The Prophetic Call
March 23rd, 1975 @ 10:50 AM
THE PROPHETIC CALL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-23-75 10:50 a.m.
We welcome you to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas on radio and on television. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Prophetic Call.
As we preach through the Book of Isaiah, we have come to one of the great, great chapters in all the Word of God. It is the sixth chapter in Isaiah [Isaiah 6:1-12]:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple.
Above the throne stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two 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.’
And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with the shekinah glory of God.
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.
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; see ye indeed, but perceive not.
Make the heart of this people fat, and 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 saved.’
Then said I, Lord, how long such a message? 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.
Yet in it—yet in it shall be a tithe, a tenth, it shall return, and shall be purified as a terebinth tree, and as an oak tree, whose substance is in them, when they are felled: so the holy seed shall be the substance, the stock thereof.
Out of it shall come forth the root of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of that stem [Isaiah 11:1], and His name shall be Wonderful, Glorious, the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace [Isaiah 9:6].
We look at the text this morning. This is the first time and the only time that they are named “seraphim” [Isaiah 6:2, 6]. A seraph, singular; the Hebrew plural is “îm.” Seraphim, plural, like cherub, singular, cherubim, plural; he saw the seraphim standing above, around, below, surrounding the throne of God [Isaiah 6:1-2]. They are unusual orders, possibly one of the highest orders of angels, like archangels, these seraphim.
And mighty and great as they are, they serve God in deepest humility: with two of the wings each seraph covered its face, with two of the wings each seraph covered its feet, in deepest humility before God, and with two of his wings he was swift to carry out the mandates and mission of the Lord [Isaiah 6:2]. And they cried one to another in holy adoration a threefold cry, “Holy, holy, holy” [Isaiah 6:3]. I would think that refers to the Three in the Godhead.
You sang a song based upon this Scripture just now,
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee.
Holy, holy, holy! merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, holy Trinity—blessed Trinity.
[“Holy, Holy, Holy!” Reginald Heber, 1826]
So the seraphim cry, as they minister before God and as they bow before the Lord, “Holy, holy, holy!” [Isaiah 6:3]. The sight of that vision must have been incomparably glorious. Do you realize where he saw that glory of the Lord, high and lifted up? In a sanctuary in the Holy City, in the holy temple in Jerusalem [Isaiah 6:1].
That is the place where imperious, proud, contumacious Pompey entered as a heathen in desecration and defamation in 63 BC. Pompey with his Roman legions swept up from the east and they took Judah and made it a part of the Roman Empire, made it into a province unto the Roman Caesar. And he captured the holy city, Jerusalem, and of course, with it the holy temple of God. Pompey, proud, contumacious, imperious, marched through the holy city up to the temple of the Lord, entered the Court of the Gentiles, entered the Court of Israel, entered the Court of the Women, entered the Court of the Priests, and stood before the door of the sanctuary itself.
When it became apparent that the heathen Pompey was to enter the Holy Place, where only the priest did go to minister before the Lord, the Jewish people fell on their faces by the thousands before the Roman general and importuned, begged, adjured that he not desecrate the holy temple of God. In sardonic despicable contempt, the imperious general walked into the Holy Place, where was the seven-branched lampstand and the table of showbread and the golden altar of incense, where only the priest did minister, where this Uzziah was struck with leprosy when he dared do the office separated, consecrated for the priests alone [2 Chronicles 26:19-21]. Not only did he enter the Holy Place, but taking his hand he seized the veil that separated between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies and with contempt, he pulled it aside and stalked into the innermost sanctuary of the great God, stood, looked around for a moment, came back out and remarked, “Why, it is empty! There is nothing there but darkness!”
That is Pompey. And that is the exact place where Isaiah saw the Lord, high and lifted up [Isaiah 6:1]. It takes eyes of the soul to see God, ears of the heart to hear God. And to those who are blind, He doesn’t exist. To those who are deaf, He doesn’t speak. But to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear and a heart to feel, God is present in glory before us forever.
In the vision of Isaiah, he felt himself sinful and unworthy. “Woe is me! I am undone; I am a man of unclean lips, I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” [Isaiah 6:5]. Any man who ever stands in the presence of God will find himself overcome, a floodtide sweeping over him of unworthiness, uncleanliness, sinful, iniquitous.
