H. D. M. (Henry Donald Maurice) Spence-Jones.

The pulpit commentary online

. (page 28 of 118)
Online LibraryH. D. M. (Henry Donald Maurice) Spence-JonesThe pulpit commentary → online text (page 28 of 118)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

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 oub 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 under-
stand 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 sacri fice which God had
caused to be built for the purging of the sins of the people, and wiih 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 laeriflce 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 merey ; these arc found iu


those fiithful 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 Grod takes away our'sin, and our soul, *' being justified
by faith, has peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ." — 0.

Ver. 8. — On Ood'i errand. Our thought is naturally divided into—
L The Divtnb deuasd. "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" 1. There
are some demands God makes of us all. He requires that we should hearken when he
speaks ; that we should be especially attentive to his Son (Matt. zvii. 6) ; that we
should accept Jesus Christ as our Lord, Saviour, Friend, Exemplar ; that we should
honour him before the world. 2. There are other demands he makes of most of his
children. That they should actively engage in the work of extending his kingdom ;
that they should suffer some kind of persecution for his sake. 3. There remain some
demands he only makes of a few. Work requiring specially hard toil, or particular pre-
paration in study, or unusual tact and versatility, or exceptional powers of mind or
body. Then he says, " Whom (of all my servants) shall I send ; and who will go ? "

IL The ntDiviDUAL response. " Here am I ; send me." Li order to say this wisely
and rijjihtly, there must be : 1. Thorough duvotedness ; half-heartedness will never
succeed on such errands as these. 2. Special qualification, by native faculty or favour-
able antecedents. 3. Freedom from other and more pressing obligations. These
conditions being fulfilled, all the highest considerations — the will of Christ, the pitiful
necessities of the sons of want and sorrow and shame, the example of the noblest, the
recompense of the righteous — combine to say, " Go, and the Lord be with you." — 0.

Vers. 9 — 13.— 2%« shadow of sacred truth. We may view these words in —
L Theib national aspect. Thus regarded, they point to : 1. Painful and guilty
obduracy. The prophet should speak, but the people would disregard ; all that was
froward and perverse in them would repel and reject the Divine message ; their reception
of the truth would only end in spiritual deterioration and greater moral distance than
ever from deliverance (vers. 9, 10). 2. Protracted impenitence and Divine judgment
(vers. 11, 12). 3. Long-lingering mercy ending in partial restoration (ver. 13). But we
shall gain most from these verses by regarding them in —

IL Their individual aspect. The ninth and tenth verses have the most direct
and serious bearing on our condition now. They suggest to us that sacred truth not
only sheds a bright light, but casts a deep shadow where it falls. 1. It casts the
shadow of solemn responsibility everywhere. Wlien a greater than Moses legislates, and
a wiser than Solomon speaks to us, we have more to be responsible for than they who
received the Law from Sinai, and they who lived under the reign of the son of David.
From those to whom much is given will much be required. 2. It casts the shadow of a
heavy condemnation on those who reject it. " Of how much sorer punishment," etc. I " It
shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment," etc. ; " This
is the condemnation, that light is come," etc. ; " He that knew his Lord's will and did
it not shall be beaten with many stripes." 3. But the special lesson from our text is
that it casts the shadow of spiritual deterioration on those who refuse it. " Make the
heart of this people fat . . . shut their eyes ; lest they see with their eyes,'' etc. The
apparent sense of these words cannot be, and is not, the one that should be accepted.
They cannot possibly be meant to signify that God desired his prophet deliberately
and intentionally to cause moral obtuseness, spiritual blindness, in order that the people
of Judah might be prevented from repenting and so from being saved. Such a thought
not only outrages every reverent idea of the Divine character, but flatly contradicts the
most express statements of the Divine Word (see Ezek. xviii. 23 ; 1 Tim. ii. 4 ; 2 Pet.
iii. 9 ; Jas. i. 13). There is one sense of which the words are susceptible, and which is
in accordance with the plainly revealed character of God ; it is that the prophet was to
declare such truth as would actually result in spiritual, blindness, and therefor* in
irveapaxity for repentance and redemption. Now, it is the solemn duty of the miniitcr
of Christ to do the same thing continually. He knows that, as his Divine Master was
" set for the fall " as well as for the " rising again of many in Israel " (Luke ii. 84),
and M he bad occasion to say, " For judgment am I come into this world, . . , that

