great contrast suggested. Prophecy does not chronicle by time, but by experiences, and we have here, as it seems, the cardinal experience of a prophet’s life.

1. Uzziah.—Of all the kings of Israel none had done so much for the nation as King Uzziah, save only David. Solomon’s greatness was largely inherited. He certainly stands a figure more splendid than Uzziah, but not of as great service. Coming to the throne when a lad of sixteen, for more than fifty years Uzziah reigned in Jerusalem wisely and well. Under the guidance of one Zechariah, of whom all we know is this, that he “had understanding in the vision of God,” the youth Uzziah sought the Lord, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper. He drove back the Philistines and many another tribe that had encroached upon Israel’s domain, so that his name was spread abroad even to Egypt. At home he was always busy seeing after the welfare of his people. He strengthened Jerusalem with fortified towers, and set up towers for the protection of those in the pastures and plains. Careful about the water supply, he digged many wells. He had husbandmen busied with cattle; and planted vines on the mountain slopes. “He loved husbandry,” we read,—an honest and healthy love that it were well if we could all encourage and exercise. He turned to account the inventions of cunning men. Altogether a man whose name spread far abroad, associated with all that was beneficent and prosperous: “he was marvellously helped,” we are told, “till he was strong.”

But—ah, there comes this black and dreadful “but”—But when he was strong his heart was lifted up to his destruction. There came a day—probably some day of high festival, when he made a feast to the lords and chief captains; and the power of the wine, and the power of a yet more intoxicating flattery, prompted him to a deed that was his ruin. Arrayed in all his splendour the king comes to the Temple and demands in his haughty pride to usurp the authority of the priest, and to burn incense on the altar. The priests, those of them that were valiant men, rose up, and stayed the intruder, king though he was. For a moment Uzziah stood face to face with the priests, the golden censer in his hand, furious at their opposition. Would they lift their hand against the king, and such a king as he? Then suddenly the rage resulted, as it is believed to have done in other cases, in the manifestation of leprosy. Suddenly on that face, flushed in its anger, under the royal crown, spread the ghastly whiteness. He felt that God had smitten him. A king no more; one from whom all men shrank—he went forth from the palace and throne and court. And all the nation spake of him with bated breath, suppressing the very name, “He is a leper.”

2. Isaiah.—Isaiah seems to have spent the whole, or the greater part, of his life in the city of Jerusalem; for many years he was the most remarkable figure, and sometimes the most influential man, in that city. The tribes of Israel had again been broken into discordant division, and Jerusalem was at that time the centre of only a small kingdom; but this man and his band of disciples set at work spiritual influences of greater significance for the higher life of the world. Though the Jerusalem of his day was full of feebleness, folly, and wickedness, we can trace in his teaching the beginnings of a new Jerusalem, Zion, the city of the Great King, which shall not pass away. He was a young man when he saw the vision; as he stood at the opening of his great career he was led to look into the heart of things, and to see the real meaning of his life. Probably it was later in his life when he wrote down this statement for the use of his disciples and the service of the Church. Before he committed it to the care of men who loved him and who would cherish his memory, he had often pondered its meaning and proved its power. He remembered that the decisive moment of his life came in the year of King Uzziah’s death. When the proud, successful king had been brought low by disease, and had passed under the shadow of death, the young patriot was called to see the spiritual temple and the Eternal King. Life is full of change; high rank and worldly success cannot resist the attack of decay and death; how important, then, for the young man to learn that there is an unchanging kingdom, and a King supreme in majesty and righteousness.

Read the memoirs of Isaiah, and you will see how intense and intimate was the part he played in the life and movement of his age. One day you will find him at the Temple, scathing with scornful reprobation the hypocrisy and hollowness of the established ritual of religion. Another time he has taken his stand over against the fashionable promenade of Jerusalem, and as he watches the passing procession of pomp and opulence, built up on the misery and degradation of defenceless poverty, his heart grows hot with honest indignation, and he breaks into impassioned invective against the stream of selfish luxury, as it rolls by with a smiling face and a cruel heart. Again, he forces his way into a meeting of the Privy Council, fearlessly confronts the king and his advisers, denounces the iniquity of a faithless foreign policy, and sternly demands its abandonment. In every department of national life, in every section of social and religious existence, his voice was heard and his personality felt. Yet nobody ever mistook him for a mere politician, philanthropist, or reformer. He was ever, and was ever felt to be, a prophet.

3. It was in the year that King Uzziah died that this strange sight was seen by this inhabitant of Jerusalem. Most probably it was soon after the king died, perhaps immediately after. For though, in the general heading of the prophecies, Isaiah is said to have prophesied in the days of Uzziah, that heading is not to be pressed so far as to make it assert that he had actually prophesied in the lifetime of Uzziah; what is meant is that his prophetic ministry extended all through the reign of Jotham, even from the very year that King Uzziah died. This inaugural vision and prophecy was given so near the death of Uzziah that it might be said to be in the days of that renowned king. Perhaps it was given immediately after his death; it might be when, though dead, he had not yet been laid in the grave. It was a vision that might well have been suggested by such a momentous death, the death of one once a king, and one so powerful, holding such a place among the forces of society, bridling them with so firm a hand, a hand now relaxed, leaving the unquiet humours of the land to assert themselves, and draw the State on to its destruction.

