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In Isaiah 6 Isaiah the prophet records his conversion and his commission to carry the tidings of his experience and of whom and what he spoke to the people of Israel, in particular to the tribe of Judah. Chapter 5 begins with a song concerning the work of the LORD planting a vineyard, for the work of God in any age is worthy of the sweetest lays from the hearts and tongues of men, but the work of men, alas l is often a lamentation.
Moses wrote two songs besides Psalm 90, the first in Exodus 15, and the
second in Deuteronomy 32. The first is concerning the glorious deliverance which God had wrought for Israel, but the second is largely concerning the failure, backsliding and sin of God's people. It is so in this song in Isaiah 5. The song has scarcely begun till it turns from one of joy to one of sorrow. " It brought forth wild grapes," was God's lament. He asks the question, "What could I have done more to My vineyard, that I have not done in it?" Had He left anything undone that this tragedy of degeneration had come upon this scene of beauty? Then Isaiah turns to the evidences of degeneration which abounded on all sides.
He speaks first of the covetous, the land-grabbers and house-grabbers, who joined house to house, and field to field, until there was no room for anyone but themselves. This emptying of the land, but for the few, would in time become a reality, when God removed men far away, as we learn from chapter 6.11, 12. Isaiah saw them drunkards too, who rose early to follow strong drink and tarried into the night till they were inflamed with wine, and all this drunkenness was carried on amidst the music of harp, lute, tabret, and pipe. They had no place for the work of God in their thoughts. Then the prophet turns and considers those that drew iniquity with the cords of vanity, and sin as with a cartrope. These were such as mocked at the Holy One of Israel, challenging Him to make speed and hasten His work, though they had neither heart nor eye to see it. Then Isaiah sees the work of the deceivers, who call evil good, and good evil; they put darkness for light, and light for darkness, and bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.
Then he saw the self-righteous, who were wise in their own eyes and prudent in their own sight. Last in the list of degenerates were the mighty men of strength, who mingled wine and drank strong drink, who justified the wicked for a reward, and took away the righteousness of the righteous from him. Isaiah saw all these evidences of degeneration around him and pronounced woes upon them all. These evidences are still to be seen everywhere. Natural man is a degenerate plant and can produce only wild grapes. Though he may be
cultivated and educated, this cannot change man's nature; the new birth is a necessity, man must be converted to God. He must experience that great change of turning, or of being turned to God, by the revelation of Christ to his heart.
We may look round on this world full of iniquity and yet not realize that the tongue is, as James describes it, a world of iniquity (James 3.0) among our members, about which Isaiah lamented sore in Isaiah 6. Can we not see the covetous? What war among men cannot be traced to this cause? Economics lay at the bottom of the last two world wars, and is it not the cause of the present distress of nations? It might well be that before this article is published the world may be steeped in the blood of another war. Who cannot see the ruination of strong drink about which much might be written? We might go over the evils Isaiah saw among his people, enlarging upon each one in turn, but the great matter is, what is the remedy? We may see the disease, but what is the cure? The remedy for sin is in Him whom Isaiah saw.
We may see many sights in this world, many to cause sorrow, but there is one sight which we cannot afford to miss seeing by the eye of faith, when to our inner and true consciousness may be revealed the One Isaiah saw. He says, "I saw the Lord." Did he, or did he not, see the Lord? Who can deny the reality and facts of human experience? The Holy Spirit, through John, corroborates the truth of what Isaiah said, "These things said Isaiah, because he saw His glory; and spake of Him" (John 12. 41). Where and when did Isaiah's conversion take place? It was in the temple, and it was in the year that king Uzziah died. This king was the man who, in the pride of his heart, sought to enter into the holy place of the temple to burn incense. He was opposed by valiant priests, for to the priests of the house of Aaron alone that service was given. God smote this proud king in his brow with leprosy and he was a leper till he died.
Isaiah saw the Lord upon a throne (Isaiah 6). He was the King of Israel and of heaven. He was the high and holy One that inhabiteth eternity. Isaiah saw Him high and lifted up. He saw the seraphim fly with wing-covered faces and feet, and he heard their cry, and what a cry it was! "Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory." He did not join the seraphim in their cry. Ah, no! How can sinful man join in such a heavenly cry of ascription to God? Isaiah said the only thing it was proper for him to say, "Woe is me! for I am undone."
The sinfulness of man is ever truly learned in the presence of the Lord, not by comparing ourselves with ourselves. We are not the standard of righteousness or holiness to provide a rule of measurement. When Peter saw the glory of the Lord in the miraculous draught of fishes, he fell down at the Lord's knees, saying, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, 0 Lord" (Luke 5.8). Isaiah's sinfulness arose not from what he had eaten; it was not a matter of the ceremonial uncleanness of the Levitical law, but it was uncleanness of that kind of which the Lord spoke in Mark 1.14-23 when He cleansed all meats and said, "The things which proceed out of the man are those that defile the man," and He gave a list of some of the things which proceed from the sinfulness of the human heart. Isaiah saw others in like trouble to himself. "A people of unclean lips," he called them. Upon the confession of sinfulness and hopelessness, one of the seraphim flew to him with the remedy. Some will indeed confess to their sinfulness, but not to their hopelessness. They think that they have the remedy, or some other man like themselves has the cure. Man is unclean and hopeless and also helpless. Sin is in his heart and is spread to all his members. There is no clean place within his being. But there is a remedy! It was provided by the altar with its sacrifice and blood shedding.
It was not Isaiah's to learn all about the mystery of cleansing by blood before he knew the reality and blessing of that cleansing, neither is it ours. It is like the wonder of the process of digestion of the natural food we eat. Indeed we may know nothing about digestion at all, yet the organs within do their work and we enjoy the blessing and benefit.
The seraph touched Isaiah's lips with the live coal from the altar and told him that his iniquity was taken away and his sin purged. So also we, who have known cleansing by the blood of our Redeemer's sacrifice, are cleansed and freed from sin's condemnation, truly converted, and ready to offer ourselves for His service to be messengers for Him. "Here am I ; send me." As conversion is a personal matter, so also is the sending forth in His service: "SEND ME!