Some Principles of Christian Service in Isaiah 6.
The Substance of an Address given at Westminster Central Hall, 25th October 1935.
ISAIAH chapter 6 is a scripture pregnant with truth, and full of instruction for all Christian workers. Underneath the surface will be found principles vital to effective service, and of general application; four of these principles I am going to indicate, firmly believing that they are foundation cornerstones upon which the superstructure of any work for God should be built. They embrace the infinite and the finite, the ultimate and the immediate; bluntly stated, they are these—We must have high views of God, and low views of self; wide views of His purposes, and clear views of our ministry. But when I speak of views, I do not mean ideas, but that which meets the eye—the eye of faith.
Isaiah had a vision, not a Bible; we have a Bible, not a vision; but in each case, these four principles emerge as fundamental to effective service.
(1)—WE MUST HAVE HIGH VIEWS OF GOD.
Said Isaiah: "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up" (v. 1).
That not only indicates a date, it marks a crisis, and presents a contrast. On the one hand, there is King Uzziah, and on the other, the King of kings.
King Uzziah, greatest of all the kings of Judah since Solomon, victorious in war, prosperous in peace, he must have caught the imagination of the young prophet and patriot; but perhaps that which appealed most to this young man, who was so essentially spiritual, was the godliness of the king; he would judge that to be the nation's greatest asset. And yet in the end, Uzziah had become a disappointment and a failure; and now when war clouds are gathering black in the north, and the nation needs him most, he is dead. It is then, the prophet sees the Lord. Uzziah is dead, but the Lord lives!
Which of us has not set our hope upon some man, only to find that prop removed, that we might lean our whole weight upon the living God? There is this initial lesson to learn then, that if we would tell for Him, we must get our eyes off man, and firmly fixed upon Jehovah. And Jehovah of Hosts, so John tells us, is none other than the eternal Son. "These things said Isaiah, when he saw His glory and spake of Him" (John 12. 41). His vision is of One "high and lifted up" (v. 1), and what did he see?
1. He gazed on majesty, for He was "sitting upon a throne" (v. 1). Uzziah is forgotten in the presence of such awful majesty as God's; and as they wait alert before His awe-inspiring throne, the seraphim, highest of all creatural beings, cover their faces and cover their feet, in uttermost humility, and reverential worship. What majesty is here!
2. He gazed on purity. Ineffable music is filling the palace as the seraphim sing their antiphon of praise.
"Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts," cries one, while another answers, "The whole earth is full of His glory" (v. 3). Here is a vision of most awful holiness!
I have read that the Hebrew word for holiness springs from a root meaning to set apart, to make distinct, to put at a distance from. Behold the most high God our Saviour Jesus, as to the intense purity of His being, at an infinite remove from sinful man.
In our service for Him, you and I, wherever we are posted, are bound to meet two things; we meet difficulty, and we meet darkness.
Are we in difficulty? Let us oppose to it the majesty of God; let us recollect the Lord Jesus Christ sitting upon a throne, an unshakeable, eternal throne; and He is vested with all power; difficulty has no place in His vocabulary; no panic disturbs the peace of His presence; dwelling in the eternal calm, He is Master of every situation.
"A glorious throne, set on high from the beginning, is the place of our sanctuary" (Jer. 17. 12, R.V.).
"Thy foes in vain designs engage,
Against Thy throne in vain they rage;
Like rising waves with angry roar
That dash and die upon the shore."
And are we meeting darkness? There are those whose calling of God brings them into an environment of darkness that can be felt, not merely the darkness of ignorance, but the darkness of defilement, gross, glaring, ghastly evil. Then, lest we be defiled, let us walk in the light of a thrice holy God, and ray the light of His holiness into Satanic darkness.
Oh, what a glorious privilege it is to be the heralds of a God so holy, and to know that He can bring His sure holiness and purity into the lives of the darkest and most defiled and make them holy like Himself.
With a vision of the sublime majesty and awful holiness of Jehovah, Isaiah was able to fulfil his ministry, and so may we.
(2)—WE MUST HAVE LOW VIEWS OF SELF.
This will most certainly result from high views of God; there can be no place for anything else. It was so with Isaiah, for, said he, "Mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts" (v. 5).
Note three things in the prophet's experience, arising out of that vision.