120 THE BOOK OF THE PROPHET ISAIAH. [<». vi. 1— 13.

they wlio see may be made blind" (John ix. 39), that as his gospel was in earliest times
a "stone of stumbling and a rock of offLnce" (cL. viii. 14; and see Matt. xxi. 44;
1 Cor. i. 23 ; 2 Cor. ii. 16), so now the truth of the living God must prove, to thosa who
reject it, the occasion of moral and spiritual degeneracy. He must lay his account with
this sad fact, must go forth, like Isaiah, well aware that it is a two-edged sword he
wields. But let the sons of sacred privilege un.lerstand what is their peril as well as
their opportunity. Deliberately rejected truth leads down to (1) a diminished sensi-
bility, the lessening of pure religious emotion ; (2) loss of spiritual apprehension, an
enfeebled capacity to perceive the mind and meaning of the Divine Teaclier; (3)
a vanishing likelihood of personal salvation. When the ear is shut and the eye is
closed, is it likely that the feet will be found in the way of life ? Will they not wandei
off to the fields of folly, up to and over the precipice of ruin ? — 0.

Vera. 1 — 4. — Symbolic impressions of the Divine holiness. This is the only visior
recorded in Isaiah's prophecy. It did not come at the beginning of his labours, but as
an inauguration to a higher degree of the prophetic office. From the tone of the latter
part of the chapter, it is evident that he had found out the rebelliousness and obstinacy
of the people, and perhaijs had become, like Elijah, greatly distressed and discourageil ;
needing, therefore, such a reviving and encouragement as this vision was fitted to afford.
It introduces the propliet as outside, near the altar in front of the temple. The doors
are supposed to be open, and the veil hiding the holy of holies to be withdrawn,
unfolding the sight of Jehovah as a Monarch sitting on his throne, anl surrounded by
his ministers of state. According to the tradition, Isaiah's assertion that he had seen
God was the pretext for sawing him asunder, in the reign of Miinass' h. In the record
of the vision it should be noticed that Isaiah gives only surroundings of God, no descrip-
tion of the Divine Being himself. If this hal been the only vision recorded as granted
by God to his people, its explanation would have been difficult. It is, however, but
one of a long serieSj and it appears to illustrate a recognized mode of Divine dealings.
God takes opportunities of impressing the Divine holiness and claims by symbolic
manifestations. We review the principal illustrations from Bible records.

I. The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, " Pear not, Abram : 1
am thy Shield, and thy exceeding great Reward." And Abram, by Divine direction, took
a heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon, killed them, divided them,
and while a horror of great darkness fell upon him, " behold I a smoldng furnace and
a burning lamp" — symbols of Divine holiness — "passed between the pieces, and the
Lord made a covenant with Abram."

II. A vision was granted to Jacob, from which the whole tone of his life was
changed, and he began a covenanted. God-fearing career. As he lay wearily on his
stone pillow, under the clear-shining stars of an Eastern sky, " behold a ladder set up
on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven : and behold the angels of God ascend-
ing and descending on it. And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the
Lord God of Abraham thy father, ... the land whereon thou liest, to thee and thy
seed will I give it."

III. Moses led the flock of Jethro, one memorable day, to the back side of the desert,
and " came to the mount of God, even to Horeb. And the an>,'el of the Lord appeared
to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush : and he looked, and, behold, the bush
burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And God called unto him out of the
midst of the bush "—symbol of the holiness that consumes and purifies — "and said,
Moses, Moses. And he said. Here am I."