We might even fancy, without unduly stretching fancy, that Isaiah, who, though not yet a prophet, appears to have been a citizen of high rank, and perhaps familiar at the court, had this vision presented to him a little after he had come out of the royal chamber where the deceased monarch lay in state. Perhaps he had been permitted to enter along with the common crowd of subjects, who pressed in to render their last act of homage; and though he had seemed to walk round the bier, and linger a moment to look upon the still face, as mechanically as any of them, it was with very different thoughts in his heart. It was a dead king that lay before him. And though the presence of death in any form might have suggested the first half of the vision—the unseen world within this world—only the sight of a dead king could have led Isaiah’s mind to draw that comprehensive sketch of the history and the destiny of his nation with which the chapter ends. Those eternal, changeless sights are reflected in the face, rapt but unmoved; the grandeur, the unchanging flow of eternity, the awful face of God, holding the mind in an absorbed stillness, so that emotion ebbs and flows no more in the heart, and no more plays upon the countenance, but all is still.

Now when the prophet came out from the presence of the dead, musing on all things as he must have mused, and probably entering the Temple where the service of God was going on—for the vision is just the reflection of the service of God in His house upon earth, it is only this service translated into its real meaning—it is not unnatural that such a vision as this should have presented itself before him. Such a sight is well fitted to bring before our minds the same great scene. For there is such an eternal scene behind the changing forms of the present life; a scene not future but present, though the perfect realising of it be, to most of us, future; a world within this world, or behind it, of which we only catch glimpses sometimes through the occurrences of this life—a world such as the prophet saw, God the King on His throne, surrounded by beings all alive to His glory, serving Him continually in the greatness of their might. There is such a world within this world, of which this world is but the veil and covering; and we begin to understand this world, and see any order and meaning in it, only when this other, which is the inner side of it, is revealed to our sight.

A king must die! There seems to be something almost incongruous in the very phrase. The very word “king” means power. The king is the man who can, the man who is possessed of ability, dominion, sovereignty; and the shock is almost violent when we are told that the range of the kingship is shaped and determined by death. We could all understand how death might limit the years and conquests of Lazarus, shivering outside the palace gates, weary, hungry, and “full of sores,” but it is more difficult to understand how death can enter the palace, and set a barrier to the life of Dives, “clothed in purple and fine linen, and faring sumptuously every day”; but “it came to pass that the beggar died,” and “the rich man also died, and was buried.” A little while ago I took up the death-roll at a workhouse, and glanced through the chronological lists of paupers: Elizabeth So-and-so, died so-and-so. Then I took up a volume of English history, looked at the death-roll of monarchs, the chronological list of kings and queens: Queen Elizabeth, died so-and-so. I found that the one word described the end of both pauper and king—“the beggar died,” “William the Conqueror died,” “King Uzziah died.” How the one word suffices for all sorts and conditions of men!1 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]

4. God never empties places in our homes and hearts, or in the nation or the Church, without being ready to fill them. He sometimes empties them that He may fill them. Sorrow and loss are meant to prepare us for the vision of God, and their effect should be to purge the inward eye, that it may see Him. When the leaves drop from the forest trees we can see the blue sky which their dense abundance hid. Well for us if the passing of all that can pass drives us to Him who cannot pass, if the unchanging God stands out more clear, more near, more dear, because of change.

This accounts for a great many of the dark experiences in life. God puts out our little light that we may see Him the better. When you are looking out of the window at night, gazing towards the sky, you will see the stars more clearly if you put out your gaslight. That is what God has to do for us. He has to put out the secondary lights in order that we may see the eternal light. Uzziah has to die, in order that we may see it is God who lives. God has continually to take away our little kings, the weak repositories of our trust, in order to show that we have given a false emphasis to life. He takes away that which we regarded as the keystone, in order to reveal to us the real binding-force in life. I have known Him come to a nation and take away the King of Commercial Prosperity, because when commercial prosperity reigns men are too prone to forget the Lord. It is not in the seven fat years that we pray. It is in the seven years of famine, when the wheat is “blasted with the east wind.” It is then that men see the Lord and pray.

I know a little cottage which is surrounded by great and stately trees, clothed with dense and massy foliage. In the summer days and through all the sunny season, it just nestles in this circle of green, and has no vision of the world beyond. But the winter comes, so cold and keen. It brings its sharp knife of frost, cuts off the leaves, until they fall trembling to the ground. There is nothing left but the bare framework on which summer hung her beauteous growths. Poor little cottage, with the foliage all gone! But is there no compensation? Yes, yes. Standing in the cottage in the winter time and looking out of the window, you can see a mansion, which has come into view through the openings left by the fallen leaves. The winter brought the vision of the mansion!1 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]

5. Human purpose never has so definite and intelligible an aspect as when it flashes first in sudden intuition on the mind. The main end fills the vision; the essential significance absorbs the attention; all the thousand contingencies which will obscure that end and compromise that significance are as yet unsuspected. Everything is clear, clear-cut, and coercive. But with the years comes also a cleansing of the spiritual vision; and the intuitions of youth, seen in the retrospect, are seen more justly. The correspondence of the earlier and the later visions brings the verification of their quality. If the man, wise with the bitter wisdom of failure and conflict, hears still the Voice which thrilled the unshadowed heart of the boy, that Voice needs no better authentication of origin. For inspiration or for the “great refusal” then, for acquittal or for condemnation now, it was, and is, the Voice of God. All the years are bound by it into a single experience.

