The Throne, The Altar and the Lake
Read Isaiah 6:1-8; Revelation 20:11-15
The contrast between these two scenes is both striking and solemn. Isaiah saw the throne and the One who sat on it. John saw the throne and Him who sat on it. Isaiah saw something which John did not see—he saw an altar. John saw something that Isaiah did not sec—he saw the lake of fire. Isaiah saw a throne and an altar; John saw a throne and a lake of fire. Which do you see, my reader? “Neither,” you say. Which are you going to see? You will see one or the other as sure as you live. You are yet going to see the Lord, and you must see His throne, and while on earth you have to make your choice between the fire of the altar, and the fire of the lake.
Whether your lip will be touched with “a live coal from off the altar,” and your soul brought to know redemption and grace, or whether you will pass into eternity in your sins, and learn the meaning of that expression the “lake of fire,” lies with you to decide. I know, thank God, my destiny. Let me urge you to get the question of your salvation settled now, settled definitely. You have never seen Jesus, but you are going to. The Lord is coming back, and do not forget this, my friend, that “every eye shall see him.” Careless, heedless, godless sinner, you that despise the gospel, and make light of Christ, face the fact that you are going to see Him, you will have to meet Him. You need not be afraid to face Him now; be wise and do so without delay.
Perhaps you will say that you do not believe in these things. Your wisdom does not lie in unbelief, depend upon it. Unbelief will yet be demonstrated to be pure folly. If you were really wise you would be a simple, reverent believer in the Word of God. In the first scripture I have asked you to read, we find the Lord deeply convicting a man, bringing him to a sense of his state before God, then cleansing him, and leading him to be a consecrated man—that is what we get in Isaiah 6. What John saw—as recorded in Revelation 20—is the awful doom of the damned.
Dear friend, let me beseech you to hear the Word of God. It is very easy for you to say that you do not believe it, and that you have your doubts regarding it. You surely have no doubts about your sins, no doubts about your guilt. You know perfectly well that you would not like other people to know your whole history, but God does, and, knowing all, He is prepared to pardon you, and just now to blot out your guilt. But if you miss the day of grace I will tell you what will happen—for the twentieth of Revelation describes it—you must stand before a throne where all that guilt is brought out, but too late for remedy, too late for repentance, too late for cleansing, too late for pardon, too late for everything but the sentence of judgment from which you never can emerge.
My friend, do not think these are idle words; they are the words of one who is impressed with the awful realities of eternity. Oh, that you might be affected as Isaiah was. What a wonderful change we see in him as he beholds the throne and the altar. One moment he was crushed with a sense of his guilt and cries, “Woe is me.” What is the next thing? When the Lord wants a messenger he exclaims, “Here am I; send me.” What a change! Let me ask, Have you passed through any experience like this?
Let us dwell for a little on the scene John describes, and do not forget that you have yet to stand before the Lord. I quite admit that Revelation 20 carries you to a point when time is over, and your earthly pathway is gone by. After all, it is very short. Supposing you were to live to the age of Methuselah—969 years—that is not very long when you think of eternity.
Remember, if you die in your sins you will be buried in your sins and enter eternity in them. Possibly even now that ever-successful old Archer may, so to speak, be drawing his bow, and aiming his arrow at your heart, as his target. Who is the Archer? you say. Death is his name, and ere the morning light you may have passed into eternity. Tears will very likely fall upon your shroud, and perhaps upon your coffin, as it is placed in the grave; but they will not wash your sins away, and nothing you have ever done will wash your sins away. You have lived a Christless life, you die a Christless death, you have a Christless shroud, a Christless coffin, a Christless burial, and a Christless long-lie of more than a thousand years. No one will touch you, no one disturb you; but, at length, the voice of the Son of man, which you never listened to in time, will call you out of your grave, and you will stand among the dead at the great white throne.
The books are opened—God’s eye will single out at that moment the book of your life and your history. There may have been ten thousand people of your name since the world began, but there will be no mistake. The book which has the record of your life’s history will be taken down, and then there is another book opened—it is “the book of life.” Your book I might call “the book of death,” because the whole of your history has been one continuity of actions—God calls them sins—which are connected with death. That book reveals simply and truthfully what you have been.
