“In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.
Above it stood the seraphims: 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 posts of the door 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 seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar:
And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.
Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.” –Isaiah 6:1-8
ONE of the great attractions of the Bible, is that many of the good men who wrote it, give us in detail at times, their religious experience. David does it, Solomon, and Paul. Isaiah gives us in magnificent detail, in short, pithy sentences, the story of his regeneration and call to the prophetic office. Every sentence is right to the point, and when he is done he quits.
Isaiah commences his story and includes all the historical part of it in one sentence : "In the year that King Uzziah died." What a remarkable year in the annals of the world. It was just a few years after Romulus was born, and ten years before Rome was founded. It was the beginning of the decline of the Israelitish civilization, and the beginning of the growth of the Roman. This year God gave up Israel to hardness of heart, and the country to the conquest of other political powers. God was now beginning to take down the Jewish fabric, and was beginning to lay the foundations of the Roman government, in which the coming Christ was to launch his doctrines for universal promulgation.
At this time the splendid temple of Solomon was still standing, and God dwelt in the Holy of Holies. Outside the Holy Place still stood the altar of burnt offering, upon which the fire still burned which descended out of heaven upon it in the wilderness. Now Isaiah saw into the Holy of Holies, and the type so far raised itself up into the Ante- type, that he saw more than ever priest saw, and he says, " In the year that King Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple." The Lord was Christ — the Divine Word. He sat there in human form, clothed in a long robe whose splendid borders trailing down covered the entire ground — a train of glory filling the temple. A woman touched the hem of the garment of the Savior and was healed. She had to make her way through the crowd. The skirts of the Divine glory fill the earth — God's temple in the new dispensation — it is not difficult to touch the border.
Isaiah saw the Lord "sitting" — the attitude of dignity and security. He was sitting upon a " Throne," the symbol of dominion; and the throne was "high and lifted up," above all other thrones, above all temporal and human vicissitudes. "Above" the throne " stood seraphims." There is a difference between the seraphim and cherubim. In this vision is the only place in the Bible where the seraphim is mentioned. Angels in various offices are frequently spoken of, and the cherubim carry the throne in Ezekiel's vision, but here nearest to the Divine person and glory stand seraphs. The word seraphim literally means "burning ones." All afire, they stand unconsumed in the fires of God's glory. We do not know that they are the highest order in the ranks of heaven, but we think so. Some of the Rabbins say that the seraphim love most, and the cherubim know most. If this is the difference between these two orders, then the seraphim is higher than the cherubim. The Bible reveals nothing more clearly than that there are gradations in the ranks of heaven's
These seraphims had six wings each. Two wings of each were extended as if flying, hence they stood in the air motionless, suspended, with two wings extended — “they stood flying," facing each other, and facing the throne. They had six wings, two wings of each were extended as if flying, while two wings of each covered their faces, and two wings of each covered their feet. While each used two wings to fly and work, each used four wings in awful reverence and adoration. O, utilitarian in the divine life, learn a lesson from the seraphim. These seraphims were on both sides of the throne, " And one cried unto the other, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts : the whole earth is full of his glory." God is holy — His glory is His holiness manifested, and God intends that such manifestation shall fill the whole earth. The seraphim in their worship, fix their eye upon the glorious consummation, and make it the constant theme of their
sublime doxology — " Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts : the whole earth is full of his glory."
At the song of the seraphim the very foundations of the temple shook. The record is, " the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke." It literally means, " The foundations of the thresh-olds shook with the voice of them that cried, and the house was filled with smoke." The seraphim singing their antiphonal song, the temple shaking, and the smoke ascending from the altar in front and filling the house ; the Lord on the throne, and the very temple and fire uniting with the seraphim in his worship, — a thrice holy God — were too much for Isaiah. He never felt before how unholy he was, and he cried out " Woe is me ! for I am undone ; because I am a man of unclean lips, and dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips : for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." We see our uncleanness, and un worthiness in proportion to our nearness to God. Christians are always humble.
But Isaiah was sinful and thought he was forever ruined — undone. Every sinner must come to this point. He had a revelation of God's holiness. We have the revelation recorded, read it, think of it, reproduce the image, and pray God it may have the same effect upon every sinner in this house. Hear his confession : " I am a man of unclean lips " — " out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh "— equivalent to a confession of an unclean heart. Such is the relation between the moral nature and the lips, that James teaches if a man is able to control his tongue he is a perfect man. He stands before the throne of Jehovah, and hears the seraphim praise Him with their pure lips — their lips expressing the reverence of their natures; and his self-conscious impurity and want of reverence — his unholiness he calls uncleanness of the lips ; and he regards his uncleanness aggravated because of his relations to his wicked countrymen, because he dwelt in the midst of a people of un- clean lips."
