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But, while discoveries of the majesty of God will awe the soul into self-abasement, the knowledge of his moral excellencies is the immediate cause of those humiliating convictions, by which sinners are rendered truly penitent, and induced to welcome the salvation of the gospel. And the prophet seems to have been especially affected by that view of the glory and beauty of Jehovah, which was the principal subject of adoring praises to the seraphim before the throne. While men think little of our holy God, mistake his character, or continue in great measure unacquainted with his commandments and judgments; they compare themselves with their associates in disobedience, and estimate their conduct by some defective standard. Thus enveloped in darkness, they judge favourably of themselves, imagine they possess various excellencies, and even pretend to merit in the sight of God! Nor is this the case only of the moral and virtuous, for self-love will furnish the most criminal with some palliation of their vices; they will call them by a soft name, imagine others more faulty than themselves, and endeavour to compensate for undeniable and inexcusable transgression, by some pretended good actions or qualities!
But, when the Lord directs the sinner's attention to the scriptures, and makes known to him in some degree his own glorious holiness; deep conviction of sin is the infallible consequence, every plea is silenced, and the trembling criminal is even ready to conclude himself lost beyond hope of recovery.
This fully accounts for that change, which often
takes place, in the opinion that moral and amiable persons entertain of themselves, when they seriously study the holy scriptures. Their decent lives, on which they formerly reflected with abundant self-complacency, are now mentioned in very degrading language; and even their present strict and exemplary conduct is accompanied with very humble confessions of guilt and defilement. This excites the astonishment of those who judge by other rules; and they are apt to suspect, either that such persons have secretly practised very gross enormities, or that they use this language from a mere affectation of humility. But in reality the same characters and actions must appear good or bad, according to the rule or standard with which they are compared: no wonder, therefore, that they who have lately become acquainted with a holy God and his perfect law, and who have learned to judge by another standard, are compelled to bring in a verdict against themselves, though before they “ trusted that they were righteous and “ despised others.” Thus St. Paul “ was alive “ without the law once; but, when the command
ment came, sin revived, and he died.” He had entertained very favourable thoughts of his own moral and religious character ; but, when his understanding was opened to “ behold the glory of “ God in the face of Jesus Christ,” he condemned himself as the chief of sinners: nay, after all his labours and proficiency in Christianity, he was in his own esteem “ less than the least of all saints!”
But these things were also illustrated to the prophet by the worship and services, which the seraphim presented before the Lord of hosts. The
holy angels “ excel in strength,” and are glorious beyond the conception of mortal men: so that the most eminent saints have been dismayed even at their benign appearance, or tempted to render them divine honours. Yet these exalted spirits appeared in vision, as engaged in adoration of the great JEHOVAH, uniting deep humility with the most exalted praises ; and manifesting the fullest conviction, that their spotless services were inexpressibly beneath the excellency and greatness of that God whom they worshipped. This view seems to have greatly conduced to throw the prophet's mind into that perturbation which he discovered on the occasion.
Men in general keep each other in countenance, while they rest satisfied with a form of godliness. They go to a place of worship, and to the Lord's table ; read or repeat a prayer and a thanksgiving ; and please themselves with the idea that they have done their duty: nay, they have scarcely an idea of a more spiritual worship! But, when their attention is directed to the devout aspirations of David, Daniel, and other holy men of God; especially when they contemplate the adorations of the heavenly hosts, as described in the sacred scriptures ; they become sensible, by the comparison, that they have been heedlessly or presumptuously presenting to the glorious JEHOVAH a formal, defiled, and hypocritical service, “ drawing near to “him with their lips, while their hearts were far “ from him.” But this very properly leads us,
II. To consider the peculiar nature and tendency of that inward perturbation, which caused
this eminent servant of God to exclaim,
• Wo is “me, for I am undone !"
Isaiah was called when young to the prophetical office; and we may thence conclude that he had been preserved by divine grace from every evil way, and had dedicated his earliest days to the service of God. He discharged the sacred trust confided to him for about sixty years ; yet we do not find, during this long period, that he ever acted inconsistently with his sacred ministry. In his private deportment and public work, he seems to have sustained a most unexceptionable character ; nor have we any proofs of his sinfulness but those found in his own confessions. Yet on this occasion, he was so overwhelmed with the sense of his own guilt and pollution, that he was almost ready to lie down in despair! Some indeed render his words, “Wo is me, I am struck dumb." He was * struck dumb,' says bishop Lowth, because he
was a man of polluted lips, and dwelt among a ‘people of polluted lips ; and was unworthy either ‘ to join the seraphim in singing God's praises, or 'to be the messenger of God to his people. It is, however, evident that he was so alarmed and humbled, because “his eyes had seen the King, “ the Lord of hosts,” that “his mouth was stopped, “ he became guilty before God," and he feared lest his religious services and prophetical labours should increase his condemnation. Yet this did not arise from the recollection of immoralities or impieties, or from conscious hypocrisy or unfaithfulness in his ministry: but from the conviction of his mind, that his best duties were exceedingly polluted;
whether he considered the holy majesty of the Lord to whom they were presented, or compared them with the exalted worship of the heavenly hosts. He would no doubt reflect, with shame and sorrow, on his want of reverence and humility in his religious performances; on the wandering imaginations which distracted his attention; and on his want of zeal, love, and admiring gratitude, even in his most fervent praises and thanksgivings. He might also, perhaps, be conscious of a corrupt self-complacency and regard to the opinion of men, mingling even with his endeavours to glorify God; and that he had felt but little delight in those employments, which angels deem their highest privilege, and in which they enjoy unalloyed felicity
As the prophet of the Lord, he had likewise delivered many awful messages to the rebellious Jews : but this vision made him afraid lest he too should fall under condemnation, for executing so important an office from corrupt motives, with a divided heart, and in an improper manner.
He was at the same time convinced, that he “ dwelt among a people of polluted lips.” The Israelites were distinguished from other nations, as the worshippers of JEHOVAH; and, when the prophet compared himself with them, he supposed that his services were pure and spiritual. But he now perceived that he ought not to be thus satisfied; for, when their religious duties and professions were brought forth to the light, and viewed in connexion with the adoration of the seraphim, it was manifest that God might justly reject them with abhorrence. It was therefore more proper