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to reflect with complacency on their own endowments, or to panegyrize one another. Such employments they leave to us poor sinful mortals, who, amidst the obscurity of our fallen state, unaccustomed to contemplate any thing more splendid than the accomplishments of our fellow-sinners, are apt to shine in our own eyes, or in those of each other, like glow-worms during the darkness of the night. But these bright seraphs, satisfied with the love of God, desire no other commendation and are wholly taken up in adoring the glorious holiness of JEHOVAH.
The threefold ascription of holiness to the Lord of hosts, has generally been considered as an intimation of a Trinity of persons in the Godhead, and a reference to the glory of the Father, the Son, and the holy Ghost, displayed in the salvation of sinners. While this song of praise was re-echoed by the seraphim, the pillars shook at every response; and smoke, or darkness, filled the whole temple, as when it was first dedicated by Solomon. The effect which this awful scene had upon the mind of the prophet is described in the words of the text, and the interesting passage may suggest the following subjects for our consideration:
I. The causes of the prophet's distress and alarm:
II. The peculiar nature and tendency of it: III. The relief and encouragement which he received: and,
IV. The effects produced on his disposition and conduct.
1 Matt. xxviii. 18-20. Rev. iv. 8.
I. The causes of the prophet's distress and alarm.
It appears, at the first glance, that Isaiah was greatly disconcerted and humbled by the scene which he had been contemplating. Indeed suitable views of the divine majesty and glory always produce proportionable humility; and by this touch-stone spiritual illumination may be distinguished from that "knowledge which puffeth up." When Job, to whose eminent piety the Lord himself had born decided testimony, had been so carried away in the warmth of controversy, as to use irreverent language concerning the dispensations of providence, he was convinced of his presumption, and awed into submission, by discoveries of the divine majesty; and exclaimed, "Behold I am vile, what shall I answer thee? I "will lay my hand upon my mouth. Once have "I spoken, but I will not answer; yea, twice, but "I will proceed no further." And again, "I have "heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now "mine eye seeth thee; wherefore, I abhor myself, "and repent in dust and ashes." He seemed to himself to be of some consequence, while disputing with his friends, and vindicating himself from their unjust charge of hypocrisy: but, when JEHOVAH spake to him from the whirlwind, he shrunk as it were into nothing, and his self-importance was changed into self-abhorrence. In like manner, when Peter saw a little of the Saviour's power and authority, in the draught of fishes which had been brought to his net, he fell down at his feet, and said, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O "Lord."
But, while discoveries of the majesty of God will awe the soul into self-abasement, the knowledge of his moral excellencies is the immediate cause of those humiliating convictions, by which sinners are rendered truly penitent, and induced to welcome the salvation of the gospel. And the prophet seems to have been especially affected by that view of the glory and beauty of JEHOVAH, which was the principal subject of adoring praises to the seraphim before the throne. While men think little of our holy God, mistake his character, or continue in great measure unacquainted with his commandments and judgments; they compare themselves with their associates in disobedience, and estimate their conduct by some defective standard. Thus enveloped in darkness, they judge favourably of themselves, imagine they possess various excellencies, and even pretend to merit in the sight of God! Nor is this the case only of the moral and virtuous, for self-love will furnish the most criminal with some palliation of their vices; they will call them by a soft name, imagine others more faulty than themselves, and endeavour to compensate for undeniable and inexcusable transgression, by some pretended good actions or qualities!
But, when the Lord directs the sinner's attention to the scriptures, and makes known to him in some degree his own glorious holiness; deep conviction of sin is the infallible consequence, every plea is silenced, and the trembling criminal is even ready to conclude himself lost beyond hope of recovery.
This fully accounts for that change, which often
takes place, in the opinion that moral and amiable persons entertain of themselves, when they seriously study the holy scriptures. Their decent lives, on which they formerly reflected with abundant self-complacency, are now mentioned in very degrading language; and even their present strict and exemplary conduct is accompanied with very humble confessions of guilt and defilement. This excites the astonishment of those who judge by other rules; and they are apt to suspect, either that such persons have secretly practised very gross enormities, or that they use this language from a mere affectation of humility. But in reality the same characters and actions must appear good or bad, according to the rule or standard with which they are compared: no wonder, therefore, that they who have lately become acquainted with a holy God and his perfect law, and who have learned to judge by another standard, are compelled to bring in a verdict against themselves, though before they "trusted that they were righteous and "despised others." Thus St. Paul "was alive "without the law once; but, when the command"ment came, sin revived, and he died." He had entertained very favourable thoughts of his own moral and religious character; but, when his understanding was opened to " behold the glory of "God in the face of Jesus Christ," he condemned himself as the chief of sinners: nay, after all his labours and proficiency in Christianity, he was in his own esteem "less than the least of all saints!"
But these things were also illustrated to the prophet by the worship and services, which the seraphim presented before the Lord of hosts. The
holy angels" excel in strength," and are glorious beyond the conception of mortal men: so that the most eminent saints have been dismayed even at their benign appearance, or tempted to render them divine honours. Yet these exalted spirits appeared in vision, as engaged in adoration of the great JEHOVAH, uniting deep humility with the most exalted praises; and manifesting the fullest conviction, that their spotless services were inexpressibly beneath the excellency and greatness of that God whom they worshipped. This view seems to have greatly conduced to throw the prophet's mind into that perturbation which he discovered on the occasion.
Men in general keep each other in countenance, while they rest satisfied with a form of godliness. They go to a place of worship, and to the Lord's table; read or repeat a prayer and a thanksgiving; and please themselves with the idea that they have done their duty: nay, they have scarcely an idea of a more spiritual worship! But, when their attention is directed to the devout aspirations of David, Daniel, and other holy men of God; especially when they contemplate the adorations of the heavenly hosts, as described in the sacred scriptures; they become sensible, by the comparison, that they have been heedlessly or presumptuously presenting to the glorious JEHOVAH a formal, defiled, and hypocritical service, "drawing near to "him with their lips, while their hearts were far "from him." But this very properly leads us,
II. To consider the peculiar nature and tendency of that inward perturbation, which caused