Master Sermon List
God is Near
by F. B. Meyer
"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 it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and 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. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because 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 seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar; and he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged." Isaiah 6:1-8.
One afternoon about four o'clock, Isaiah, who was then in early middle life, found himself one of a great crowd of worshipers slowly ascending the temple's steps. Together with them he passed the lower platform and still climbed until at last he stood at the summit, at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. Standing there, he little realized that that afternoon was to be the epochal moment of his life; but that afternoon was to introduce an altogether new element into his life work.
Standing there upon that highest step, in the direct line of vision lay, first, the altar upon which the afternoon sacrifice was to be made; beyond it a laver where the priests washed their feet; and beyond that the tall cedar doors that opened upon the Holy Place, which indeed would have unfolded presently, as to Zachariah in after days when he went to offer incense while the people stood without in prayer.
On either side stood probably two hundred and fifty Levites, with the instruments of David in their hands, prepared to sing the psalms which were so famous, and about which their Babylonian captors in after days did; "Sing us one of the songs of Zion."
As Isaiah stood there wrapped in thought, those who were nearest him had no idea what was transpiring; but he was swept away from all those sights and sounds, from the sun in mid sky, from the glistening marble of the Temple, from the music of the Levite band, from all the crowds that pressed him on every side, and he beheld the sapphire throne of the King Himself. He heard the prayer or chant of the seraphim, and for a moment his whole soul was steeped in the rapture of that vision. But a moment after he was plunged in the profoundest contrition of soul as be contrasted himself with those who served God with sinless lips, and he cried: "Woe is me! for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips."
Now, why was this? Partly because after the golden years of Uzziah's reign, in which money and splendor were corrupting the hearts of the people, it was necessary that the leaders at least, or many like Isaiah who stood in the forefront, should be lifted to a higher level. You must understand from the previous chapters of this book how the dwellers of Zion, the men and women of Jerusalem, and indeed all the people, were being corrupted by the sin, the fashion, the worldliness, and the money making of their time, and how needful it was, therefore, that God should raise a new standard amongst them by the hand of Isaiah, who stood closest to Him.
It may be that in this country at this time, this very prosperity of your land, the years of peace, the great influx of populations, and the increase of wealth have been subtly undermining the religious life of your people, so that some of your holy customs are being broken down. Perhaps family worship is no longer maintained as it was. The children are no longer trained, as once, in the habits of godliness. The high morale of your people, derived from your noble ancestry, may have been disintegrating while you devoted your energies in other directions than in whole hearted devotion to God. In such times it is God's habit to call around Himself His Isaiahs, His servants, those who stand nearest to Him, the members of His Church, and to lift them up to a new level of Christian living, that from that moment they may be the pivot on which a lever may work to lift the entire nation.
As I have traveled through your great country, in city after city, I have met with crowds of your fellow countrymen, especially your Ministers, and I have been struck with the hunger which exists on every hand for deeper and intenser spiritual life. It appears to me as if God were calling upon the people of His own Church in the United States to stand up before Jesus Christ as their King, to learn from Him some deeper and mightier power than that which has been vibrating lately amongst them. Let us confidently look to Him for it.
But before you and I can become what we want to be, there must first be a humbling process. We must be laid low in the dust before God. Just in proportion as we are prepared to descend, will we ascend. Let us get down in the dust before Jesus Christ our Lord, and let each one of us become convicted, and cry: "Woe is me! For I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips."
There is here a threefold conviction of personal unworthiness, of the nearness of God, and of the one method by which the heart of man can be pacified.
There is, first, the conviction of unworthiness: "Woe is me! for I am undone."
The sixth chapter, of course, follows the fifth. If you read the latter you will understand how earnestly Isaiah had been pursuing his prophetic work. This man, who of all Israel seemed to be the purest and sweetest, is the man that bows the lowest and is most convinced of sin. God's children need to learn that lesson too. He had done good work, but God saw that he could do better, and so convicted him of the comparative unworthiness of his past ministry. Thus it befell that the man by whom God had spoken through five chapters was a man who confessed to having unclean lips.