IV. When commencing his arduous life-work, a similar impression was wrought upon
Joshua. One day he looked towards Jericho, and lo I " there stood a man over against
him with his sword drawn in his hand." In answer to Joshua's question he said, " As
Captain of the Lord's host have I come . . . Loose thy shoe from ofi' thy foot ; for the
place whereon thou standest is holy."

V. In the times of the judges Gideon and Manoah beheld angels who delivered
messages, and ascended in the smoke of sacrificial fires. Samuel, when a little lad,
heard the very voice of God spealdng his own uame, and entrusting him with prophetic
messages.. Solomon was honoured by God's appearing to him in a night-dream, and
offering the bestowment of the best blessings upon him. Elijah, after the lightnin-',


and thunder, aud earthquake, and wind had passed, heard Cod in l lie "still small voice."
Job exclaims, as in the rapture of a vision, " I have heard of thee by the hearing of the
ear : but now mine eye seeth thee, wherefore I abhor myself." Jeremiah was directly
set apart for his prophetic work. " The Lord put forth his hand, and touched my
mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth."

VI. In the New Testament records we find similar scones. Manifestations of an^ela
to shepherds. A wonderful scene of transfiguration for our Lord himself. The
ilescending sheet, and its strange contents, for Peter. The overwhelming light and
voice on the road to Damascus, and the elevation into the third heavens, to see the
unspeakable, for St. Paul. And the apocalyptic vision for St. John.

Isaiah's vision is in fullest sympathy with all these. For its explanation, see the
exegetical portion of the' Commentary. It bore upon tbe prophet, through its symbols,
overwhelming impressions (1) of the holiness, (2) of the direct claims of God. — E. T.

Ver. 5. — Seeing Ood and the sense of sin. "Then said I, Woe is mel for I am
undone ; because I am a man of unckan lips." To Isaiah a work of unusual solemnity
had been entrusted, one that needed to be done in a most serious and reverent spirit.
He was at once tlie prophet of the Lord's terror and of the Lord's mercy. He was to
denounce sin with the solemnity of one who knew what God's thought of sin was.
He was to produce ihe conviciiun of sin before God in the corrupt minds and hearts of the
people, and he was to announce tlie coming, presently, of the great Messenger of Divine
mercy. Therefore it was nc cessaiy for him to have his own soul filled with the infinite
glory and holiness of God, and filled with a very humbling sense of sin. These effects
were wrought by the vibion granted to him. It took its form from its design. All about
it is holy. I( is the holy place. The seraphim bow before the infinitely Holy. They
cry, " Holy, holy." The ilireshold and the posts tremble before the Holy. And the soul
of the prophet is abased. He is humbled in the sight of his own uncleanness, and the
uncleanness of his people ; for how can a man seem pure before his Maker ?


man should dare to touch that work whose own soul is not oppressed with the evil of
sin. Denunciation of sin is no flippant, easy work ; it involves a tremendous expense
of feeling. We talk about sin so freely, that for many of us it has lost its exceeding
sinfulness. We confess it so often in familiar general terms, that it has lost almost
all its terror. It may have been thus with Isaiah. He may have been so constantly
talking about sin, that he had exhausted his feeling of its evil, and could even speak
lightly about abomination that it is said "God hateth." Certainly we need such
visions of God to fill our minds and hearts with seriousness ; we well may pray, " Lord,
show mt' thyself."

II. When a man has visions of God, he at first feels helpless, and dares
NOT undertake God's WORK. Compare the feelings of Moses and Jeremiah, after
their visions. The first feeling will be, "I dare not." "Who is sufficient for these
things?" But this will soon pass into humble de| endence on Divine strength, and
patient readiness to go where God sends, and do what God bids. When a man before
God says, " Woe is me 1 " etc., he will soon respond to God's call, saying, "Here am I ;
send me."— R. T.

