Isaiah’s Cleansing and Commission

What is the end and aim that God has for this earth? That it “be full of His glory.” The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof. The Lord God omnipotent reigns and must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet. The victory is His all along the line. We do not say that the gospel will effect a gradual conversion of the world to God. We do not believe that the Spirit of God, largely, fails until feeble men set up an earthly kingdom for the Lord Jesus. We do not hold that Christ is to come on a world with Gog and Magog conquered, the false prophet(s) done in for good, and the Beast beaten to defeat. No, but we do believe that in every battle in history, God and His church triumph over the devil and his hosts. We do believe with all our hearts that the church militant is always the church triumphant from the beginning to the end of the world. So in all past battles in the present conflict, and all down the line! By His Spirit, His Word, and His Church, God always gains the victory. Covenant theology is a history and chain of victories! 

1.The Cleansing Fire. As for the preacher of the gospel, there must first be victory over sin in his own life. “Then flew unto me one from the seraphim, and in his hand a hot stone; with tongs he took (it) from, upon the altar. And he touched upon my mouth and said, ‘Lo! this touched upon thy lips and gone (is) thy iniquity and thy sin (is) covered” (6-7). It is not our (Reformed) view that the whole world is a sort of lump of dough, and the Gospel or Church a little leaven which gradually leavens the whole lump until the Church converts the world. Nevertheless, we believe the church always has, the victory over the world, and will have the final victory. We do not sing, “We shall overcome—some day.” For we have overcome and are more than conquerors through Him that loved us! That it does not look that way, we are well aware. To all appearances, the church is not converting the world, but the world is converting the church to its corrupt way of life. Still we believe in the vanquishing of the world as conquered by the church. We believe that because we believe in the omnipotence of God. In our confession, prayers, and service to the Lord we believe in nothing short of, “Christ shall have dominion over land and sea! Earth’s remotest regions shall His empire be!” Idols shall utterly be abolished; heresy, error, apostasy, and sin shall be destroyed; the salvation of our God shall exclusively prevail. The whole earth must be filled with His glory. The whole creation, including all elect mankind, shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption unto the liberty of the glory of the sons of God. This shall become a reality in the New Heaven and the New Earth. 

This is the outlook of the prophet Isaiah as he contemplates his call to the ministry. At this contemplation, including his own deep sense of unworthiness for the task, Isaiah fell apart. He was undone. God is not yet done with us and will never do anything with us until first of all He has undone us. So Isaiah went to pieces. Then Jehovah built him up into a new, mighty man of God. Isaiah felt as though he could not go on with the work of the Lord, mourning his incapacity, his failure, his unworthiness. This mourning in itself is not to be mourned. It’s a repentance not to be repented of. 

But “what minister is there that God has ever sent who does not when he surveys his ministry feel that he is a man of unclean lips? Often and often does our soul say, ‘Oh that these lips had language! Or that instead of flesh, they were flame, that we might let fall a burning torrent . . . which would run amid multitudes of men like fire in dry stubble!” (C.H. Spurgeon). 

With tongs one of the seraphim took up a red hot coal from the altar, yet in his hand brought it to Isaiah. Certainly a seraph’s hand can hold a live burning coal. For the very word seraphim means burning ones. They are burning spirits (Ezek. 1:13), before the burning throne of God (Rev. 4:5Ezek. 1:26-28). They burn with energetic zeal, ready to fly in the Lord’s business with lightning swiftness (Ezek. 1:14). With lightning speed the seraph flew and with that live coal touched the prophet’s lips, burning away his iniquity and purging his sin, i.e., covering his sin, smothering it, to extinguish it, destroy it, blotting it out of existence as far as the righteous judgment of God is concerned. The seraph, then, lived up to his name. However, he did this cleansing not by means of his own fiery nature, but by means of the fire divine taken from God’s altar. That is the fire, not of Purgatory, no such strange fire (Lev. 10:1), like the heathenish superstitions of Persian and Egyptian mythology, but a fire of “Love divine, all love excelling.” So that connection with God’s altar, as here, means fellowship in the great sacrifice on the altar, that is, fellowship in the blood and satisfaction of the Lamb of God. Apply one hot coal from that fire of “a merciful wrath”. which consumed our Savior on the cross, and lips and mouth are cleansed, sanctified and readied for preaching the gospel of the King eternal. This means that the preacher’s lips will be blistered with the griefs of the man of sorrows, of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and burning with love for the gospel of Christ and the Christ of the gospel. 