I hear a voice, perchance I heard

Long ago, but all too low,

So that scarce a care it stirred

If the voice were real or no;

I heard it in my youth when first

The waters of my life outburst;

But, now their stream ebbs faint, I hear

That voice, still low, but fatal clear.

The definiteness of the prophet’s memory is startling,—in the death-year of King Uzziah. Happy the man who keeps a journal and records the date of this and that event. I know one who is able to say, “It was on the 19th of March, 1886, I began to be led by the Spirit.” But others there are who must say, “I do not know just when I entered the new life. I think it was some time between sixteen and twenty years of age. The change came so gradually that I glided into the consciousness of a definite relationship to God as a ship glides out of a region of ice into a warmer zone.”1 [Note: C. C. Albertson.]

6. It is in hours like this that men get real glimpses of God. It is always when some Uzziah has piled up his successes until in their very definiteness men wake up to their shortcoming in the presence of the needs of the hour, that we feel the Infinite near, and at last see His skirts filling all the vacancies of life. Never until we know how much, do we know how little, man can do. Never until we see the best that humanity achieves do we know how grave are the problems which are born beneath our very success, which demand an infinite factor for their solution. In the death-hour of Uzziah, when under the mighty hands of the Medici, Florence had been growing luxurious and beautiful, when gems flashed from her proud neck and marble palaces were her play-things, when copious rivers of revenue poured in upon the Duke and the throne, and literature and art were in sight of their long-delayed laurels, yea—in the death-hour of their Uzziah when Lorenzo had fallen, Girolamo Savonarola, the Isaiah of that Jerusalem, saw amidst and above the terrible problems which his reign had made, and which surrounded him, the vision of the Almighty God. In the death-hour of Uzziah, when the arms of freedom had begun to shine with glorious victory, when the hand of rebellion had been pushed away from the white throat of liberty, when the whole race was ready to drown the dreadful clanking of eighty years of chains in one glad song of freedom, when a restored Union lifted up her head above the heat and dust of war, in the death-year of Uzziah, when Lincoln fell, yonder at New York another whose sword was like the tongue of Isaiah, seeing the problem which survived the assassin’s bullet, saw midst and above them the vision of God; “Fellow-citizens,” said Garfield on that occasion, “God reigns, and the Government at Washington still lives.”1 [Note: F. W. Gunsaulus.]

ii. The Vision

“I saw the Lord.”

1. The prophet had lost a hero and found his Lord. “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord.” He had anticipated that when the good King Uzziah died the linch-pin would be removed, and the car of the nation’s life would topple over into confusion and disaster. All Isaiah’s hopes were centred in this radical and aggressively righteous monarch, and he feared for the State when its monarch should be taken. He anticipated chaos, and lo! in place of chaos there emerged the Lord of Order! He found that in the days of his hero-worship he had been living in comparative twilight, the real Luminary had been partially obscured, there had been an eclipse of the Sun: and now, with the passing of Uzziah the eclipse had ended, and the Presence of the Lord blazed out in unexpected glory! “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord.” It had seemed to the foreboding fears of the depressed youth as though the very existence of the kingdom were involved in the continued reign of the king. If he goes—what then? A crisis was assured! And yet in place of the crisis came God, and the effulgent glory was bewildering. Succeeding generations of men have shared these pessimistic fears. We have riveted our gaze upon the incidental until the incidental has become the essential, and we have feared the withering blast of death. “What will Israel do when Uzziah is taken?” “What will Methodism do when John Wesley is removed?” “What will the Salvation Army do when anything happens to its General?” “What will this or that church do when bereft of its minister?” And the long-feared crisis has come, but instead of being left to the hopeless, clammy darkness of the grave, we have gazed upon the dazzling glories of a forgotten heaven! The transient pomp and splendour died, and their passing removed the veil from the face of the eternal, and we saw the Lord. “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord.” He anticipated an end, he found a new beginning.

Last autumn I spent a little time in the old castle at Stirling, and in one of the rooms of the tower were two curiosities which riveted my attention. In one corner of the room was an old time-worn pulpit. It was John Knox’s pulpit, the pulpit from which he used to proclaim so faithfully the message of the King. In the opposite corner were a few long spears, much corrupted by rust, found on the field of Bannockburn, which lies just beyond the castle walls. John Knox’s pulpit on the one hand, the spears of Bannockburn on the other! One the type of material forces, forces of earth and time; the other the type of spiritual forces, forces of eternity and heaven. The spears, representative of King Uzziah; the pulpit, representative of the Lord. Which symbolises the eternal? The force and influence which radiated from that pulpit will enrich and fashion Scottish character when Bannockburn has become an uninfluential memory, standing vague and indefinite, on the horizon of a far-distant time. When King Uzziah is dead, the Lord will still live, high and lifted up.1 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]

2. The great characteristic of Isaiah’s age was religious indifference. That which the prophet was enabled to see—that great Divine world within this outer world—was the very thing which the nation could not be made to perceive. Men could not be impressed with the idea of a living God, a Sovereign high and lifted up, ruling over the world and life and men’s consciences. They were insensible to this, and would have none of it. “The heart of the people was fat, and their ears heavy, and their eyes closed.” They were incapable of being touched with the feeling of the reality of God. And this insensibility led to disobedience, to formalism, to distrust of Jehovah, and to schemes of worldly policy; and, when danger threatened, to the calling in of foreign help: “they stayed themselves on Egypt, they trusted in Assyria”; and when these great world-powers once planted their foot on the little country the end of it was not far distant—as described in the closing verses of the chapter.