Now you may have a good record lying behind you. It may be that for five chapters of your life you have been ministering to people, to children, to the waifs and strays of your city, and you have been greatly owned. But God wants to teach you a better lesson, to make you more mightily powerful, to baptize you more with the Holy Ghost and with fire; and therefore He takes even you, true hearted as you are, and brings you down into the place where the Holy Spirit will hold up your past life, and bid you review it until you, who have been looked up to by everyone as an example, and quoted as the most devoted and earnest of men, and idolized by many who have been moved by your eloquence, as you come beneath the light that shall fall upon you from the face of Jesus Christ, shall cry: "I am an undone man."
You will notice that this conviction was wrought through the vision of Jesus, and indeed that is the only vision that will really convince us of sin. We need to stand beneath the light that falls from His face. He is amongst us at this moment. He is passing through this assembly and looking down deep into your hearts; and as you look up into His face, do you not realize that there is a look of grief and sorrow there, because in your work there has been so much of yourself and so little of His love? Does He not reveal to you the poverty of your motive, the lowness of your aim, your greater thought of what men might consider of you than of what He might say? Let the light of the living Christ fall upon you now, the light of the coming Christ, the silvery light of the Second Advent, the light of the Judgment Seat of Christ, the light of the Great White Throne; and as this falls upon your heart today, and you see what He wants you to be and what you are, you shall say: "I am undone."
There is another thought. Isaiah saw the worship of the blessed ones: "One cried to another."
I like to think of that. It was as if one of them cried, "Your strains are not lifted high enough; higher, brothers, higher!" And he cried across the intervening space to the seraphim opposite, and bade them rise to a higher note, till the chorus swelled and rose and broke. I have heard a bird in the spring morning cry to all the songsters of the glade till the whole woodland has rung again. Sometimes in our prayer meeting an earnest man has shaken the very gates of Heaven and has stirred the whole meeting. That is what we want. And as I tell you of a richer, fuller life, a life more abundant than many of you know, may you be convicted of the need of a new anointing, of a fresh application to the Son of God for the touch of fire. May our life be the seraph's reverence, with the veiled face; ours his modesty, with the veiled form, ours his balance of one third obedience to two thirds of contemplation. Then perhaps our cry may awaken similar results to his, and we shall cry, "Undone."
Next, the conviction that God is near. It is said the whole earth is full of God's glory. You and I would be prepared to admit that where the glory of God shines in the spray above Niagara, or where the morning that is seen upon the Matterhorn and the evening glow upon the Jungfrau, or where the sun rises and sets upon the broad bosom of the Atlantic, or where the wake of the ships stir the phosphorescence of the Mediterranean at night. But to be told that the whole earth is full of the glory of God, that startles us.
I know a place in London where a woman in a drunken frenzy put her child upon a hot iron bar; where a man beat to death his little crippled boy whose agonizing cries were heard at night. I should not have thought that the glory of God was there. But the seraphim say the whole earth is full of the glory of God. We are minded of what Elizabeth Barrett Browning says:
Earth's crammed with Heaven,
And every common bush aflame with God,
But only he that sees takes off his shoes.
One day in London I was sitting in a dark omnibus. A man came in to examine our tickets, and I thought to myself, you will never be able to tell whether they have been punctured aright. As I watched, curious to notice, he touched a little spring on his breast, and in a tiny globe of glass a beautiful glow of electric light shone out. Manifestly the man could see anywhere, because he carried the light with which he saw. So we must understand that when the heart is full of God, you will find God anywhere and everywhere, as the miner carries the candle in his cap through the dark cavity of the earth, and lights his steps.