Our first parents felt that when they hid themselves from the presence of the Lord, naked and ashamed, hearing His voice as He walked in the garden in the cool of the day [Genesis 3:8-10]. Moses felt that when at the burning bush he hid his face from the presence of the Lord [Exodus 3:6]. Manoah felt that when the Angel came to announce the birth of their son, Samson, and went up to heaven in a fire of glory. Manoah cried, “We shall surely die, for we have seen the Lord” [Judges 13:20-22]. Job felt that when he said, “I have heard of Him by the hearing of the ear, but now that mine eyes have seen Him, O God, I who am but dust and ashes, I repent! [Job 42:5-6]. I ask God’s forgiveness that I have even spoken in Thy presence!”
Simon Peter felt that when crying before the Lord, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man” [Luke 5:8]. Paul felt that when, blinded by the glory of that light, he was led by the hand into Damascus [Acts 9:3-8]. John felt that when, seeing the glorified Jesus in the first chapter, he fell at the Lord’s feet as one dead [Revelation 1:17].
Any time that a man feels that he’s worthy, that he’s good, that he’s righteous, he just hasn’t seen the Lord. He’s never been in the presence of the God. For the closer a man comes to God, the more sinful and unworthy does he feel. “Woe is me! I am undone . . . for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” [Isaiah 6:5].
“Then went one of the seraphim and took a live coal in his hand from off the altar, and laid it upon his mouth saying, This has touched thy lips; thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged” [Isaiah 6:6, 7]. Taken from the altar of sacrifice; that’s the cross. That’s where atonement is made [1 Corinthians 15:3]. That’s where the blood is shed, and in the shedding of blood there is remission of sins [Hebrews 9:22]. In the cross of Christ, we have forgiveness and atonement and salvation [1 Peter 1:18-19]. And from the cross, from the altar, Isaiah finds that his heart is purified and his lips are cleansed [Isaiah 6:6-7]. Then he hears the voice of the Lord and volunteers to be God’s servant and God’s messenger [Isaiah 6:8].
What message shall he bring? Is it one of triumph and of victory? No. It is the opposite. “Go and tell this people, You hear, but you do not hear; you see, but you do not see” [Isaiah 6:9]. Therefore, your eyes are blinded lest you see, and your ears are deafened lest you hear, and your heart is hardened lest you be converted and be saved” [Isaiah 6:10]. And Isaiah said, “O God, how long do I bear a message like this?” And He answered, “Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses are without men, and the land is utterly desolate, And the Lord remove the people far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land” [Isaiah 6:11-12].
What an unusual, what an unusual but sad assignment. I think that is one of the reasons that the sixth chapter of Isaiah is here and the vision is not in the first chapter. Why is it not that Isaiah begins with his call as Jeremiah does [Jeremiah 1:4-5] and as Ezekiel does [Ezekiel 2:1-10], but not Isaiah. Why? Because the first five chapters are so tragically sad [Isaiah 1-5], and the sixth chapter is placed here that there might be reason why the terrible tragedy of the message that Isaiah was bringing. His commission was to bear a message of judgment and of sorrow to the people [Isaiah 6:1-13].
Isn’t that a strange thing? And yet that is the revealed Word of God from the beginning to the consummation. There is never a time when this world is swept into the kingdom. There is never any hour, there is never any suggestion, that these who preach the gospel of Christ will ever be able to convert the world. But the world increasingly becomes violent and wicked, filled with war and conflict and bloodshed.
You know what? Reading the Revelation, I think I have seen the age pass from the Philadelphian church of the open door [Revelation 3:7-13], to the last age, the Laodicean, of open apostasy [Revelation 3:14-22]. When I was a youth, every land on the face of the earth was open to the missionary. You could send all the missionaries to China that you pleased, all the missionaries to India that you pleased, all the missionaries to the nations of the world as you pleased. Since I have been a youth I have seen nation after nation after nation closed against the missionary. There are great vast sweeps of the human family that are now shut out by an iron hand against the preaching of the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. And not only that, I am seeing, more and more and more, the world plunged into atheistic, communistic darkness. It is a pall to me. It is a cause of infinite fear and trembling to me.