Perhaps the death of Uzziah suggested some of this to the prophet, and made him think of it, and follow it out in his mind to its conclusion. But it was the sight of Jehovah that made him understand it on its deeper side. It was the revelation to him of a great Ruler behind all things, and a hidden glory—the real power within all things,—a fire in contact with the sin and impurity of mankind, that must consume them or cleanse it. It was this that made him feel the real meaning of the circumstances of his time in their relation to this Ruler and made him, when he himself had been brought into right relation to Him, take a stand in regard to the world, and assume his right place in it.

It is singular how little place we take in the world, how little we feel it needful to take any place; how we are like mere grains of sand, the sport of the wind, each one of us without inherent force, not taking a place, but rolled into a place by the forces about us, or by the mere dead weight of gravity—pushed into a profession by the example of our companions, or the advice of friends, or, it may be, because we think we should like something in it, but without taking a broad view of it, especially without taking a moral estimate of it as a force which we might wield for higher ends, and setting it clearly before us as one of other great forces that should all combine, and realising it in its relation to the world and the state of society as a whole,—how slow we are to feel that we have any responsibilities in regard to the condition of things.1 [Note: A. B. Davidson.]

3. I saw.—In a very deep and true sense it is what a man sees that either makes or unmakes him. The effect of vision upon character and service is transforming. It elevates or debases, according to its quality. Whether a man grovels or soars, whether he slimes his way with the worm or walks upon the hill-tops, whether he remains in the realm of animalism or rises into the spiritual, and lives in the high places of the sons of God, is determined by his seeing. The men who shape history and direct the destinies of nations are the men who have eyes.

Moses saw the invisible, and endured, struggled, conquered, lifted himself and his people into prominence for evermore. Saul of Tarsus, on the Damascus road, saw Jesus Christ, and out of that vision came a power of manhood that has thrown itself beneficently across twenty centuries. Luther, in his monk’s cell, had a vision of the spiritual, and out of it came the Protestant Reformation, with all its forces of liberty and progress and enterprise. General Booth’s tremendous success with the Salvation Army, an organisation which in less than a generation has belted the globe, is simply the realisation of what he saw. Because David Livingstone had eyes to see, Africa to-day is zoned with light, and that matchless career of his stands out before the world, and will ever stand, as an inspiration to the noblest efforts for human uplifting. Because Jesus saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven, He was thrilled by a sublime optimism, because He saw, as no one else has ever seen, His kingdom is coming, and will yet cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.2 [Note: R. F. Coyle.]

Isaiah says, “I saw.” Is it, then, given to a man to be so sure of spiritual phenomena? So it seems from this Book. The basis of this confidence is in the spiritual consciousness out of which Moses spoke when he said, “I saw the passing pageant of the goodness of the Lord”; out of which Paul spoke when he said, “I saw a light above the brightness of the sun, and heard a voice out of the radiance calling me by name”; out of which John spoke when he said, “In the midst of the golden candlesticks I saw One like unto the Son of Man, girt with a golden girdle, and holding the seven stars in his hand.” Not more real was the mountain whereon Moses stood, or the splendid highway over which Paul was travelling, or the rocks of Patmos whereon the waves broke into spray,—not more real were these than the visions unfolded to human spirits there.

All men who do really great work for the world have some touch of this Divine faculty and vision. Even the man of science, is, at his best, a seer and a poet; for it is not only observation and reflection, but imagination also, which enable him to see the real behind the phenomenal, to look quite through the shows of things, and to gaze on an universe utterly unlike this visible universe, a world in which a few great forces, in obedience to a few great laws, robe themselves in an infinite variety of forms. Under the drifting and confused play of events the historian, again, if he be worthy of his name, discerns an increasing purpose, a secret law, a Divine order, a growing harmony. Even the statesman is great only as he too can look through the welter of passing events, and see what are the ruling forces and principles at work beneath the surface of national life, and how he may avail himself of these for the general good.1 [Note: S. Cox, in The Expositor, 2nd Ser., ii. p. 25.]

4. The Lord.—Let me remind you of that apparently audacious commentary upon this great vision which the Evangelist John gives us: “These things said Esaias, when he had beheld his glory and spake of him.” Then the Christ is the manifest Jehovah; is the King of Glory. Then the vision which was but a transitory revelation is the revelation of an eternal reality, and “the vision splendid” does not “fade but brightens, into the light of common day”; when instead of being flashed only on the inward eye of a prophet, it is made flesh and walks amongst us, and lives our lives, and dies our death. Our eyes have seen the King in as true a reality, and in better fashion, than ever Isaiah did amid the sanctities of the Temple. And the eyes that have seen only the near foreground, the cultivated valleys, and the homes of men, are raised, and lo! the long line of glittering peaks, calm, silent, pure. Who will look at the valleys when the Himalayas stand out, and the veil is drawn aside?