2.The Challenging Commission. “And I heard the voice of the Lord (Adonai) saying, ‘Whom will I send? and who will go for Us?’ and I said, ‘Behold me! send me!'” (v. 8). Notice how the Lord; speaking for the first time here in the vision, speaks of Himself both in the singular, “I” and in the plural, “us.” Why is this? On this plural we do not agree with Delitzsch, but do agree with E.J. Young, who refers to the “time-honored interpretation .of the church and to regard the Lord as using the plural . . . to indicate that in the Speaker himself there is a plurality of persons.” Prof. Young calls this passage “an adumbration of the doctrine of the trinity, which in the New Testament receives its fuller revelation” and which we should not fear to acknowledge. Here we have a foreshadowing of the trinity in unity fully revealed in the New Testament. Isaiah is here taught a great lesson in the profoundest depths of theology, in the very nature of God’s Being! So ministers are ordained in the same name in which they, and all the church, have been baptized. 

“Who will go?” Who wants to go? Not any one! There are multitudes of men in the church of God, but are they all unfit to be sent under the Lord’s great commission? They are; and they never offer to go. No man, of himself, as to the flesh, will volunteer to go over lands, across waters, through the air, to sacrifice all for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of God’s elect. Thousands within the professing Christian church are working at high paying jobs, owning their own homes, making money, doubling, even tripling their incomes with burgeoning investments, getting richer, increasing with goods; but is one of them qualified to go at the behest of Christ’s commandment? Some of them travel all over the world. Do any of them go for God? They risk their lives in the vastnesses of Alaska, but are they heroes of the Cross? They secure to themselves the natural resources of the earth and the treasures of the world so that they will not fall into other hands. But what one of them is ready to “endure all things for the elects’ sakes”? (II Tim. 2:10). The question does not go forth to mighty, six-winged, willing seraphim, but to weak, unwilling men. Whom shall I send? Who will go? God has ordained strength out of the mouths of babes. Weakest means fulfill His will, mighty enemies to still. It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. But how shall they believe without a preacher? and how shall they preach except they be sent? Whom shall I send? Men! not angels, but sinful, unworthy, weak men like the rest of mankind. Who will go? Who wills to go? Yet the man who does go must go “not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind” (I Pet. 5:2). Whom shall I send? . . . Send me! It must be a man called and sent, a man who has behind him the authority of God, the authority of His Word and the authority of ordained office-bearers. It must be a man who knows he cannot go on his own, but must be sent of God. So his emphasis is not “send me,” but “sendme.” For there are many false prophets, but the Lord says, “I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them. They prophesy unto you a false vision . . . and the deceit of their heart” (Jer. 14:14). That man must know Christ’s word to him, “even so send I you.” 

Here is the heavenly vision. There is the Lord above all. His train fills the temple. Lightning like beings are around His throne. There is no other human being beside Isaiah. No other saw or heard what here occurred. When the Lord spoke, it was not a call to all men indiscriminately, but to Isaiah directly and personally, as though there were no other man in all the world. The prophet was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. He immediately jumped up, responding, “Look at me! send me! I am debtor to the Christ of God, I am ready to preach the gospel! Here I am, Lord! a man of unclean lips, but Thou hast cleansed me! The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses me. I have not made my own mouth, nor did I create myself with my infirmities; here I am. Lord, before I know Thy bidding, I am ready to do it.” 

Why are so few, or none, willing to serve God? A man must be regenerated, made a new creature in Christ, raised from his spiritual death, and then come to a knowledge of the misery of sin. Renewed, he must know that he is not his own, nor is he, like men of the world, a slave of the devil. But he is bought with a price; he belongs to Jesus, his faithful Savior. He knows and must know that Jesus has taken his sin and guilt away and made him an heir of glory. Then he will be ready joyfully to serve God at His call!