Isaiah's Call to Service
J. R. Miller, 1910
Isaiah knew the very day and hour when he saw this wonderful vision. It was in the year that king Uzziah died. The vision had made such an impression on his mind—that he never could forget it. It had meant so much to him as an experience, that he could never cease to look back to the day as his spiritual birthday.
That was a memorable year. Uzziah was one of the greatest of Judah's kings. He had reigned fifty years with high honor, and then suddenly he was smitten with leprosy. He had gone into the temple and attempted with his own hands to burn incense. On his forehead appeared at once the white spot which was the mark of divine judgment, and the king was thrust out and dwelt in a leper house until his death. The year in which king Uzziah died, was therefore more than a date. That was the year of Isaiah's vision.
There are one or two dates in nearly every earnest life, which are always remembered. Sometimes it is a loss or a sorrow which has made its indelible record. Sometimes it is the coming of a great joy into the heart—the first meeting with a new friend, for example. Sometimes it is the day when Christ was revealed too the heart. We may be very sure that Andrew and John never forgot the day when they first saw Jesus and when He took them to His own lodgings for a long talk. It is good for us to keep records of the great days in our life.
The prophet in his vision, saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up. It is a great thing when such a vision as this fills one's life. Too often it is this world—which most largely blocks the soul's view. Men see visions of wealth, power, fame, or pleasure—but see not a gleam of heaven nor a hint of the shining of God's face. But earthly visions do not exalt our life. They make us no better. When we have visions like Isaiah's, in which God fills all our field of view—we are lifted up in spirit, in character, in hope and joy. One who sees God—is never the same man afterwards. He is set apart now for holy life and service. He is dominated ever after by a new influence. He has seen God—he must therefore be holy; he must walk softly and reverently; he must be true to God.
There is something unusual and very impressive in the description of the seraphim in this vision. "Each one had six wings!" Wings are for flight—it is the mission of angelic beings to fly on God's errands. The six wings would seem to signify special readiness to do God's will. But they suggest here, more than their normal use—to fly.
The modern Christian would probably use them all for flying—and would be intensely active. We live in an age when everything inspires to activity. We are apt to run, perhaps too greatly, with our 'wings'.
But we should notice that two of the seraphim's wings were used in covering his face when before God—teaching reverence. Two of them also were used in covering his feet—humility. The other two were used in flying—activity. Reverence and humility—are quite as important qualities in God's service as activity!
The song of the seraphim, as they veiled their faces and covered their feet, indicated praise, worship. One choir sang, "Holy, holy, holy, is Almighty Jehovah!" and the other responded, "The whole earth is full of His glory!" What we owe to God always is holiness, for everywhere is His glory. Yet many people never see any of God's glory in the earth. They think of glory as something bright and dazzling, like the burning bush, the pillar of fire, or the transfiguration. But there is as much glory in a tree laden with sweet blossoms—as there was in the flaming bush at Horeb; and as much glory in a face shining brightly with love—as there was in Stephen's. We read of Christ's first miracle that He thus "manifested His glory." It was the glory of kindness and helpfulness which this miracle showed. Everywhere God's glory shines in all nature—and in all true Christian living, in lowly homes where prayer is offered.
The prophet stood now face to face with God, and the effect on him was a sense of his own sinfulness. "Then said I: Woe is me I 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 my eyes have seen the King, Almighty Jehovah!" We do not know our own unworthiness until we have had a glimpse of God. In the light of the divine holiness—we see our own unholiness!
One of the most remarkable incidents in the Gospels, is that in which Peter begged Jesus to depart from him. It was after a great miracle. Peter was awed by the manifestations of power in Jesus. Only a divine being could do such work. The effect on him was that he shrank away from the presence of such a holy being! He was not worthy to stand before Christ. "Depart from me—for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" When the light of God's face shines into our heart—we see how unworthy we are. All pride and self-conceit vanish—when we stand in the presence of the divine glory.
The mercy of God is ever instant in its response to human penitence and confession. "Then one of the seraphim flew 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 has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin forgiven!" The act of bringing the coal and touching the prophet's lips, was very suggestive. The altar was the place of sacrifice. It was holy fire that burned there. All this must be kept in mind as we think of the meaning of this act. Not any common coal of fire would have done. It represented fire from heaven, the fire of the Holy Spirit. As the coal touched the lips of the prophet—they were made pure and clean.
No sooner had the prophet's lips been cleansed—than the call for service came. "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" God is always wanting errand-runners. Angels fly swiftly and eagerly. There is not an angel in glory, who would not gladly come to earth on any mission, however lowly.
A legend tells of one of the highest angels sent to earth one day with two commissions—to deliver a king from the power of some temptation; and to help a little struggling ant home with its burden of food. The latter errand was done just as dutifully and joyously by the great angel—as the former. But God wants men as well as angels for messengers in this world. He is always asking this question, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?"