Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-13-75 10:50 a.m.
We welcome you on radio and television to this service, the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and the pastor delivering the message entitled The Volunteer. In these days, we are preaching through one of the greatest pieces of literature that was ever penned by mortal man. Its poetry, its imagery, its flights of fancy and oratory, as well as its profundity of revelation and expression is unrivaled, unless it be in the words of Jesus our Lord.
I am preaching through Isaiah, and now in the sixth chapter [Isaiah 6]. Nor is there a finer or greater expression, beauty of language, sublimity of thought, glorious revelation than to be found in this sixth chapter of Isaiah. In it is delineated the call of the prophet, and this is the most detailed of any instance we have where a man has been called of God to the prophetic ministry.
It came about like this, so says the young man, as he writes in the year that King Uzziah died [Isaiah 6:1], and he was possibly then, possibly twenty years of age. After fifty-five years as a king, Uzziah was dying. And in the days of his dying moments, the young man saw the Lord in the temple, a glorious and incomparable vision [Isaiah 6:1].
He saw the seraphim as they cried, “Holy, holy, holy” [Isaiah 6:3]. In the presence of the great and high and exalted and majestic Lord, he felt unclean, a sinful man [Isaiah 6:5]. And the Lord commanded a seraph to go to the altar, and there take a burning coal of fire [Isaiah 6:6]—fire, a judgment of God upon sin, purifying, purging; the altar, a type of Christ who died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3].
And with that blazing coal pressed on the lips of the prophet, he was cleansed and purged [Isaiah 6:7]. It was then that he heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” And the volunteer replied, “Here am I; send me” [Isaiah 6:8].
And the Lord commanded him to go, not with a message of great success and response, but one of defeat and despair: “Tell this people that they see, but they do not see. They hear, but their ears are heavy. Their hearts are unconverted, lest they be saved” [Isaiah 6:9-10].
And in agony, the young man cried, “Lord, how long?” And the Lord answered, “Until there not be a man, not an inhabitant, in the land” [Isaiah 6:11].
His vision of God—that seems a departing and fading reality in our generation. To so many, God belongs to the days of the Roman and Greek mythologists. He belongs to the era of primitivity and poetry, but He is not real anymore. To so many, God is an indistinct, oblong blur; or He is far off, or as some say, He is dead and doesn’t exist. And to so many others, He is uncaring and unresponsive and unknowing, but not to Isaiah. He was real, and his eyes looked upon Him in His glory [Isaiah 6:1]. And in the presence of the great God, he felt so unworthy.
The nearer a man draws to God, the more sinful does he feel. The farther a man is from God, the more he looks upon himself as being fine and acceptable. Like a woman’s wash put on the line in the backyard, it looks so white and clean, but let a snow fall and against the pure whiteness of the snow, the wash looks kind of gray and dirty.
So with a man’s life. Look at him in himself, he may be proud of himself. “Look at how fine and upstanding I am.” But against the purity of the white light of the blazing glory and holiness of God, he looks dirty and sinful.
So Isaiah. And cleansed with the great atoning sacrifice of our Lord [Isaiah 6:6-7], he heard the voice of God calling for a volunteer, and he replied and answered with his life, “Here am I; send me” [Isaiah 6:8].
Isn’t that an unusual come-to-pass? Here is a man who feels himself so unclean and so unworthy in the presence of the great God [Isaiah 6:5]. And the Lord cleanses him by an atoning grace, by a judgmental altar, by the sacrifice of Christ [Ephesians 2:8; 1 Peter 1:18-19]. Isn’t that an amazing thing, how God is toward us?
This man, young fellow, feeling himself so unworthy and so sinful, why doesn’t God say to him, “Take a bath and put on fine clothes and you will be just right”? Or why doesn’t God say to him, “Get a better education and you will be prepared”? Or why doesn’t God say, “Get you a program of self-amelioration and self-improvement and you will just be endowed for the great work of the Lord”?
Don’t you wish it could be that way? All we needed to do was just to put on better clothes, or get a better education, or find us a program of self-improvement? Don’t you wish it could be done like that? God says no. Fig leaves don’t cover a man’s nakedness, nor a woman’s [Genesis 3:7]. It takes blood, and in the shedding of blood, there is atonement and remission of sins [Hebrews 9:22]. And having had the experience of meeting God, and regenerated by the Spirit of the Lord, he heard the voice of God saying, “Whom shall I send and who will go for Us?” and he answered, “Here am I, Lord, look at me; send me” [Isaiah 6:8].