Oh, men and women, that is what we may rely on here! It is not that I can do anything, but God, Heaven, Eternity are near. It is not my words that shall achieve the result, but the Spirit of God, who is as much in this assembly as He was in the upper room upon the day of Pentecost. In the gentle movement of the trees of the forest, can you not hear the stepping of God's feet? And can you not detect the movement of God's Spirit at this moment upon your hearts? Does not this quiet hush, this eagerness, indicate the presence of the skirts of the Eternal as they fall upon us? The whole earth is full of God - all time, all space - and it is because God is here, because there is as much of the Holy Ghost in this place as ever there was in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, because the forces of God are inexhausted, because the mighty river of God which is full of water is flowing through this place, that you and I are certain of blessing.
I believe that if some people had been in that very upper room itself when the Holy Ghost descended, being purblind, blinded by prejudice and passion and worldliness, they would have heard only a noise, they would have perceived no flame. If they had been with John on Patmos, they might have heard the break of the waves upon the rocks, but they never would have heard the harping of the angels. On the other hand, if Peter or John were sitting where you are now, their faces would be lighted up with supernatural light, and they would say: "Did you not see? Did you not hear? God is here. The great God has come down from the Heavens to bless these people. They have asked for it. They have claimed it. God has promised, and He has come."
"Where two or three are met, I am." The Spirit of God is here and is working amongst us also, as He hath done in other times and places. He first convicts us of a cold heart, of our deep need, and of our utter undoneness, and then He comes Himself and says: "I am here.
The last conviction is the one need of a penitent sinner. We read that when Isaiah cried, one of the seraphim immediately went for the live coal.
Now, mark this: the angel was not told to go, but he knew just what to do. The fact is, the angels have gone so often for the live coal that whenever they hear a sinner crying that he is undone, they go for it; they do not need to be told. It is as if a druggist's boy were so in the habit of getting the same medicine for the same symptoms that when the patient comes to the door, he knows just what medicine to seek, without going to the doctor to get advice.
The seraph took the live coal from off the altar, and that stood for blood and fire, the two things we want today. We want blood and fire.
Blood! Can you not hear the hiss of the blood of the Lamb as it flows gurgling around that coal? As he takes it up with his tongs of gold and bears it to the prophet's lips, it takes the Atoning blood with it. We want that first. I call upon all of you to claim that first - the blood! Nothing else will do. "This is he that came by water and blood, not by water only, but by water and blood." You and I need blood first. Let us then betake ourselves to our compassionate Lord, and seek from Him that forgiveness which He purchased on the Cross. Do you want it? Are you quite satisfied? Do you look upon your past with perfect complacency? Is there nothing to regret? Are there no sins to put away?
It is natural to respond that you are undone. Then let us begin by opening our whole nature to Christ, and believe that His blood now cleanseth from all sin. Let us dare to believe that directly we turn to that blood, and claim the forgiveness which is based on it, the whole of our past sin is gone, blotted out, lost to view; and if we remind God about it, He will say: "My child, you need not tell me about it. I have forgotten it, it is as though it had never been."
Next we need the fire, the live coal.
Christmas Evans tells us in his diary that one Sunday afternoon he was traveling a very lonely road to attend an appointment in a village the other side of the slope, and he was convicted of a cold heart. He says: "I tethered my horse and went to a sequestered spot, where I walked to and fro in an agony as I reviewed my life. I waited three hours before God, broken with sorrow, until there stole over me a sweet sense of His forgiving love. I received from God a new baptism of the Holy Ghost. As the sun was westering, I went back to the road, found my horse, mounted it, and went to my appointment. On the following day I preached with such new power to a vast concourse of people gathered on the hillside that a revival broke out that day and spread through the whole principality."
Let us close with that. Convicted of a cold heart! Convicted of a worldly life! Convicted of self seeking and pride! Convicted of having come short of God's glory! Then forgiveness. I need the baptism of fire and power.
God grant that the live coal, which has never lost its glow since the day of Pentecost, may come to every heart, to every mouth, to every life; and that this day a fire shall begin to burn in every mission, in every Sunday school, in every Church.