You may not have been a gross sinner, but you have lived in sin, continued in unbelief, and died without the knowledge of the blessed Son of God, hence when you stand there before the throne, although risen from the dead, you are spoken of as still “dead.” Note carefully the language. “I saw the dead, small and great, stand before the throne; and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works” (Rev. 20:12). Why, when guilt is so evident, is the book of life opened? God is never in a hurry to judge; He is often in a hurry to save, blessed be His name. I will show you presently the hurry in which He is to meet an anxious sinner. Oh, the long-suffering of our God!
Although the book is opened with the record of your guilt, still there is a pause—another book is opened, to see, as it were, if there might have been a mistake; but your name is not on its pages, because you have died as you lived, “and whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (v. 15). You say, What is the lake of fire? That which you had better escape. Thank God, I never shall know its terribleness. It is something intensely awful, “where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” Memory will be there, and your sins will be there. You say, Is it material, is it real? When God speaks of “the lake of fire” it is something that is intensely real, but the blessed Son of God died to keep you and me out of it, and thank God, for that very reason, though I deserve it, I know that I am not going there.
You may think that possibly there is hope for those who stand at the great white throne by-and-by. No, the one who stands there inevitably passes into a lost eternity—such is the statement of the Word of God. But the tale of judgment is not the gospel, and sometimes I am told I should not preach “judgment to come,” true, judgment is not gospel, but it is the background of the picture, and if you make light of the gospel it is only right that you should be told what lies ahead of you in eternity. You know you love your sins—do not deny it—and God is holy. Sin and God can only meet for judgment. Man can roll sin, like a sweet morsel, under his tongue; but stop a bit—eternity is before you, and where are you going to spend it?
You need not go to Spiritualism, you need not go to the devil or any of his agents today to get information as to what is going to be in the next world—God tells you. You may say, “I do not like His record of the future.” No, because in the bottom of your soul you know that you are still in your sins, and you do not like the idea of “the lake of fire.” You had better avoid it, by coming to Jesus and getting your sins pardoned, and your soul saved. The Lord Jesus made it perfectly plain that the one who believes in Him shall never come into judgment (see John 5:24), because He Himself has taken the judgment due to the one who believes on Him.
What John saw might well lead every sensible, thoughtful person to say, “Well, if the Spirit of God has written this as a warning, and thus shows us the end of a pathway of sin, by the grace of God I will pull up.” Judgment, I repeat, is like the dark background of a picture. The gospel is the unfolding of the heart of God. It tells that God has sent His beloved Son into this world to die for sinners, and to bring them to Himself. It tells us that God has a deep interest in us. The gospel rises in the heart of God, and comes to us in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is all about Jesus, and all for us. It declares the value of His life and death before God. What is the gospel? The glad tidings of God’s love—righteous love. You would not think much of a painter who did not put a background in his pictures; and if God gives us the lovely picture of the Lord Jesus Christ in all His perfection stooping to die for sinners, to save them from “the lake of fire”—I am not surprised if He say to the painter, “Put in the background,” for that is the eternal fate of the one who makes light of His grace, refuses His Son, and thus misses His gospel, declared now by His Spirit. Where sin and unbelief have reigned in the soul, “the throne” and “the lake of fire” are the inevitable concomitants in a future day.
Let us now turn to Isaiah 6, and dwell on that scene a little. “I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up” (v. 1). This is exactly what John saw. He was brought into the presence of the Lord. Let me ask, Have you ever got into God’s presence? If not, you had better get there now. There was something else Isaiah saw: “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” (v. 2). Even those unfallen beings, who celebrate His holiness, were not fit to look upon God. If those seraphims had to cover their faces, if they could not face God, how can you and I face Him? Mark the seraphims did not see the Lord—Isaiah did. Let these beings speak, and let us listen to their tale—“And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, HOLY, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory” (v. 3). Did you never hear that word before? Oh, let this seraphic word arrest you now. Are you holy?