Not only did his conscious impurity drive him to despair, but he thought because of having seen the Lord he would die, and die quickly, in his impurity. And so the Bible teaches that a poor finite man cannot see God's face and live. Even the seraphim, while they veiled their faces with their wings as a token of reverence, did so because of the ineffable and overwhelming glory of the Divine countenance. This was in exhibition of God's holiness, and God's holiness must ever be a consuming fire to the sinner. But oh ! Isaiah you would certainly perish now, but just at the moment of the greatest manifestation of the essential holiness of God, while the seraphim in echoing peals of celestial thunder were at the height of their song, the throne, and fires, and light, and glory, were dimmed and softened by volumes of smoke which filled the house, ascending from an altar. An altar! the symbol of sacrifice, atonement, redemption, pardon, purification ; the symbol of the cross, its smoking sacrifice the symbol of the Savior. An altar ! and there it stood smoking with fires kindled by God himself, and which burned in the wilderness, and through the wilderness, and over Jordan, and to Shiloh, and to Jerusalem ; and it burned on while Kings lived and died — and there it burns yet, Isaiah, for your redemption — as the blood of Jesus is available yet for us.
Look up, Isaiah ! your extremity is God's opportunity. "Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hands which he had taken with the tongs off the altar: and he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips, and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged." One of the seraphim flew unto him. I told you that seraphim literally means " burning ones." The true meaning of the seraph is " to set on fire " or " burn up.' Here with a live coal of the Divine fire on the altar, he burned up Isaiah's sins. The seraphim are fiery beings, burning with the fires of love, and hence are burning messengers of a burning love. Yet with all the seraph's purity, and though he was burning himself with love and glory, yet he was not worthy one of the coals of the fire kindled by God to purge away sin, burning upon heaven's sacrificial altar, and the record is that he took it "with tongs from off the altar." Yet the holiness and love which so transcended the nature of the seraph as to make it sacrilegious in him to use his hands in place of the tongs, were not in the coal of fire, but in the altar, for after it was taken from the altar with the tongs, he then held the red-hot coal in his hand, and with his hand applied it to the prophet'smouth.
The holiness and love of God as manifested in Jesus, and a sacrifice for sinners, is symbolized by the altar so transcendently and superlatively glorious and sacred, that even the seraph, the holiest spirit in heaven, dare not touch them. Mighty God ! what must be the fate of the man who dares trample the blood of Jesus under his feet, and account it an unholy thing ? Of the man who holds in light esteem the sufferings and death of Jesus, and who speaks lightly of the same ? Paul seems to teach that for such a man there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin. So indispensable the means which God has appointed to be used by all His creatures in dealing with sacred things, that even a seraph could not omit the use of the tongs. It might seem to the seraph, that if he could hold the coal in his hand after it was taken off the altar, why not take it off with his hand — this would have been seraphic rationalism.
It seems to us that some of the means God has appointed might be omitted by us — a human rationalism would discard them. Why did Moses smite the rock with his rod to bring forth waters ? Why did he stretch his rod over the sea, that the waters might be parted ? Why did Naaman have to dip in the Jordan ? Why did Christ order the lepers to show themselves to the priest, and cure them before they got there? Why did the serpent-bitten in the camp have to look at the brazen serpent on the pole ? Why do Christians have to fast, pray, and attend to all the means of grace ? The answer is, it is God's business, our duty and salvation are to obey. If you are intellectually too proud, and defiant of God, too rationalistic and stupid, to obey God without a reason, you will be lost, and ought to be. Rationalism is culpable stupidity. Questionless and submissive throw yourself at the feet of mercy, in God's appointed way; and think it, O weak man ! no degradation to believe in God. Use the tongs.
This seraph with the tongs took a live coal from the altar — a live coal — literally " a red-hot coal." Fire is the most inexplicable and profoundest symbol, and part in the annals of the universal Cosmos. Fire is at the basis of the being and life of the universe. Potential — it is everywhere — dynamic — it runs every wheel in the machinery of the universe. It evolves elements, and is the all-potent cause, now occult, now burning and roaring in the lightning's shaft, in the movement of all elements, and in carrying out the operations of nature. It forges the particles into a rose leaf, and tosses the billows of the sun a thousand miles high, and rolls them over the area of quadrillions of miles, and shoots out names into space a million of miles Let God but unstable His fiery horses and they will paw the mountains into cinders, and eat the world into ashes in a moment ; but even then, hitched to the car of our redemption, and shaking their fiery manes among the stars, and flashing through the constellations will rollous up to God — the fires of hell tossing below with the damned.
