The Prophetic Call
March 23rd, 1975 @ 8:15 AM
THE PROPHETIC CALL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-23-75 8:15 a.m.
We are happy to share this service with all of you who listen on radio. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Prophetic Call. In our preaching through the Book of Isaiah we have come to chapter 6, which is one of the tremendous chapters in all the Word of God.
“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train, His garments filled the temple” [Isaiah 6:1]. The shekinah glory of God; God is dressed in light, and the overflowing robes of light of the Lord filled the temple. “And above the throne stood the seraphim;” “-im,” i-m, “-im” in Hebrew is plural, so we do not say “seraphims,” we say “seraphim.” “Above it stood the seraphim,” seraph, singular, seraphim, plural; cherub, singular, cherubim, plural. Above the throne stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory” [Isaiah 6:2-3].
Isn’t it a tragedy that men everywhere cannot say that? “The whole earth is full of the glory of God.” “And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with presence of the Lord” [Isaiah 6:4], it looked like smoke. “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; 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” [Isaiah 6:5]. The twelfth chapter of John [John 12:41] says that what Isaiah saw here was a Christophany, an appearance of the pre-existent Christ.
Mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.
Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar:
He laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.
Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.
And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.
Make the heart of this people fat, and [make] their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted, and be healed.
Then said I, Lord, how long?—
such a message as this do I deliver—
And He answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate,
And the Lord have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.
And yet—and yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be purged as a terebinth tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they are cast down, when they are felled: so the holy seed shall be the substance, the stock thereof, the holy remnant God hath chosen to keep His name known in the earth.
There are several things in this passage that are unusually pertinent to us. This is the first and this is the only time that we are introduced to the seraphim; literally “the burning ones.” That is an exact meaning of the word: seraph, a burning one. When Isaiah saw them, by the Holy Spirit he coined a word to describe them, “the burning ones.” They are in the presence of God in great humility; with two of their wings they cover their faces, with two of their wings they cover their feet, and with two of their wings they fly to perform the mission of God [Isaiah 6:2]. And in their humility before the Lord, covering themselves with their wings, they sing a glorious song, “Holy, holy, holy” [Isaiah 6:3]. I would think thrice is it said from their lips because of the Trinity of the Godhead. You just sang that:
Holy, holy, holy!
Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning
Our song shall rise to Thee.
Holy, holy, holy!
Merciful and Mighty,
[“Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty,” Reginald Heber]
Our blessed God, a Trinity, three; “Holy, holy, holy.”
I notice in the first verse the prophet says, “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw also” [Isaiah 6:1], the word “also” has a profound significance for us here. Uzziah was the most able king that Israel ever had outside of David and maybe Solomon in his glory before he fell into such wanton wasteful debauchery. Uzziah was a gifted and mighty administrator. And when a man like that dies you wonder the future of the nation, the future of his policies, the peace and prosperity of the people. Above the dying king and above the fearful possibilities of what might attend his decease, he sees the Lord, forever the same, glorious and sovereign: “I saw [also] the Lord upon His throne, high and lifted up, and His garments filled the temple” [Isaiah 6:1]. What a marvelous vision. May I illustrate it for you?
Isaiah saw that vision of the Lord, high, lifted up, and glorious. He saw that vision in the temple, in the house of God in Jerusalem. In 63 BC, the imperious Roman general Pompey came into Jerusalem from the east. He captured Palestine, he captured Judea, and he captured Jerusalem. From then on it became a province in the Roman Empire. When the proud and imperious Pompey swept into Jerusalem, there before him stood one of the most marvelous pieces of impressive architecture in the earth: the holy temple of the great and sovereign God. Pompey went up into the temple, into the Court of the Gentiles, into the court of Israel, into the Court of the women, into the Court of the priests, and into the sanctuary itself. And as he stood there before the door of the Holy Place, the Jewish people fell down by the thousands and the thousands and importuned and begged Pompey not to defame and to desecrate the Holy Place by entering in; for no one had ever entered into the Holy Place but the anointed priests of God, and no one had ever gone beyond the veil but the high priest, and that with blood of atonement just once a year [Hebrews 9:7]. Imperious and proud and defaming, desecrating Pompey, refusing the importunities of the Jewish people, walked into the Holy of Holies, took his hand and pulled aside the sacred veil and walked—the first time a Gentile had ever done so—walked into the Holy of Holies. When he turned around and came out, he made this exclamation, “Why,” he said, “why, it is empty! There is nothing there but blackness! It is empty.” That is the exact place where Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up [Isaiah 6:1]. It depends upon the man, with eyes of the soul, to see the glory of God. And the man who is blind in his heart never sees. The man who is dumb in his soul never hears. It is with eyes of faith that we look upon the Lord, high and lifted up, dressed in the shekinah light of the garments of the Lord.