To see “also the Lord” is alike the secret of steadfastness, and the guarantee of that knowledge in the midst of perplexity which alone liberates from fretful anxiety and unbelief, and leads to right choice and wise action. And to those who seek Him, He is always so revealing Himself, in character varying according to their present need, and always as their entire sufficiency. Some men can see only “the things which are temporal,” and are hence distracted; but others have learned to look at “the things which are eternal,” and are in consequence being continually attracted to Him in whom they find the perfection of wisdom and strength and love.

Two men looked through prison bars,

The one saw mud—the other stars.

iii. The Throne

“Sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.”

1. The scene which Isaiah beholds is the heavenly palace of Jehovah’s sovereignty, modelled upon, but not a copy of, His earthly Temple at Jerusalem: “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.” The comparatively small adyton of the Temple on Zion is indefinitely expanded, the lofty throne takes the place of the mercy-seat, the skirts of the royal mantle, falling in ample folds, fill the space about and below the throne, and conceal from the beholder, standing beneath, the unapproachable Form seated upon it. The two colossal cherubim, whose extended wings overshadowed the ark in the Holy of holies, are absent, and there appears instead a choir of living creatures, encircling the throne: “Seraphim stood above Him: each had six wings; with twain He covered His face, and with twain He covered His feet, and with twain He did fly.”

Some of you may have been watching a near and beautiful landscape in the land of mountains and eternal snows, till you have been exhausted by its very richness, and till the distant hills which bounded it have seemed, you knew not why, to limit and contract the view, and then a veil has been withdrawn, and new hills not looking as if they belonged to this earth, yet giving another character to all that does belong to it, have unfolded themselves before you. This is an imperfect, very imperfect, likeness (yet it is one) of that revelation which must have been made to the inner eye of the prophet, when he saw another throne than the throne of the house of David, another king than Uzziah or Jotham, another train than that of priests or minstrels in the Temple, other winged forms than those golden ones which over-shadowed the mercy-seat. Each object was the counterpart of one that was then or had been at some time before his bodily eyes; yet it did not borrow its shape or colour from those visible things. They evidently derived their substance and radiance from those which were invisible. Separated from them they could impart no lustre; for they had none. The kings of the house of David reigned because that king was reigning whom God had set upon His holy hill of Zion; because He lived on, when they dropped one and another into their graves; because in Him dwelt the light and the power by which each might illumine his own darkness, sustain his own weakness. The symbols and services of the Temple were not, as priests and people often thought, an earthly machinery for scaring a distant Heaven; they were witnesses of a Heaven nigh at hand, of a God dwelling in the midst of His people, of His being surrounded by spirits which do His pleasure hearkening to the voice of His words.1 [Note: F. D. Maurice, Prophets and Kings, p. 221.]

What was Uzziah in all his greatness now as the Lord sat upon His throne high and lifted up? Here were the shifting scenes of human life—the shadows that come and go, the pageants that move to the silence and rest of the grave. There high and lifted up—above all time, above all change—was the Eternal. Uzziah the king, Uzziah the leper, Uzziah the corpse—to set the heart upon him was to be disappointed, deserted, desolate. The Lord is king—that is the centre of all things, the true home and refuge of the soul. Here is some ground for our trust; here all the adoration of the soul finds fitting room and sphere, and worthy rank for its service and worship.

The Lord is always upon a throne, even when He is nailed to the Cross; this Lord and His throne are inseparable. There are dignitaries that have to study how to keep their thrones, but the Lord and His throne are one.2 [Note: J. Parker, The People’s Bible, xiv. p. 283.]

2. But what shall we say when we recall Him of whom the evangelist asserts “Isaiah saw his glory, and spoke of him”? High and lifted up, verily! But how all unlike that which Isaiah saw. Bound and beaten and buffeted, scourged and mocked, amidst a band of ribald soldiers and ruffians who smite Him and pluck the hairs off His cheek. Condemned alike by Jewish priest and Roman judge He goes forth to be crucified. There in all shame and agony He hangs stricken and smitten. Surely, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”

iv. The Train

“And his train filled the temple.”

1. It was not only that Isaiah had an unexpected vision of God, it was the unique character of the vision which impressed and empowered him. Where does the wonder of the prophet culminate? “I saw the Lord, sitting upon a throne!” That was not the unfamiliar sight, and not there did the prophet’s wonder gather. “High and lifted up!” A terrible sublimity, like some towering and awe-inspiring Alpine height! Yet not there was concentrated the supreme surprise. “And his train filled the temple!” That was the marvel which made the prophet’s heart stand still. He was not a stranger to the conception of the throne, or of the lonely and snow-white exaltation, but this vision of the train that “filled the temple” was altogether foreign to his thought. You will remember that in all these Temple arrangements of the olden days there were different grades and varying degrees of sanctity. Even in the time of our Lord there were divisions, separating the holy and the profane, beginning at the outer courts, where the foot of the Gentile might tread, but beyond which he was not permitted to pass, on penalty of death, on to the veiled and silent chamber where the awful Presence dwelt between the cherubim. And there was the same gradient in the thought of the young Isaiah. There were divisions in his temple, separating the different degrees of sanctity, ranging from the much-diluted holiness of the remote circumference to the clear and quenchless flame of the sacred Presence. And now comes this strange and all-convulsing vision: “His train filled the temple,” filled it, every section of it, every corner of it, to the furthest and outermost wall. “The posts of the thresholds,” not merely the curtains of the inner shrine, “the posts of the thresholds moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.” That is the word which expresses the supreme wonder of this great inaugural vision. “His train filled the temple!” “The house was filled with smoke.” The garments of the Almighty swept an unsuspected area, His robe impartially carpeted the entire pile, there was not a single inch that was exempt from the touch of His enveloping Presence. “His train filled the temple.” What, then, had the crisis brought to the young hero-worshipper who had been so fearful of the passing of his noble king? It had brought to him a larger conception of God, a filling-out conception of God, a full-tide conception, filling every nook and creek and bay in the manifold and far-stretching shore of human life.1 [Note: J. H. Jowett, in The Examiner, March 15, 1906.]

