THE WONDER OF WORSHIP
"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." Isaiah, chapter 6:1.
As a matter of history Uzziah died about 750 years B.C. It was, however, much more than a date in a calendar. Uzziah had a remarkable reign of 52 years, in which he was marvellously blessed of God. Indeed it seemed as if he was recovering the ancient glory of David and Solomon but, writes the Chronicler, when he was strong he acted presumptuously. Into the temple he went and attempted to burn incense on the altar. He resented the rebuke of the priest, but God visited him there and then with a condign penalty. He was smitten with leprosy and was a leper until the day of his death. He could no longer associate with his fellows because of the nature of the disease, and his last five years were years of segregation in a lazar house.
Let us not lay undue emphasis on the perils of youth. The perils of middle age and later years are just as great. No man in himself can be sure of keeping his shield untarnished to the end. Nothing but the continuing grace of God can do that. Most of us, when in some direction we think ourselves to be strong, are in dire peril of collapse. Humility is the secret, thinking no more of ourselves than we ought to think. . Fleeing from pride as we would flee from the plague, is a proper attitude to life for the man who essays to pass within the heavenly portals with joy. Uzziah's miserable end to a glorious reign was a great disappointment to the people, and it was a sad check to the young prophet Isaiah as he reflected upon it.
The cult of personality may be unpopular at the moment in Russia, but it is no modern innovation. The public political halo around Uzziah concealed the rising pride of his heart. When men think of themselves as being powerful and influential, with a corresponding contempt for God and His laws, their judgment is a matter of time. That is a sober reflection for all people of spiritual insight and makes them to tremble as they sense the temper of the modern world.
It was therefore at a moment in the history of the southern kingdom, as Uzziah was dragging out his last few weeks in the grip of leprosy, that Isaiah made his way to the temple. He had already entered upon his prophetic ministry, and had been speaking as he believed, and rightly believed, in the name of Jehovah. But like all preachers, however well he knew his theology, he needed an experience of God conclusive and dynamic and that could be within the arena of worship.
We can appreciate his mood. He was not indifferent to the political situation, and equally he was not indifferent to the sovereignty of God. But those two conceptions which many Christians think can be held in an intellectual unity, will struggle for pre-eminence, with the result that for most Christians the political issues at any time are supreme, while God is experimentally as well as intellectually on the circumference of reality. We may always know that our thinking and living are defective when the thought of God is not absolutely central and controlling. Isaiah, therefore, went into the temple shaken as a preacher and prophet by the political situation of his time, and when one is like that, if God is to do anything there must be another shaking. That much we may gather from the text.
THAT SABBATH DAY
Into the temple of Solomon, shorn of some of its glory by reason of the idolatry of the people, Isaiah went. It is difficult to rise above external circumstances, but worship at least provides an opportunity, which cannot be excelled. It is possible people may enter earthly temples who have never entered the palace Beautiful within the veil. Isaiah h ad done that; indeed, he had entered on his ministry with all sincerity, politically well informed, but spiritually deficient. He was rightly interested in the affairs of his country and conscious that God wanted him to give a vital message to his day. But however clearly he saw the political, earthly, material, human situation, he was not a se-er of the heavenly, the invisible, the spiritual, the eternal, the abiding and the real. He was where many are today. They enter our chapels and churches, but know nothing of the experience of the human spirit passing within the veil. They are content to make distinctions between earthly sanctuaries without realising that the end of all worship is to pass in spirit within the veil by the newly slain and living way of His flesh. There, indeed, they taste the powers of what men call the world to come and discover how truly it is the world that IS!
While God is sovereign and will do as He will, yet there is much that makes us to know that within the experience of worship there lie the wonders of which those who keep outside cannot know or even imagine. If with all our perplexity and our unbalanced views of life, and our perpetual tendency to order our thinking by a religious materialism, we nevertheless seek God with all our hearts in fellowship with His believing people we shall know what otherwise will be unknowable. If only we can get beyond the carnal where chapel going is a burden and a duty. If we are not satisfied with the earthly sanctuary, but seek within the earthly sanctuary an entrance into the larger and more glorious circumstance not made with hands, God will see to it that we are not disappointed. If there is any Christian whose dealings with God are on the basis of duty, but has never yet known the sheer delight and stupendous exhilaration of revelation, then believe the Word of Scripture that there awaits you something more marvellous, intoxicating, enlightening, stimulating thrilling and unforgettable that you will marvel how it was you could ever be content with what seemed to be the real but was obviously an earthly, carnal, temporal substitute for a heavenly. spiritual and eternal realisation.