Now in a high, supersensuous, uncreated sense, the very foundation of essential God is fire and light. The Bible says so, again and again. Not created fire, for it burned in the bush, without consuming the bush, and when it shone upon Saul of Tarsus was brighter than the sun — yet it was fire— fire burning in darkness on the side of Divine wrath, and burning in light on the side of the Divine love. Did not God descend in fire on Horeb ? Was He not a fire in the bush? A fire in the cloud in the wilderness ? Did not a fire from the Lord consume Aaron's sacrifice ? Gideon's sacrifice? David's sacrifice ? Solomon's sacrifice ? Elijah's sacrifice ? which consumed the Israelites in the wilderness? the captains and companies in the days of Elijah ? Was not His worship a fiery worship ? and when heathens lost the spiritual idea, yet keeping the traditional fact, have not their services been fiery, even to the worship of fire ? They built their very altars and temples in the shape of ascending flames. Is not love and wrath burning fires in the nature of God, and does not the fire which lights the Christian, consume the world? There is a celestial divine fire, whose analogue is material fire; and it lights heaven and burns in hell.
Now man is a spark of the divine fire. The life of his being is fire. It burns in every vein, warms, and vitalizes his whole system — blow it out, and his whole body is cold and dead. Life is fire. But in his soul the source of life burns the celestial fire. The devil piles the carnal, the boggy, the sensual, upon the divine fire in the man ; and smothers, and extinguishes it — it lies in smoke and darkness — it is going out. What do we need ? Fire. Religion is a constitutional thing. God has promised fires from heaven to kindle in the soul, to burn up the rubbish. Was not the Holy Ghost to baptize with fire ? And was not its baptism one of fire on the day of Pentecost ? And was not its symbol tongues of fire ? Is not religion a fire — life — a fire-light ? And does not every Christian run in the way as if he ran on fire, and is not his love for God and man a flame? The difference between love and admiration is, the one is a flame, the other not.
Religion is a fire which warms, so hot it melts the nature, and the stream of life frozen up to its bottom, till it was motionless, in the Christian is melted, and flows on, singing over its pebbles till it empties into the ocean of God. Religion is a fire which consumes the carnal, the sensual, and all the dross, and purifies the nature, and fuses into one harmonious life all man's varied powers. It does more : it melts the soul, till it flows into, and is one with the ocean of God's eternal love — and God through Christ is all in all. Religion is a fire, whose first flames pour a flood of light throughout the courts and chambers of the temple of conscience, till not an impurity or sin, though small as an atom, can float in the obscurest corner without instant discovery. It illuminates the whole character, till the man is morally transfigured. He is like a city built on a hill. He is like a sun — he shines. O, Christian, you need more fire.
Lift up your head, Isaiah — the seraph is coming. He has a live coal in his hand. Blessed be God ! he took it off the altar, where Jesus died a ransom for sinners. He has it in his hand. What part is unclean, Isaiah ? "My lips," there is where he applies it. He touches the unclean part. Religion has nothing to do with symptoms — it strikes at the cause. He " touches " the lips. He announces to the consciousness the work done, " thine iniquity is taken away" — pardon — " and thy sin is purged " — regeneration — sanctification begun. More fire, more light, rise higher, Isaiah, till body sinks, till you become all soul, all spirit, all fire, all light, all love, — yes, in this life. Glory !
Religion is a live coal — it is a life, not a body, a life, not forms. A live tree, not a dead tree. A live man, not a dead man. A living, burning love. Do you love Jesus ? I do not ask you if you admire him, but do you love him? The love of religion is to be a fire, and it must consume all of the inordinate self, and fuse you and your fellows together in God ; so that you will love God better than yourself and your fellows as well as yourself. If you are below this standard, brother, you may be saved, but if you are up to it I know you will be saved. O, God ! for a baptism of fire.
Isaiah was converted now and ready for work. He had the baptism of fire. Brethren, I want you to work for the salvation of souls. You must first have the fire. It must burn in your bones. You must love God burningly, and men the same way, or you cannot work. O, for the baptism of fire ! Like Isaiah, you must see the Lord. You must have a vision of the Lord in your inner experience. A vision of the Lord ? Yes, brother. With Isaiah it was an intuition of spirit, that looked beyond the senses and saw God — you can have it by faith. I want you to be an "enthusiast." Suppose I do — this means inspiration " — to be an " enthusiast " is " a man with God in him," says an author. I want no enthusiast in the sense of a blind zeal, but an enthusiast who sees and loves the Lord — an enthusiasm with an eye in it. A burning, seeing, acting love — a live coal. O, for a baptism of fire ! Wake up ! miserable caricature of a Christian, with your head bowed down, and moping and stumbling along in the way of others. Wake up ! a little more love in you and you will walk the earth like a free man. Your blood will be full of celestial fire, and if you are held back at a slow pace with the ark of God you will dance before it. O, for a baptism of fire !