Ver. 5. — The true inspiration for workers. " Mine eyes have seen the King, the
Lord of hosts." What a scene is presented in this chapter for our imaginations to
reproduce I The throng of worshippers had left the courts of the sacred temple ; the
chanting, in alternate parts, of the choir of singers, clothed in white linen, had died
into silence. Other devout Israelites were praying apart, and whitu-robod priests
silently presented their prayers in the fjagrant cloud of incense which rose from the
golden altar of the holy place; "then the veil of the temple seemed to be withdrawn,
and the holy of holies discovered to the propliet's eye. He saw the Lord, sitting as
a King uiion his throne, actually govemint; and judging. His train, the symbol of
ilig;nity and glory, filled the holy place, while around him hovered the attendant
.•seraphim, spirits of purity, zeal, and love, chaining in alternate choirs the holiness ol
their Lord. The threshold vibrated with the sound, and' the white cloud of the Di\ine
presence, as if descending to mingle itself with the ascending incense of prayer, filled

122 THE BOOK OF THE PROPHET ISAIAH. [oh. vi. 1— lii.

the house. The eternal archetypes of the Hebrew symbolic worship were revealed to
Isaiah; and, as the centre of them all, his eyes saw the King, the Lord of hosts, of
whom the actual rulers, from David to Uzziah, had been but the temporary and sub-
ordinate viceroys. In that presence, even the spirits of the fire, which consumes all
impurity while none can mix with it, cover their faces and their feet, conscious that
they are not pure in God's sight, but justly chargeable with imperfection; and much
more does Isaiah shrink from the aspiring thoughts ho had hitherto entertained of
his fitness to be the preacher of that God to his countrymen ; he, a man of unclean
lips, sharing the uncleanness of the people among whom he dwells. In utter self-
abasement he realizes the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and the separation it makes
between man and the holy God " (Sir E. Strachey). This was a vision of God granted
to a worker, a man actively engaged in God's service, and 'about to enter on more
serious and more arduous duties. Visions have seldom, if ever, been granted to
individuals merely as helps to their private religious life. They are gracious aids to
workers ; and God's willing servants can only reach adequate convictions, feel worthy
impulses, or- gain a suitable and inspiring impression of the dignity of their work,
through some direct manifestation of God himself to their souls. No man can do great
things save as he is sustained by the conviction that God has sent him to do them, and
is with him in the doing. The smallness of our aims, our endeavours, and our attain-
ments, reveal how small and how unworthy are our views of God. It is evident that
we cannot yet be said to have seen him. He has not yet overawed us with his glory
and his claims, and swelled our souls with great thoughts, great resolves, and a great
consecration. Those only who have seen " the King iu his beauty " can give their very
noblest powers, can lay down their lives, in his service.

I. Can theue be personal kevelations of God to his wobkebs in our day?
We have sadly lost in spiritual power, in self-abnegation, and in holy enthusiasm for
the glory of the Lord, because we have so easily settled this question by answering,
" Certainly not. God does not now give visions. Christian workers now need not
expect such. We are left now to the ordinary illuminations of the Holy Spirit." But
will this answer bear looking at and thinking about, and testing by the light of actual
experience ? God's forms of Divine dealing do indeed dift'er in different ages, but the
essential I'eatures of God's relationship with men do not change. He can reveal him-
self still to individual souls ; and he is not limited to the particular forms of vision
which he has used in ancient times. He may adapt his visions to the altered circum-
stances of each age ; and if once he appeared in human form to meet the sight of bodily
eyes, he may now reveal his glory in the spheres that lie open to the vision of the
loving and believing soul. It he be the living God, ruling, guiding, choosing out his
instruments, fashioning them for his purposes, and sending them upon his commissions,
he must still have visions for his servants. They will take less of outward symbolic
shape, they will relate more to thought and less to dreams ; but that only makes
them more immediate and direct Divine communications — contacts of the Divine
Spirit with the human spirit without the intervention of any earthly symbols. God
spoke to the boy Samuel with an audible voice, he spoke afterwards to the man
Samuel in a spirit-voice ; but both were his voice. The New Testament promise is,
" Blessed are the pure in lieart : for they shall see God."