THE HEAVENLY SETTING
Let us then accompany Isaiah into the temple and observe him preparing for the gorgeous ritual associated with the solemnities, perhaps, of the Day of atonement. He cannot forget the doleful condition of national affairs, and perhaps thinks of the folly of the leper king who dared to intrude on those sacred rites. Yet he is surely moving on to something greater, and to his astonished sight is permitted an unveiling of the spiritual circumstance of the reality of which he had no experience. Other worshippers did not see what he saw, but that did not make his experience any the less real. There in the transcendent glory of the hidden realm of heaven he saw the Lord, the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings, and the majesty of His being, and the glory of His circumstance held the astonished gaze of the prophet. It was no hallucination, no excited enthusiasm, but the sober unveiling of what had always been there and is there still, to be seen by those who know that the earthly sanctuary is not the goal of worship.
There he saw those marvellous beings named the, seraphim. Nowhere else in Scripture have we a record of them. The word means " burning ones." It was not so much that they bore a light for others as that they in themselves were fire. Indeed, this word " seraph " has a root connection with the fiery serpents, by which the people in the wilderness were bitten. As he gazed upon them he noticed their multiple wings. With two of them they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they maintained themselves in flight. Father Ronald Knox observes that the Latin indicates very clearly that with their wings they covered not their own faces and feet, but the face and feet of the Glorious Lord, high and lifted up. But probably the seraphim covered themselves, and we may suppose their covering indicated their worship in reverence, their walk as under Divine direction, and their service as they were ready to fly at His command. If this be so, then we may rightly deduce that the essentials of revelation are a carefulness in reverence, worship and adoration. This should be our continual attitude, wherever we are, to our Glorious Lord. And with our reverent attitude an obedient walk so far as we know the light of truth and withal a readiness to be absolutely at His disposal for all His will. What Isaiah saw in these glorious seraphs was the spirit with which he came into the temple. And if you or I have never seen such glories as those of which Isaiah speaks, let us ask whether we have ever been ready in heart and spirit for the hour of worship. For if we cannot see the Lord of glory and cannot know of the seraphim, it is because we are not on the spiritual plane of such marvellous unveilings of glory.
THE REACTION OF REVELATION
The reaction of the prophet to such an unvciling of heavenly splendour and glory was terrific. He knew Himself called of God, he knew he was commissioned to give a message, but now he beheld the One from Whom his commission proceeded and realised as never before that to see Him was to see the message as never before. The integrity, the substance, the unshakeability of the Being, and the realm now disclosed gave him a new appreciation. Both of Him Whom he served and of the service to be rendered, and of the futility and vanity, insecurity and ineffectiveness of all that leaves out of life that which Isaiah saw within the veil. No man ever has such an experience without forever being changed and transformed in outlook by it. Men do not see it. John the apostle caught an early glimpse of it, for it was at Cana of Galilee in this beginning of miracles that the Lord manifested forth His glory. There, John at least beheld Him, the All Essential One, meeting every human need in every realm, the One within Whose ample immeasurable capacity was comprehended the power to fulfil and satisfy the aspiration, joy and longing of every human soul.
What did it matter to Isaiah if a throne was tottering, if a disobedient king was dying? The heavenly counterpart of a godless, disobedient world filling men with fear and adding burden to their hearts was the All Glorious Lord in all the majesty of the Throne of God, wherein every human need was met within the wonder of His will. Hardly had the glory thus been unveiled before, as ever, the focus of the glory was concentrated upon the essential need of the prophet. It was inevitable, of course, but nobody was more surprised than Isaiah that his lips were the issue. He is a prophet preacher. He is not like Moses, conscious that he lacks ability, but rather purity! And the impurity is in the lips, which have been and are the vehicle of his service to God. He is impure, so he declares, and with deep conviction and feeling, just where it is assumed by men that he must be most consecrated!