Do you notice also that in the vision the young man cries, “Woe, woe, woe, I am undone; I am a man, a sinner, 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”? [Isaiah 6:5]. Whenever you see a man who’s proud in his own goodness, and lifted up in his own righteousness, that man has never seen the Lord, and he’s far away from God, for the closer a man comes to God, the more unclean and sinful and unworthy does he feel. There’s no coming into the presence of God without that feeling of shame and unworthiness. Like Adam and Eve covering themselves, hiding themselves when they heard the voice of the Lord walking in the garden in the cool of the day [Genesis 3:7-8]; like Moses before the burning bush, Moses hid his face from the glory of God [Exodus 3:6]; like Simon Peter, “Lord, depart from me, for I am a sinful man” [Luke 5:8]; like the sainted apostle John in the first chapter of the Revelation when he saw the glorified Christ, he fell at His feet as one dead [Revelation 1:17]. “Woe is me! I am undone; I have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” [Isaiah 6:5]. And one of the seraphim flew to the altar and took from it, with the tongs, a burning coal and laid it upon his mouth and said, “This hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged” [Isaiah 6:6-7]; that is, from the altar of sacrifice—that is a type and a picture of the cross [Matthew 27:32-50]—from the altar of sacrifice the burning coal is taken, that his sin might be washed away, and his iniquity purged [Isaiah 6:6-7]. “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin” [Hebrews 9:22], and without the cross we are never washed, never pure, never white, never holy [Hebrews 9:22]. And from the altar of sacrifice, from the cross, Isaiah is cleansed, purged, forgiven [Isaiah 6:6-7].
“And he heard the voice of the Lord God on the throne, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us? Then said I, Here am I; send me” [Isaiah 6:8]. And I would suppose that the young man—this is the beginning of the ministry of the prophet Isaiah—I would suppose that he thought that when God sent him it would be with a marvelous message of glory, of victory, and of triumph. What was the message? “Go, and tell this people, You hear and hear and hear, and you do not hear. You see and you see and you see, but you do not see. Therefore, your eyes will be shut that you cannot see; and your ears will be closed that you cannot hear, lest you be converted and be healed” [Isaiah 6:9-10]. And Isaiah replied, “Lord, how long do I deliver a message of devastation and destruction and despair like that?” And the Lord answered, “Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without a man, and the land be utterly desolate” [Isaiah 6:11]. What a sadness and what a sorrowful mission.
Is that true? Does such a thing as that obtain in the earth? Do you remember the cry of the Lord Jesus, “When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith in the earth?” [Luke 18:8]. By the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God, will the earth ever be turned to Christ, will it ever be Christian? There are those, of course, who spiritualize the Word of the Lord, and who say that, “By our hands and by the ministries of the preaching of the gospel, we’re going to sweep these nations and this whole earth into the millennial kingdom of our Lord.” Does God say that? Do the Holy Scriptures reveal that? The answer is an emphatic and decided “No!” The earth will never be won to Christ, and it becomes increasingly violent and vicious and difficult and criminal; it becomes farther and farther and farther away from the Lord.
You know what I think? Reading the Revelation, I think we are now leaving the Philadelphian age of the open door [Revelation 3:7-13]. When I was a youth it seemed to me that every door of every nation in all the earth was open to the missionary and the gospel of the Son of God. There was no limit to the missionaries we could send to China, no limit to the missionaries we could send to Africa, to the Muslim nations, to India, to any nation and people and tribe and language under the sun; there was no limit. I lived, in my beginning days and years in the church of the open door, the Philadelphian age [Revelation 3:7-13]. You know, with every passing day, more and more and more are the nations of the world closing their doors to the missionary and to the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God. The Philadelphian age is followed by the Laodicean [Revelation 3:14-22], which is the last age of apostasy before the Lord comes. That is the picture we have inevitably in the Bible. Men do not get better and better and better; nations do not become more peaceful and peaceful and peaceful. They become more belligerent, and they become more able to destroy one another in blood, in violence, and in war.
“Go,” says God, “and say to this people, You hear but you do not hear, you see but you do not see” [Isaiah 6:9]. And how long do I bear a message like that? And the answer is, “Until the cities be waste without inhabitants, and the houses are without man, and there is a desolation in the land” [Isaiah 6:11].
I don’t think anybody of any sensitive knowledge at all could look at the world and its frustrations, and its despairs, and its increasing covering of communist atheistic darkness—secularism is like a flood tide over our present world—I don’t think anybody could see the world then in the eyes of Isaiah and in the eyes of the Lord, or look at it today, without sheer, unadulterated fear and trembling and despair, were it not for one thing, for one thing: and that is the doctrine of the holy remnant [Isaiah 6:13]. Why is it that this vision of Isaiah, which recounts his call to the prophetic office [Isaiah 6:8-10], why is it not written here in the first? You will find the call of Jeremiah presented first [Jeremiah 1:4-10], then the prophecy [Jeremiah 1:11-52:34]. You will find the call of Ezekiel written first [Ezekiel 2:10], and then the prophecy [Ezekiel 3:1-48:35]. But in Isaiah, it is not till we come to chapter 6 that is recorded his prophetic call [Isaiah 6:1-9]. One of the reasons may be this: the message of Isaiah was so fraught with sadness and sorrow and tears and tragedy. He lived in the days of the sweeping, ruthless, merciless Assyrian; and he was called of God to predict the carrying away into captivity of the Judean kingdom under Babylon [Isaiah 39:5-8]. The whole message was one of infinite sorrow and sadness. And, take chapter 5 just before chapter 6:
Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field . . .
Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink . . .
Therefore My people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge.
Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory, and [their] multitude, and [their] pomp and [he that] rejoiceth, shall descend into it.
Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as if it were with a cart rope.
Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil . . .
Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!
Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine,
Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust: because they cast away the law of the Lord, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
Therefore is the anger of the Lord kindled against His people, [and] He hath stretched forth His hand against them, and hath smitten them: and the hills did tremble, and their carcasses were torn in the midst of the streets. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still.
[Isaiah 5:8, 11, 13, 14, 18, 20, 21, 22, 24-25]
The God of judgment is still furious with the iniquities of man.
Now why the vision at the end of that? [Isaiah 6:1-13]. I think, having so devastating a message to present, I think Isaiah recounted why it was that he presented it. “The Lord sent me with a message of devastation and destruction and captivity and despair” [Isaiah 6:9-13].
Now, I think also, possibly the vision is here in the sixth chapter because it is the introduction to the glorious Book of Immanuel, chapters 7 through 11 [Isaiah 7-11]. That’s what that also meant: “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up” [Isaiah 6:1]. The message that Isaiah was given to deliver, and the tragedy of the loss of the nation and of the city and of the holy temple, all of it brought infinite despair to his heart as he saw the great King Uzziah die. Then, lifting his heart and his eyes above the desolation and destruction, lifting his eyes above the captivity of the people, and the burning of the fire that consumed the temple, and the loss of everything dear to his heart, he presented the glorious hope that we have in the coming of the Lord:
There shall be a tenth, there shall be a remnant, and it shall return purged, purged, as an oak that is cut down or a terebinth tree, that the stump is still live with the substance of life in it.
So there shall grow a Branch, a Root, out of the stump of Jesse.
And the government shall prosper in His hands. And in His day, Judah shall dwell safely, and Israel shall be unafraid.
Every man shall sit under his own vine, and under his own fig tree; and there will be none to make them afraid.
They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: and nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war any more.
And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid. . .and the ravenous, carnivorous lion shall eat straw like an ox.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all God’s holy mountain: for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
[Isaiah 11:6-7, 9]
These are the visions that follow after this sad, tragic message that God gave to the prophet Isaiah to deliver [Isaiah 6:9-13].
That means that our hope is never to be found in men, or in governments, or in parliaments, or in legislatures, or in judicial systems, or in treaties. I have never seen a sadder thing in my life than what is happening this minute. After the sacred treaty was signed by North Vietnam and South Vietnam, and America withdrew her forces, and we prayed for peace in the Far East, there is nothing but violence, nothing but war, nothing but bloodshed. The treaty is a piece of paper; and with America gone, the floodtide of the communists from the north are overwhelming the poor, pitiful Vietnam people of the south. Do you notice which way the refugees flee? Why don’t they flee to the north? Why don’t they flee toward Hanoi? Who flees toward communism? Who says, “Give me a visa to a communist land”? Who prides himself saying, “Look, look, look, at the spread of Red communism over the face of the earth.”? Who does it? Nobody but an atheist! No one but a man who hates God, and hates Christ, and hates the church, and hates everything dear to the heart of men who love liberty, and who love freedom, and who love the right to own a little something and cultivate it for the feeding of his family, or a little shop and merchandise in it for the support of his home. What a black, dark, helpless world are our people forced to face.
The Book says that. We’re not to be surprised and thrown into helplessness by the development of things like that: God said it would be that way. Nor are we to live in tragic fear and ultimate and final despair, not we, not we. All of these things are but signs that the Lord’s coming is nigh. Everything we read in the Bible is just an affirmation that God’s Word is true. “Lift up your heads,” said the Lord, when He was prophesying the ultimate destruction of Jerusalem and the holy city, “Lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” [Luke 21:28]. Our hope is in Christ! Our assurance is in Him. “And though through my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God; whom mine eyes shall behold, and not just somebody else; whom I shall see” [Job 19:26-27]. Oh, the assurance, and the glory, and the blessing of the people of the Lord, who through every providence of life, personal; through every development of providence in history, national; through every turn of fortune in the whole earth, yet sees the glory of God. “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw also the Lord seated upon His throne, high and lifted up, and His glory filled the whole earth” [Isaiah 6:1].
Our time is far spent. In this moment when we sing our hymn of appeal, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, to give himself to the Lord, coming into the fellowship of His church, while we sing our song, while we make this appeal, in the balcony round, you, on this lower floor, you, coming down that aisle, “Here I am, pastor, I’ve decided for God, and I’m coming now.” Do it, may angels attend you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.
A. First and only time
they are named “seraphim”, plural
B. Serve in humility
C. Three-fold cry
II. The Lord high and lifted up
A. Sanctuary of temple
B. Pompey saw nothing
III. Sinful and unworthy
A. In the presence of
God, man will sense own unworthiness
B. Atonement is made
from altar of sacrifice (Isaiah 6:6-7)
IV. A heavy message
A. Commissioned to bear
a message of judgment and sorrow
B. Why the commission
in chapter 6?
V. Doctrine of the remnant