Right now, this moment, there are those who are fleeing in heartbreak and in heartache from the hordes of the communist North Vietnamese. Why don’t those people flee to Hanoi? Why don’t they flee north? Communism is a scourge, and it only comes in to rule by war, by a mailed fist. And once a nation ever falls to the hands of the communist, there is no illustration that it is ever able to extricate itself from it. It’s like a curse. It’s like a death. It’s like a judgment, and it increases on the face of the earth. When I was done with the message at 8:15 this morning, one of our missionaries who is in Kenya said, “Did you know that it looks as if Kenya will fall to the communists?” I said, “Oh, no!” I could think of Tanzania. When I was there the Chinese communists were building the road from Dar es Salaam down through the width of Tanzania to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. I could have thought Tanzania, but not Kenya with its great capital city of Nairobi.
I said, “When did such a thing come to pass?”
She said, “Within the last few days. Within the last few days.” Kenya is tottering as to whether it will go communist or not.
It looks as if the communists are seizing Portugal, our great friend and bastion on the western coast of the Iberian Peninsula. And when Portugal falls, how there will be any ableness of America to help Israel, I do not know. The Indian Ocean is gradually, with every day, coming to be a Russian sea with ports all around it. And the multiplicity of their atomic submarines is a threat to the national life and existence of America and of the other free world. This is the day and these are the times in which we live. They remind me of the sorrow of the days in which Isaiah was called to be a prophet of the Lord [Isaiah 6:8-9].
There’s one other reason why I think the sixth chapter is here and not at the front, why the vision is here and not at the beginning. I think also it is an introduction to the great Book of Immanuel, chapters 7 through 11 [Isaiah 7-11]. For in the darkness of that day and in the tragedy and loss of that hour when King Uzziah died, “I also”—and that “also” is pertinent, and significant, and important—when the King Uzziah died, “I saw also” [Isaiah 6:1]. Uzziah was a mighty monarch, a great administrator, and under him the kingdom came to the glory that it knew under David and Solomon.
But when Uzziah died, every hope for the future was dashed to the ground. It was then in the tragedy of that hour and in the awesomeness of the message that God gave him to deliver, that he lifted up his eyes and saw the Lord of hosts, the King of glory, high and lifted up, and His train of shekinah light filled the earth [Isaiah 6:1]. And that’s the way this vision closes, the doctrine of the remnant: there shall be in it those who love God and serve God. And out of that stump of that tree cut down God will raise up a people and a kingdom that shall glorify our Lord forever [Isaiah 6:13].
“Though through my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God, whom mine eyes shall behold” [Job 19:26, 27]. Death may waste us, and the grave may swallow us up, and the omnivorous hunger of hell may reach out for us, and the whole earth may be plunged into darkness, a darkness that is felt impenetrable. And the nations of the earth may decay, and governments may fall, but above it reigning in sovereign grace and glory is the King of our souls, and the hope of our hearts, and the Savior of the church.
When we come to chapter 7, that is the beginning of the great Book of Immanuel. “A virgin shall conceive, and bring forth a Child, and His name shall be called, God is with us”—Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23.
And chapter 9, “And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace” [Isaiah 9:6].
And chapter 11, “And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard lie down with the kid” [Isaiah 11:6]. “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all God’s holy mountain”; every one will know the Lord, His knowledge and the love of Him shall fill the earth, like waters cover the sea” [Isaiah 11:9]. The Lord said, “When these things began to come to pass, lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” [Luke 21:28].
From what I can read in the Holy Book, I think the world is drawing toward the great consummation, I think the world is moving toward the great battle of Armageddon [Revelation 16:16]. I think these submarines with their nuclear warheads, and I think these great faster-than-sound bombers to deliver those multi-headed atomic missiles of death and destruction, I think we’re moving toward the great consummation of the Lord. We are not to be discouraged. We are not to tremble in foreboding or in fear, for this is the beginning of God’s visitation, God’s redemption, God’s coming, God’s peace, God’s glory, God’s kingdom. And in it you and I and all who love the Lord shall have a beautiful, a triumphant, and a worthy part [Revelation 5:9-10, 22:3-5].
What hope, what blessing, what encouragement! This, the message of God from the throne of grace delivered through His prophets and His holy apostles for our comfort and encouragement in any day and in any hour; darkness, abysmal in which our life might be plunged; look up, He still lives. Lift up your face; He still reigns, and the earth belongs to Him, and all of the destiny of every future tomorrow [Psalm 24:1].
We must sing our song of appeal, and while we sing it, a couple, a family, or just one somebody you to give himself to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13], to put his life in the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25], to praise and love God with us. Would you come? Make the decision now in your heart and on the first note of the first stanza, down one of these stairways into the aisle and here to the front: “I’m coming today, pastor. Here I am,” while we stand and while we sing.