It is one of those shattering experiences that can neither be explained to others nor be excused by those who face them. For the rest of us let us not forget that probably if we had an experience in any way comparable with that of Isaiah we might find that our deepest sense of sin would be found at that point where others beside ourselves felt that we had our greatest consecration. Here was Isaiah already engaged in ministry,looking forward to being a messenger for God to the people, in a time of grievous crisis, anticipating what that ministry might mean to the nation, yet finding himself in this ecstatic unveiling of the Lord of glory, conscious that the choice instrument of his service, even his lips, were themselves unholy, impure and utterly evil for the task he had envisaged. To think of life as a crusade against sin and to discover that the instrument you propose to use, is itself as corrupt in God's sight as the leprosy of Uzziah, is indeed a mortifying blow. But so it was for Isaiah.
And lest we should think that perhaps this was an undue emotional self-condemnation let us note that scarcely had Isaiah uttered his words in the sanctuary than one of these ethereal beings descended from his attendance on the Lord of glory and took a stone from the altar there in the temple. As he did so he ignited it with the burning heat of his being and brought it to Isaiah. With it he touched his lips declaring his iniquity purged and his lips dedicated to the ends of God. In that most marvellous moment the evil thing that up to then had lodged within the religious activity of Isaiah was burned up with all its dross. The iniquity was purged by the fire of God and the capacity for ministry which he imagined he already possessed was imparted to him. It is indeed a revelation in worship to discover that the secret power of Satan in our lives is not always in some known worldliness and carnality, but lies much nearer and closer within the very service we seek to render to God.
If only we could come to worship with a sincerity and longing for God that was without restraint. Then we might see an unveiling of God, and there might be ignited for us by a verse of a hymn, a Scripture, a word of exhortation, a sentence of prayer, the realisation at once of the subtlety of the power that was holding us within our religious sufficiency and an enduement of capacity destined to transform our outlook, life and service. How wonderful is the thought: the place of an hitherto unsuspected pollution is at once the place of a heavenly cleansing and an enriching and enlarging of all our capacity for God.
THE NEXUS OF MINISTRY
And now Isaiah saw other things more clearly. He had thought of himself as a young man dedicated to God and somehow distinct from the people. Most People think of their separation unto God as separation from the world. ' He did not know it then, but he was destined to pen that marvellous 53rd chapter of identification of the Suffering Servant, and to write that required and demanded experience. That day he had the experience. First, he was shaken as he realised that his very lips, which he thought were consecrated to God and His service, were polluted and separated him from God, and then those sinful lips were no better than the sinful lips of the people to whom he ministered. That day he took upon himself perhaps without fully knowing it, his identification with the people that he might bring them, with himself, to God! It is when the servant of God sees this strange and mysterious position and relationship between himself and God and himself and the people that he begins to understand ministry, but not before!
More was to follow, Heaven was yearning to find a man! God was wanting a prophet! Had He overlooked Isaiah? The Isaiah who entered the temple was insufficient for the task, but the Isaiah who entered within the veil, who was gazing on the glory, seeing the majesty of the eternal, made conscious of the pollution of his reIigious service, crying out for mercy, this was the man who could hear the call and by grace could respond. "Here am I, send me." God wants men to whom the wonder of the invisible has been unveiled, who have known the shaking of all things temporal and who in worship have known the glory of His Being. These and these alone can fulfil the ministry of His will in their little measure, but in harmony with Him Who was the forthshining of His glory. These can render a vital service.
WHAT A COMMISSION
And what a commission it was. Isaiah was to present to his generation the truth as God gave it to him. He was to see them harden their hearts against God as he preached to them. Let us always beware of working for external success, seeking to achieve what seems to be prosperity. As the hour of God gets near, the hearts of men will get harder, until the rich mysterious truth of the Word, too hard to be understood by carnal hearts, will bring from the heart the cry: " Will ye also go away? " Even so, there would be a remnant, the seed, the seed, indeed, of the Messiah as there has ever been in the darkest hour, and ever will be until God redeems it to Himself for all the purpose of the ages.
WHAT A GLORIOUS SERVICE
As Isaiah wended his way homeward that day he knew what worship really was. He knew that such heavenly privilege was searching and penetrating. To know God one must be prepared to know oneself as God and seraphs know one, and to realise the pollution we thus see in ourselves is as real as the glory we behold. But what an outlook on life it gives! What an unveiling of substance and reality, what a sense of duty and privilege! Gone were the old days of religious worship in the temple. Every time he entered he sought the mystic glory and sensed it afresh. Even so may we! Let us never be satisfied until worship with all its wonder thrills our hearts even while it discloses their impurity, until the ministry of seraphs and the voice of the Eternal have capacitated and commissioned us in worship for what is for us, each one, the will of God.
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