“And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke” (v. 4). Though the creature is sometimes unmoved by the testimony of God, the very posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried. Let them not rise up against you in judgment as witnesses that you were not moved at the testimony of God’s holiness. God is holy, and He cannot tolerate sin. What is sin? It is the will of the creature exercised against the will of the Creator.
Isaiah was moved as he saw the Lord, and the question arose, Am I fit to be in the Lord’s presence? And then came the piercing testimony, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts,” and Isaiah stood deeply convicted. Hear his next word: “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone.” In the previous chapter he has been looking at other people in their sins, and six times over says, “Woe to them,” rightly enough. Now he gets right into God’s presence, and what is it? “Woe is me!” Have you ever known anything like this in your soul’s history?
But Isaiah goes further, as he exclaims, “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” (v. 5). Do you know how he had unclean lips? He had an unclean heart. What was the reason of Isaiah finding all this out? He had got into God’s immediate presence, and what he was is made manifest to him.
We have many similar instances in Scripture of men being thus convicted. Look at Job. What does he say? “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6). Look at Peter the fisherman in Luke 5. When the glory of Christ shines into his soul he falls down at the Lord’s feet, and says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” On the occasion we are contemplating it is the same. Isaiah sees Jesus—not Jesus on the cross, but Jesus on the throne, and “Woe is me!” is the outcry of his soul.
But notice now God’s haste to relieve his burdened spirit. “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” (v. 6). On that altar there had been a sacrifice. There had the fat of the sin-offering been consumed, while the blood of the spotless victim had been put upon the horns of the altar and poured out at its bottom. Atonement had been effected (see Lev. 4:22-25). And now the seraphim, commissioned by God, flew with a live coal from off the altar and said, “Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away and thy sin purged.” What blessed words of comfort to a sin-burdened man!
Notice it was not a dead coal, but a live coal from the fire that had already consumed the sacrifice. I have no doubt the altar and the sacrifice typify the Person and the death on the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. This same Isaiah writes afterwards of His sufferings and death, and among other things he says, “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” (Isa. 53:5).
Side by side with the wonderful glory of that throne and its spotless holiness there is the altar, the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, which first of all meets all the claims of God’s holiness, and then meets the sinner in his sins. It is the way in which God has come out in grace to us, as the fruit of the atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Old Testament days, when the victim was put upon the altar, it was consumed, and there was nothing left of the victim. All that the seraphim brought to Isaiah. was the live coal which had consumed the victim and then purged his sin. On the cross the blessed Lord Jesus Christ has exhausted the judgment of God—the fire has not consumed the Victim, but the Victim, so to speak, has quenched the fire. Hence the work of atonement all effected, and God glorified about sin, Jesus is risen from the dead, and is now the mighty Victor at God’s right hand.
The Spirit of God would now turn your eyes to that living, exalted Man, and as you look at Him you will get peace and pardon, and your heart be filled with a sense of His love. Then you too will understand the meaning of that word, “Thine iniquity is taken away.” Who took it away? Jesus, when He died on the cross. He who was the express image of God wrought the work of atonement when forsaken by God, because He bore our sins upon the cross.
I do not here read that the seraphim went with slow and measured pace, and, after a long time, came back with a live coal to relieve the burdened prophet. No, he flew. You do not think God has much interest in your salvation. You are immensely mistaken. Thank God for the rapidity of His grace, and for the way in which He hastens to meet needy sinners.
What is the next thing? Isaiah hears the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (v. 8). God wanted a messenger, and I believe from the glory today His voice is now heard saying, “Whom shall I send?” Mark Isaiah’s answer: “Then said I, Here am I; send me.” A moment before he was a convicted man, saying, “Woe is me!” But now with iniquity taken away, and sin purged, he knows that he is cleansed, and wishes to devote himself to God’s service. Happy man!
Reader, imitate him. First come to Jesus to be saved; then do not be ashamed to own Him; and finally with all your heart say, “Here am I; send me.” Enter His service. Which of these two scenes attracts you. I prefer the throne and the altar, to the throne and the lake. Do not forget that one or the other will find its counterpart in your history. Which shall it be?
The Gospel Messenger 1904, p. 57