No face: only the sight

Of a sweepy garment, vast and white,

With a hem that I could recognise.2 [Note: Browning, Christmas Eve.]

2. The most important crises in a man’s life are related to the growth or impoverishment of his conception of God. It is momentous when some area in the wide circle of his life is unexpectedly discovered to be the dwelling-place of God. Robinson Crusoe begins to track his desolate and presumably uninhabited island, and one day, on the sandy shore, comes upon the print of a human foot. That footprint revolutionises his entire conception of the island, and all his plans and expedients are transfigured. And so the soul, moving over some area of its activities which has never been related to God, and over which God has never been assumed to exercise a living and immediate authority, one day unexpectedly discovers His footprints upon this particular tract of the sands of time, and the whole of the spiritual outlook is transformed. “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.”

If thus His train fills the temple, the great temple in which He ever dwells, then how easy for us to touch the hem of His garment and be made whole of whatever plague of soreness we may suffer from.

God’s children cannot wander beyond reach

Of the sweep of His white raiment. Touch and hold!

And if you weep, still weep where John was laid

While Jesus loved him.

3. There is a division which is made, not merely by the thoughtless and flippant, but even by many grave and serious minds. On one side the barrier they move softly and reverently, as though feeling the very breathings of the Almighty Presence: on the other side they step loudly and thoughtlessly, as though the Almighty were absent. And then one day there comes one of the great crises of life, and on the secular side of the barrier they see the trailing garments of the Lord, and they are filled with a surprise which ends in resurrection. For it is a birthday for the soul when we discover that the Lord occupies the whole of this divided house, and that His train fills the temple.

(1) I have frequently heard reference to my own vocation as a “sacred calling,” says Mr. Jowett, but I have rarely, if ever, heard the same sober phrase applied to the work of the baker or tent-maker, or even to the work of the city councillor or the members of the House of Commons. But the seamless robe of the Lord is on both sides the artificial barrier, and all things on either side can be equally sacred and sanctified.

(2) Another temple which our modern thought frequently divides into sections of different degrees of sanctity is the temple of the entire personality. One side of the barrier is called body, and the other is called spirit. It is a great day for a man when the wonderful revelation breaks upon his eyes, that these two entities possess a common sanctity, that our division is unwise and impoverishing, and that His train fills the whole temple. In the olden days there was a school of thinkers who regarded matter as essentially evil, the very sphere and dwelling-place of evil, and, therefore, the body itself was esteemed as the very province of the devil. It was therefore further reasoned that to despise the body was to heap shame and contumely upon the devil, and that one of the holiest exercises was thus to treat the flesh with disdain and contempt. The body was a thing of the gutter,—gutter-born, and destined to a gutter death! Therefore they neglected it, they bruised it, they refused to cleanse it, and they utterly deprived it of any attention and adornment. So far as the body part of the temple was concerned, the Lord was not in it! Now we can see the force and relevancy of the Apostle’s firm and vigorous teaching: “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost?” That word would come as a bewildering surprise! The Lord’s temple does not end where the spirit ends; it includes the body too: and His train fills the temple! “I beseech you, therefore, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” That veil in the temple has been rent in twain!

(3) There is still another temple which we divide into discriminating sections much as the Temple of old was divided. One side of the barrier is described as home, the other side as foreign, the one side as Jew, the other side as Gentile. And so the temple itself, rather than the partitioning veil, is too frequently rent in twain. It is a season of wonderful regeneration when first the train of the Almighty is seen to fill the entire temple, and the whole of the unworthily divided area is seen to be the familiar walking-ground of the Eternal God. To go out, I say, into the section regarded as foreign, and to behold the footprints of the Lord, to see that, even where home ends, the trailing garment of the Lord sweeps on, is a great birthday for the soul, a day of fertilising knowledge and of energising grace! To gaze upon other sects, foreign to our own, and to see common footprints in the varying roads; to gaze upon other nations, foreign to our own, and to see the mystic garment in their unfamiliar ways, to discover that the train fills the entire temple, is to enter an experience only less momentous than our conversion, for it is a second conversion into the larger thought and love of God. “In Christ Jesus there is neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, neither Jew nor Gentile, neither bond nor free.” “His train filled the temple.”