Now I take it that this is a record of the experience of every regenerated child of God. If a man has met the Lord, has seen a vision of the Lord, and if the Holy Spirit has touched his heart and his lips, he will hear God’s call. If a man has a vision of God, he will hear a call of God in his heart.
That call comes in many different ways. It can be a vision of angels, like Jacob as he saw the ladder and the angels ascending and descending [Genesis 28:12]. Isn’t that strange? Ascending and descending. They were here on the earth, and up and back down. Or it could be a burning bush, like Moses and the voice speaking to him out of the unconsumed bush [Exodus 3:2-4]. Or it could be a call in the night: “Samuel, Samuel” [1 Samuel 3:4-10]. Or it could be a still, small voice, like Elijah [1 Kings 19:11-12], or the anointing of a prophet like David [1 Samuel 16:12-13].
Or it could be an invitation to be a fisher of men, like Simon Peter [Matthew 4:18-19]. Or it could be a burning in the heart, like Cleopas [Luke 24:32]. Or it could be a meeting of Jesus in the Damascus road, like Saul of Tarsus [Acts 9:1-6]. Or it could be the vision of the glorified, risen, ascended, reigning-in-heaven Jesus, like the sainted apostle John on the isle of Patmos [Revelation 1:9-20]. But anytime, anywhere, that any man sees a vision of God, he will also hear the voice of the Lord calling him.
I’m watching the men in our church at this time, and especially the leader of our building fund appeal. He hasn’t been in the church long like some of us, but I baptized him and his wife. And he gave his life to Jesus, and he came to me and said, “Pastor, I’ve given my life to the Lord and all that I have and possess and all that I am to the Lord, and I want to be used of God. May God help me to do something for Him.”
Every man who’s had an experience with God feels that call in his heart, and he will volunteer. He cannot help it. He will answer with his life. The call is the need, says God’s Book, and the need is the call [Isaiah 6:8]. I could illustrate that through the whole Word of God. The call is the need, and the need is the call.
When David was a boy keeping the sheep, his father called him from the sheepfold and said, “Son”—and he was just an unshaved, the Bible says, ruddy teenager—“Son, take these foods and bear them to your brothers who are soldiers in the army of God” [1 Samuel 17:17].
And the boy went down to the army of Israel and saw across the vale of Elah the armies of the blaspheming, uncircumcised Philistines [1 Samuel 17:19-22]. And every day, there was a giant from that army by the name of Goliath who walked down the hill, and there, looking into the faces of the armies of God, said, “I dare you to come out. You cowards! You do not have a God who is able and mighty to deliver. He is a coward, too, and you’re just like Him.”
And he blasphemed the name of Jehovah God, and he belittled the people of the Lord, and they cowered in the dust before him [1 Samuel 17:23-24]. And that boy never had heard a man curse God, growing up with the sheep, playing his harp, and the angels bowing down their ears to listen, singing the psalms of praise to Jehovah God. He’d never heard a man curse God, and he was astonished to hear God’s people vilified, and cower in the dust of the ground.
And he looked around and said, “Is there not someone to challenge this blaspheming, uncircumcised infidel?” Not one. They cowered. They were afraid. He said, “I will go.” The need is the call, and the call is the need. “I will go” [1 Samuel 17:32].
“Why,” they said, “you are a little, unshaven, ruddy-faced teenaged boy. How could you beat a giant like that with armor and his spear is as a weaver’s beam?” [1 Samuel 17:33].
The lad replied:
Keeping my father’s sheep there was a bear, and God helped me deliver my flock out of the jaws of the bear. And there came a lion, and God helped me deliver the flock out of the mouth of the lion. The same Lord God that delivered from the bear and from the lion is the same Lord God who will deliver from this giant Goliath.
[1 Samuel 17:34-37].
The call is the need, and the need is the call. And the lad volunteered [1 Samuel 17:32]. “Here am I; use me” [Isaiah 6:8].
Was it not so with Nehemiah when his brother came back from Judea and described the destruction in Jerusalem, and the walls leveled and the gates burned with fire? [Nehemiah 1:3]. The prime minister of the Persian Empire wept, openly wept, and offered himself before the king to be used of God to rebuild the gates and the walls of the holy city [Nehemiah 1:4-2:8]. The call is the need, and the need is the call [Isaiah 6:8].