II. When in ouk life may we look fob such Divine visions to wobk bbs ?
Is there any special time or occasion at which they may be expected ? They will
not necessarily come at the beginnings of our special labours, though that might seem
to be the most fitting time. They do often come at the outset, but sometimes we are
[Permitted for a while to " go the warfare at our own .iharges ; " we have a period of trial
and of comparative failure, as Isaiah appears to have had, and then we are renewed in our
consecration by some holy scensa of communion and revelation. Among the visions
of the Old 'I'estaniont we find several that were granted in the very midst of life's
work: e.g. Abraham's, Moses', Joshua's, this of Isaiah ;compareour Lord's transfiguration,
ind Paul's ascent to glory. The times for God's personal disclosures of himself to a man
can never be fixed and anticipated. Like other workings of grace, they are divinely,
sovereignly free ; the fitting occasion for them the unsearchable Wisdom alone can
decide. This only may we say — No Christian man has ever become truly great and
noble and enthusiastic, no man has become utterly self-denying in the Lord's work.


until he has been called and solemnized and prepared by some soul-vision of God. He
may be a Christian worker before, but he is not inspired and spiritually powerful
until then. Life takes on its highest nobility only after we are able to say, " Mine
eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." We may not say that such visions come
only once in a man's life. They will be given as often as there is need for them, and
openness to receive them. Christ, our Lord, had visions at his baptism, at the mount,
in the wilderness, and in the garden. The Apostle Paul had visions on the road to
Damascus, of the man from Macedonia, of the third heaven, and amid the dangers of
shipwreck. We often hear of our dying friends seeing something of which those
around their beds cannot catch the faintest glimpse. And this is true of Christian
souls in life. They have times of insight, times of seeing truth and seeing God ; times
when, apart from study and thought, they seem to be plunged in all the glory of
Divine and eternal things ; moments in which they could not tell whether they were
" in the body or out of tiie body." Two or three instances may be given in illustiation.
While Luther was laboriously climbing up Pilate's staircase at Rome, seel<iug to
win a righteousness out of his own works, he heard a voice thundering in his soul
and Baying, " The just shall live by faith." That was a New Testament vision of
the truth, and from that vision Luther's power began. The following is a testimony
rendered concerning a godly man: "About a year after his conversion, returning
from a meeting greatly distressed with a sense of his unwoithiness, he turned aside
into a lonely bam to wrestle with God, and while kneeling on the threshing-floor
he gained a little light. Shortly after his eyes were opened to see all clearly. He felt
that he was nothing, and Christ was all in all ; and from that time commenced a life
of most devoted and successful labour for Christ." " The holy John Plavel, being alone
in a journey on horseback, and willing to make the best improvement of the days
solitude, set himself to a close examination of the state of his soul, and then of the lile
to come, and the manner of its being and living in heaven. Going on his way, his
thoughts began to swell, and rise higher and higher, like the waters in Bzekiel's vision,
till at last they became an overflowing flood. Such was the intention of his mind, such
the ravishing taste of heavenly joys, and such the fuU assurance of his interest therein,
that he utterly lost the sight and sense of this world, and all the concerns thereof ; and
for some hours knew no more where he was than if he had been in a deep sleep in his
bed." The following passage is taken from the margin of John Howe's study Bible.
It is the only record of his personal expeiience preserved for us. " After I had, in my
course of preaching, been largely insisting on 2 Cor. i. 12, this very morning I awoke
out of a most ravishing and delightful dream, that a wonderful and copious stream of

Online LibraryH. D. M. (Henry Donald Maurice) Spence-JonesThe pulpit commentary → online text (page 28 of 118)