You need imagination for the missionary impulse, especially for foreign missions. You need the sense of the glory of the Lord, of the fulness of the whole earth, and of the voice that, crying, shakes the pillars of the house. It is not easy to conceive of a man of no imagination becoming a great missionary. It is the imagination of boyhood that leads many a man to the mission field, as it leads many a man to the sea. It is the romance of missions, the call of the deep and the wild. It is the same thing, with a consecration of faith added, that seals the resolve, and finally sends him abroad. To his vision of foreign lands he adds visions of redeemed peoples. His eye has seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. He dreams a dream of good. He has visions of an earth full of the knowledge and glory of God. He has the imagination of the adventurer with the consecration of the prophet. Every missionary must be an idealist. The man who has no sympathy with missions is devoid of imagination, and sometimes he seems even a little proud of his defect.1 [Note: P. T. Forsyth, Missions in State and Church, p. 224.]

After telling the story of the martyrdom of Perpetua the Roman matron, and the slaves Revocatus and Felicitas, in the beginning of the third century, Professor Gwatkin says:2 [Note: Early Church History to A. D. 313, ii. p. 127.] “There is something here even more significant than the lofty courage of Perpetua, which forms the front of the story. From first to last she never dreams that Revocatus and Felicitas are less than her equals and companions in Christ. Enthusiasm might have nerved the matron and the slave apart; but no mere enthusiasm could have joined their hands in death. The mischievous eccentricities of Montanism are as dust in the balance while we watch the mighty working of the power of another world in which not only the vulgar fear of death is overcome, but the deepest social division of the ancient world is entirely forgotten.”

v. The Seraphim

“Above him stood the seraphim.”

1. The seraphim are not mentioned elsewhere, and the origin and meaning of the name can only be supplied by conjecture. It must suffice to say that they appear here as the most exalted ministers of the Divine Being, in immediate proximity to Himself, and give expression to the adoration and reverence unceasingly due from the highest of created intelligences to the Creator. Possessed apparently of human form, and in an erect posture, they form a circle—or perhaps rather a double choir, about the throne, each with two of his wings seeming to support himself upon the air, with two covering his face, in reverence, that he might not gaze directly upon the Divine glory, and with two his own person, in humility, not deigning to meet directly the Divine glance. Can the scene be more aptly or more worthily reproduced than in our own poet’s noble lines?—

Fountain of light, thyself invisible

Amidst the glorious brightness where thou sitt’st,

Throned inaccessible, but when thou shadest

The full blaze of thy beams, and through a cloud

Drawn round about thee like a radiant shrine

Dark with excessive bright thy skirts appear,

Yet dazzle Heaven, that brightest Seraphim

Approach not, but with both wings veil their eyes.1 [Note: Paradise Lost, iii. 375.]

2. The seraphim, says Kautzsch (Dictionary of the Bible, v. 643), belong undoubtedly to the realm of angels. Although mentioned only in the vision of Isaiah (Isa_6:2), they appear there as well-known beings, so that the belief in them may certainly be assumed for the pre-Prophetic period. Furnished with six wings, they offer around God’s throne antiphonal praise in the Trisagion; one of them purges the lips of the prophet, and announces to him the forgiveness of his sins. They are thus, in fact, intelligent beings, angels. Of the numerous explanations of the name, the only one that can be taken in earnest is that which traces it back to the singular sârâph. This word means properly “serpent” (Num_21:8, Deu_8:15), and the seraphim must accordingly have been originally serpent-formed creatures—embodiments, indeed, of the serpent-like lightning flashes that play around Jehovah. But, in the case of the seraphim of Isaiah, the six wings may be regarded as all that has survived of this somewhat mythological form. Moreover (probably long before the time of Isaiah), they have assumed human form, as is evident not only from the song of praise (Isa_6:3), which would be inconceivable in a serpent’s mouth, but from the hand (Isa_6:6) and the speech of the sârâph (Isa_6:7).

3. The first thing that strikes us about the seraphim is their redundance of wings. They had each 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 feet—an office which, at least, the wings performed—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. Perhaps their upper and lower parts needed to be swathed thus to make them the singly bent, the wholly absorbed ministers that they were. With unveiled faces and naked feet they might have been less prompt and alert, less concentrated and surrendered for the Lord.

We meet sometimes with these seemingly wasted wings in men, in the form of powers or capabilities, knowledges or skills, for the exercise of which there is no scope or opportunity in their lot, which they are not called on or able to apply. There they lie, unutilised; nothing is done with them, no demand for them exists. 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, in which they would be wanted and drawn out! 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, in the open product of its activity, but often in what has been secretly added to us or wrought into us, through gaining it, in the contribution which the gaining of it has been to our charactor or moral growth, in some nobler shaping of ourselves by means of it.1 [Note: S. A. Tipple.]

(1) “With twain he covered his face.” The first pair of wings suggest the need of the lowliest reverence in the worship of God. What does that lofty chorus of “Holy! holy! holy!” that burst from those immortal lips mean but the declaration that God is high above, and separate from, all limitations and imperfections of creatures? And we Christians, who hear it re-echoed in the very last Book of Scripture by the four and twenty elders who represent redeemed humanity, 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.

The eldest daughter of Faith is Reverence. We remember how Moses acted at the Burning Bush: he went up to it at first merely from curiosity, but as soon as he heard the voice of God calling to him out of the fire, “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God.” Without reverence of heart there can be no true worship; and the soul-reverence ought to be accompanied by reverence of posture and demeanour. It is not reverential to stand during praise with one’s hand buried in one’s trousers pocket, or to sit straight during prayer, and stare all over the church, or to go to or from public worship with a cigarette in one’s mouth. These things ought not so to be.