Was it not thus in the life of the apostle Paul coming down to Troas? He saw in the night a vision of a man in Macedonia saying, “Come over, and help us” [Acts 16:9]. And the next verse says that Paul and Silas and Dr. Luke prepared to go to Macedonia. And the Scriptures, word for word, say, “assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel unto them” [Acts 16:10].
Why, God never said anything to him, “Go to Hellespont, go to Europe, go to England, go to America.” No! He just saw a man of Macedonia saying, “Help us,” and the need is the call, and the call is the need. And he turned his face westward instead of eastward [Acts 16:9-10], and we became Christians and our forefathers. This is the Spirit of God in His people.
“Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” And he answered, “Here am I, Lord; send me” [Isaiah 6:8]. It is an amazing, astonishing thing how the spirit of people made in the image of God [Genesis 1:27] can rise in a need, in an exigency, in an emergency, just soar to heaven.
Not long after World War II, we were in Europe, many years ago, the first time I was ever over there, and we were standing in a long line before an immigration desk crossing over from Folkstone, England to Boulogne, France, crossing the channel into France. And the line moving slowly at the desk of immigration.
There was a woman in front of me, a British woman with a little girl about so big. I looked at her passport. Her name was written on it, Emma Jensen. And being delayed in going through the line, I began to visit with that British woman. The girl, she said, the little child, had been born in an air raid shelter. The little child had lived most of her life in an air raid shelter, and she said, “We were doing good, my husband and I and the little girl. We were doing good going through the war. “But just a few days before the awful conflict closed, there was a rocket bomb that burst over our home. My husband was killed. Everything we had was destroyed.” And she pulled back the heavy hair of the little child, and there across the forehead and clear back across her head was a dark, deep, deep, livid scar. She said, “I have nursed our little girl to life and to health.”
I began to commiserate. “Oh,” I said, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. The death of your husband, and the loss of your home and all you possess, and the deep injury to the little girl.”
“No,” she said. “Don’t sympathize with me, don’t sympathize with me.” She said, “There are thousands and thousands that have been hurt and injured worse than I.” “Don’t sympathize with me, not with me.” She said, “I’m doing well, I’m doing fine.” “In the goodness of God,” she said, “one thing, one thing only was spared in our home, a typewriter.” She said, “I got a job at Cambridge University, typing for a professor of law. “And when I put the baby, the little girl, to bed at night, I type through the wee hours of the morning and make a living supporting myself and that little child. Don’t sympathize with me. I’m doing fine.”
That is the human spirit in the face of a need, and of a call to rise and shine. It is so in the household of faith. “Lord, Lord, now that I’ve given my life to You, now that I’ve volunteered, what is it?” And the Lord assigned a difficult and heavy assignment.
It’s never easy, never. Any time the Lord calls, any time a child of God hears the voice of God and volunteers, the assignment will always be hard and difficult.
Wouldn’t you think it would be one of success? You go and preach and deliver the message, and the world will hear, and they’ll turn, and they’ll be saved, and they’ll all be in the kingdom? Wouldn’t you think that?
It’s just the opposite. The darkness grows darker, and the earth becomes more pagan and more lost. And in agony we cry, “O God, how long, how long?” [Isaiah 6:11]. And the Lord replies, “Until there be not an inhabitant in the land” [Isaiah 6: 11]. So with our days and our call and our vision of God—what a dark, dark, dark hour!
And the gloom is spreading and is increasingly black. This last week, I have been preaching to the National Association of Evangelicals. There is an association, an organization of liberal churches called the National Council of Churches.
There is an organization of the communion and denominations of fundamental Bible-believing churches. There are thirty-three denominations in it. It is called the National Association of Evangelicals, and this last week, I have been preaching to those delegates. One night last week before I brought the address, they presented the tragedy of our missions in Vietnam. First, there was a picture, a lantern slide picture. It was a picture of a monument there to our slain missionaries. And in the picture on this side of the monument stood a Vietnamese pastor, and on this side of the monument stood a Vietnamese pastor. And the man showing the picture said, “Both of those pastors, the one on either side, both of them, have just been martyred. They’ve laid down their lives for Christ before the overflooding Viet Cong and hordes of the north.”