1. There is conviction of sin. "Woe is me, for I am undone" (v. 5).
2. There is confession of sin. "I am a man of unclean life" (v. 5).
3. There is cleansing from sin. "Thine iniquity, is taken away and thy sin purged" (v. 7).
No one can truly serve God who is without a vision of His glory; but he who has seen the glory of God will find that his experience and the prophet's are identical; he is convicted of his sure undoneness, and spontaneously upon his life comes confession of sin; and immediately upon confession, cleansing, in virtue of the efficacy of all the altar stands for.
Thus, he becomes a vessel, sanctified, and meet for the Master's use; cleansed but contrite, for ever contrite, with no room for self-complacency, since he ever needs cleansing.
Let us turn this Scripture full upon ourselves, and ask if it is true of us, or whether pride in some subtle form is withering our effectiveness. Wherever there is a vision of God, it is true of him to whom the vision comes.
It was true of Job, "I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes."
It was true of Moses, "Who am I that I should go?"
It was true of John the Baptist, "I am unworthy."
It was true of Paul, "Sinners, of whom I am chief."
It was true of Isaiah, "Woe is me for I am undone."
Is it true of us? It well need be, if we are to be usable for God.
This is the second vital principle—low views of self.
(3)—WE MUST HAVE WIDE VIEWS OF GOD'S PURPOSES.
Listen to the seraph's song again as one answers another: "The whole earth is full of His glory" (v. 3).
Is my interpretation wrong? I am not dogmatic, but I do suggest to you that here is a great and glorious prophecy of the ultimate, an unveiling of the wider purposes of God. At any rate, a later prophet's words are strangely reminiscent of these: "The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Hab. 2. 14).
We are on the winning side; discouraged worker, you are on the winning side if you are on Christ's side. The ultimate—a redeemed earth full of His glory; it is coming, for He is coming. The night may grow darker yet, but the day is at hand.
"Our conquering Christ goes forth to free
This captive race of men;
I, at His wounded side would be,
To share His Cross and poverty;
To bring the lost ones home again.
He must triumph,
He must triumph,
He must triumph,
He must reign." (J. Boles).
That is the third principle of effective service—wide views of the ultimate purposes of God.
(4)—WE MUST HAVE CLEAR VIEWS OF OUR OWN MINISTRY.
An understanding of the immediate, Isaiah had.
Sin cleansed, he is brought into the counsels of God and hears His voice. The counsels of God produce in him a consciousness of a great need—God's search for willing workers. "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And with that compelling need before him, he responds, "Here am I, send me" (v. 8).
Thus, step by step, he is led up to his life work concerning which he is perfectly clear upon two points:
1. He has a mission—the King has said "go" (v. 9).
2. He has a message—the King has said "tell" (v. 9).
The rest of the chapter shows that the results of his ministry would be according to human standards, disappointing; and to all, but the man of faith, discouraging; but to quote words worthier than my own, the passage—
"Breathes . . . the spirit of one who, having realized life as a mission, has made the much more rare recognition, that the logical consequence is neither promise of success, nor the assurance of sympathy, but simply the acceptance of duty, with whatever results, and under whatever skies it pleases God to bring over him."—(Sir G. A. Smith).
Is your field of service as unpromising as Isaiah's? Well—being clear that God has told you to go, and told you to tell, go and tell, and do not be overburdened about results, leave those to Him.
All important it is to have clear views of our own ministry, clear as to His commission, that He has really said "Go"; clear as to our message, that He has actually said to us "Tell"; then in the end, our ministry will be appraised at its true value, not by spectacular successes, but by fidelity to duty.
In closing, may I quote from the late Sam Chadwick's Path of Prayer:
"Every Sunday morning, I read the fifth chapter of Revelation, and every Sunday night, the seventh chapter, from verse 9. Why do I do this? . . . I have to represent Christ, to preach Christ, to plead for Christ. For all this, I need the vision of Christ, and nowhere do I find the vision as He is there revealed in the midst of the Throne, in the midst of the Redeemed, in the midst of the angels, in the midst of creation. I can face the day when I have beheld His glory and said Amen, Hallelujah! in His presence. At night, I come back to the vision of His ultimate triumph, and commit the day unto Him, and rest my heart within the veil."
“The Believer’s Magazine" 1935-36.