A friend of mine, a clergyman, told me that he was once showing some one over his church. This person omitted to take his hat off on entering the church. “I hope you don‘t mind my keeping my hat on?” he said to my friend. “I mind? not at all!” was my friend’s reply. “It isn’t my house!”1 [Note: W. J. Foxell.]

(2) The next pair of wings suggest the need of self-forget-fulness. “With twain he covered his feet.” 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 eye be flooded with the sight of God, and away goes all my self-conceit, and all my fancied superiority over others. One little molehill is pretty nearly the same height as another, if you measure them both against the top of the Himalayas, that lie in the background, with their glittering peaks of snow. “Star differeth from star in glory” in a winter’s night, but when the great sun swims into the sky they all vanish together. If you and I saw God burning before us, as Isaiah saw Him, we should veil ourselves, and lose all that which so often veils Him from us—the fancy that we are anything when we are nothing. And the nearer we get to God, and the purer we are, the more keenly conscious shall we be of our imperfections and our sins. “If I say I am perfect,” said Job in his wise way, “this also should prove me perverse.” Consciousness of sin is the continual accompaniment of growth in holiness. “The heavens are not pure in His sight, and He chargeth His angels with folly.” Everything looks black beside that sovereign whiteness. 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!”

He covered his feet in order, I suppose, that his very form and motion might not be seen; and therefore it is mentioned before “the flight.” He did not set out until, as far as possible, himself was concealed. There shall be simply the fact of a mission, and the method: so that, if an “angel” were to bring God’s embassy to you, you would not see “the angel.” That is true embassy! In like manner, it was commanded of the high priest, that his garments should “go down to his feet,” that the minister should not be seen.1 [Note: J. Vaughan, Sermons, iv. p. 5.]

(3) “And with twain he did fly.” The third pair of wings suggest Service. Whosoever, beholding God, has found need to hide his face from the 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. The old motto, “Work is worship,” may preach a great truth or a most dangerous error. But there is no possibility of error or danger in maintaining this: that the climax and crown of all worship, whether for us footsore servants upon earth, or for those winged attendants on the throne of the King in the heavens, is activity in obedience.

The souls of modern men need all their wings to enable them to fly as quickly as their fellows, and they have none left wherewith to cover their faces and their feet.2 [Note: Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler, in Concerning Isabel Carnaby.]

We can have little difficulty in discovering the motive from which the seraphim act. We see at once that it is love—the love of God which ever moves them. They fly away on swift wing to do God’s will, but they ever return to the throne. That is the place of their rest; there they desire to dwell; and they dwell there adoring God, forgetting themselves and hiding all their own, that God may be all in all. Now nothing but love, the most intense love, can account for this. Only love can draw the creature to God, and make him desire to abide in His presence and to behold His glory. And thus we see that the great motive power in heaven is just that which ought to be the great motive power on earth—the love of God. And that indeed must move every intelligent being who will serve God, in whatever world he may dwell or to whatever race he may belong. When you go into some of the world’s great workshops you see a vast variety of machinery, all, it may be, in motion, and engaged in a variety of operations; yet throughout that great manufactory there is just one motive power, so that what keeps going the gigantic hammer crushing in its descent the cold iron, also keeps in motion machinery which for delicacy of touch and operation the very spider might not excel. Even so, throughout His wide Kingdom God has many servants, and, we cannot doubt, many races of intelligent beings doing His will, and these engaged in an endless variety of labours, but the power which moves them all is the same—the sovereign power of love.

These then are the three—reverence and self-forgetfulness and active obedience,—“With twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.” It is because of irreverence and self-conceit and idleness that our lives are weak. Go stand in the sight of God, and these wings of salvation shall come and clothe your life. They perfectly clothed the life of Jesus. Reverence and self-sacrifice and obedience were perfect in Him. In the most overwhelmed moments of His life,—crushed in the garden, agonised upon the cross,—he was really standing, like the strong seraphim, at the right hand of God.

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 in service shall interfere with the worship in contemplation. Mary, sitting at Christ’s feet, and Martha, busy in providing for His comfort, may be, to a large extent, united in us even here, and will be perfectly so hereafter, when the practical and the contemplative, the worship of noble aspiration, of heart-filling gazing, and that of active service shall be indissolubly blended.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

vi. The Song of the Seraphim

“And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” It was an antiphonal song, proceeding without interruption. Some of them commenced and others responded.

I like to think of that. It was as if one of them cried, “Your strains are not lifted high enough; higher, brothers, higher!” And he cried across the intervening space to the seraphim opposite, and bade them rise to a higher note, till the chorus swelled and rose and broke. I have heard a bird in the spring morning cry to all the songsters of the glade till the whole woodland has rung again. Sometimes in our prayer-meeting an earnest man has shaken the very gates of heaven and has stirred the whole meeting. That is what we want. And as I tell you of a richer, fuller life, a life more abundant than many of you know, may you be convicted of the need of a new anointing, of a fresh application to the Son of God for the touch of fire. May ours be the seraph’s reverence, with the veiled face; ours his modesty, with the veiled form; ours his balance of one-third obedience to two-thirds of contemplation. Then perhaps our cry may awaken similar results to his, and others shall cry, “Undone.”1 [Note: F. B. Meyer.]

Two of the Divine attributes form the theme of the seraphs