The next one who stood up was a doctor, and he presented his story hour by hour as he described the coming down of the communist legions from the north, first through the highlands and then through the coastal cities, and the awful destruction and death that followed in the wake of those invading soldiers from the north.
And then next they presented to us lists, the names and the families of the missionaries who are either now martyred, or they have been taken captive, or they have disappeared from view. And then after the awesome roll of these who have laid down their lives or are in the hands of an awful enemy, we all stood up and in silent prayer, asked God’s blessing and presence in that tragic and unhappy land.
This is going on this minute. Wouldn’t you think, wouldn’t you suppose, that in the face of such loss and death and destruction and tragedy, wouldn’t you think that the Christian would quit? How long? “Until there not be an inhabitant in the land?” [Isaiah 6:11]. How long, O God, how long? Wouldn’t you think that the Christian would quit, he’d cease his ministry? It’s too discouraging, it’s too hard. The next time I pick it up it’ll be in the next chapter 7, and the young prophet is standing there before Ahaz the king [Isaiah 7:3], beginning a prophetic ministry of over half a century. It didn’t enter his mind to quit. It didn’t enter his mind to have the sense of failure. He was doing God’s work, delivering God’s message, and there’s no failure in the Almighty, just sacrifice and life answering on the part of those who name His name.
It’s a strange thing how the Christian faith is put together. The old-timers used to say, it’s the blood of the martyrs that is the seed of the church. It’s the sacrifice in it, it’s the tears in it, it’s the devotion in it, it’s the pouring out of the crimson of life in it that gives it power.
I heard of a man who represented an affluent denomination. He came to a university campus, and there he made an appeal for young men and women from the university to go to Africa as missionaries. And being from an affluent, old-line, historical denomination, he said, “Come, young people, come. There will be a fine salary for you. There’ll be an adequate pension for you. There will be an American compound in which you can live, stocked with American food. There will be groceries for you from home. There will be transportation for you, automobiles. There will be everything fine that you need. Come to Africa and represent our Lord.” And when he was done his appeal, there was one that responded. There was another that responded. Possibly, there was a third that responded, and that’s all.
There came later to that same university campus another missionary from a poorer communion. They were stationed out in the heart of that dark, dark land. And that mission representative stood up and said, “Young men and young women, come. It’s a dark, dark assignment. We live in a darkened place.” He said, “We live in disease and in death, but come!” And when he made the invitation to sacrifice, to disease, to suffering and to death, the altar was crowded with young men and young women offering their lives to God.
Isn’t that a strange thing about the Christian faith? Make it easy, make it soft, make it affluent, and it dissolves before your eyes. But if it has sacrifice in it, life unto death in it, and death unto life, it lives. It’s vibrant; it has power. And the people are saved by it.
So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near is God to man,
When Duty whispers low, “Thou must,”
The Christian replies, “I can.”
[from “Voluntaries,” Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1863]
Here am I, Lord; send me [Isaiah 6:8]. Use me. To an easy place in Zion? No. Use me, Lord, to pour my life out for Thee, to serve Thee, to magnify Thee.
And we’ll not be discouraged ever. Nor will we lose heart. He does not. “The smoking flax He will not quench, and the bruised reed He will not break [Isaiah 42:3]. He will not grow weary or be discouraged until He has set judgment and righteousness and peace and the kingdom in the earth” [Isaiah 42:4, 5].
This is our appeal to you this morning. If you have seen a vision of God, if you have had an experience with the Lord, you will feel God’s call in your heart. And if you feel God’s call in your heart, if you are a regenerated Christian, you will answer with your life. You will volunteer: “Here am I, Lord; send me” [Isaiah 6:8]. How the outcome will be—that’s in His hands. He doesn’t promise success, just a difficult and hard assignment. But if God has spoken, you’ll answer with your life, “Here am I; O God, use me, send me, bless me” [Isaiah 6:8].
Will you answer with your life like that this solemn morning? “I have heard the voice of the Lord, and I’m coming. I’ve made the decision for God, and here I am.” Is it to accept Christ as Savior? [Romans 10:8-13]. Come. Is it to put your life in the fellowship of the church? [Hebrews 10:24-25]. Come. Is it to answer a special call and appeal from the Lord? Come. As the Spirit shall press the invitation to your heart, answer now. Come now. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.
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