Prophetic Testimony. (Isa. vi. and lii. 13-liii.)
THE testimony of the prophetic books, distinctively so
called, is full and constant to the person and glory of Christ: the
announcement of His sufferings and atoning work on the other hand infrequent,
and of the latter scarcely to be found, except in one passage of one book, -
the fifty-third of Isaiah. Here, indeed, it is full and explicit; but we must
not expect the wondrous reality to break often through its vail of type and
figure while that dispensation of shadows lasted. The sacrificial system, at
which we have been looking, was of course all through in existence; and Isaiah
it is who is prepared for his mission, as peculiarly, and even by his very
name,* the prophet of salvation, by what is in effect a sacrificial anointing.
This is indeed remarkable in its character, and as the prophetic seal upon the
*Jeshaia the "salvation of Jehovah."
"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 seraphim: 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 spake, and the house was filled with smoke." The holiness of God was necessary wrath in a fallen world; and in such a presence, what is man, whoever he be? "Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts. " But if this be the necessary confession, how blessed the grace which is, in equal necessity, the divine response! "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; and he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin is cleansed. "
This touching of the "lips with sacred fire," how often has it been the subject of an allusion which has missed the whole point of what is here. It is quite true that it is a prophet whose lips are touched, and that his call (whether to the prophetic office itself or to some special mission) follows directly after; but the touch is nevertheless not that of inspiration, and the fire does not energize here, but "cleanse." And striking it is to find such an instrument employed in such a way. The live coal would seem more the symbol of divine wrath against, than of mercy for a sinner; nay, it does undoubtedly speak of that very character in God which the seraphim had celebrated, and which made His presence so insupportable to a guilty conscience. How could such a God give sentence in favour of one confessedly a sinner? It is easy enough out of His presence to imagine this, - easy enough to say that mercy becomes Him as well as righteousness; certainly, if He be (as He must be) merciful, no one was ever afraid of His loving mercy. But He must be righteous in His mercy: righteousness must guarantee and condition all its acts; nay, justification (if this be possible,) must be the act of righteousness, and of righteousness alone. And this it is that produces terror at the thought of His presence.
How blessed is it, then, to see in this live coal, the very figure of that implacable righteousness in God which must be, here actually that which, applied to a mans sin-stained lips, cleanses and not consumes them! "Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin is purged." But why, and how? The answer is most easy and most precious. It is a coal from off the altar which the seraph applies. It is a coal which has been consuming the sacrifice for sin: the type of a holiness which, while it remains of necessity ever the same, has found its complete satisfaction in that which has put away sin for every sinner convicted and confessed. Righteousness, because it is that, can only for such proclaim that "thine iniquity is taken away, thy sin is purged."
This indeed opens the prophets lips to speak for God: "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. " It is no wonder that he who in this (as the apostle tells us) "saw [Christs] glory, and spake of Him" should be the instrument to declare His blessed work with a clearness which is no where else to be found outside of the New Testament. This we must look at now, although for our purpose it will be only a few statements that we shall consider.
The prophecy begins with ver. 13 of chapter fifty-two, and goes down to the end of the fifty-third chapter. All the typical vail is dropped, and we see One manifestly in a sacrificial place for men, - a sin-bearer. The details of the death by which He would be cut off from among men are minutely given, as well as the perfection of character and life which fitted Him for an offering. He is, moreover, Jehovahs servant in all this, fulfilling His gracious purposes of blessing, and exalted by Him to glory unequalled as His sorrow.
Let us take this first, which to Him was first. It is as Jehovahs servant that the prophecy begins with Him. The wisdom with which He acts, the glory resulting, hinge upon this. God is glorified in Him; and being glorified in Him, glorifies Him in Himself. In the depths of that terrible agony to which He stooped, in the heights of supreme glory to which He is lifted, He is still and ever the steadfast servant of Jehovahs will. It pleased Jehovah to bruise Him: Jehovah hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all; Jehovahs purpose prospers in His hand; He is "Jehovahs arm" of power for the deliverance and blessing of His people. How indeed like a track of light through the darkness of this apostate world is such a course! This is the bullock of the burnt-sacrifice, offered indeed for us, but "without spot, to God."
In the world despised and rejected, that was the necessary effect of what was His true glory. In His humiliation, carnal eyes discerned but weakness; to God, He was the "tender plant" of perfect dependent manhood; but therefore not formed by circumstances - not growing out of them, as far as they were concerned with His resources in Himself, a root out of a dry ground, life conquering death, but in strangership necessarily unknown and misconceived by those who, not being Wisdoms children, justified her not.
Yet not apart from men, to whose wants and sorrows, in no mere patronage, but as one bearing them in His own soul, He ministered; a death of shame and agony, to Him the necessary price of relieving even the least of the consequences of sin, - that death which those unconscious of their need took but as the decisive token of His own rejection.
In fact it was but the antitype of those vicarious sacrifices which for centuries had been prophesying day by day in Israel, "He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities." Chastisement was it truly, still for our purification, corrective discipline for us whose peace it made, - "the chastisement of our peace;" for "with His stripes we are healed." "The iniquity of us all Jehovah has made to meet on Him."
Under the pressure - what? Only the full proof of absolute perfection: no violence (the sin of power), no deceit (the sin of weakness); taken away by oppression with the form of judgment, stricken for the sin of others, not even a word but in meek surrender to the full weight of woe, which transformed with agony His whole frame and features. Nor was this therefore merely bodily agony: His soul was made an offering for trespass, travailled with mens salvation, and was poured out unto death; He numbered with the transgressors, bearing the sin of many, making intercession for the transgressors.
Already we are following the track of the white-robed priest into the sanctuary. In truth, that entrance could not long be delayed. Even in death, the appointed grave with the wicked is changed into the rich mans tomb. Life follows - length of eternal days, and the portion of a conqueror. But it is Jehovahs purpose prospers in His hand: a seed is given Him among sprinkled nations, fruit of the travail of His soul, by His knowledge turned to righteousness.
Such, in brief, is Isaiahs vision of Christ; but the Conqueror-Sufferer here depicted is without difficulty recognized as the One of whom the prophet has before spoken in terms which are full of the deepest significance. He is the "Child born," the "Son given," whose "name is called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Father of Eternity, the Prince of Peace" (ch. ix. 6). Weakness and omnipotence are here united; and in Him we find the Founder of that eternal state in which the purposes of divine wisdom being fully accomplished, divine love can rest without possibility of any after-conflict. The work which we have here been contemplating is that in which the foundation of this is laid. Jehovahs wondrous Servant is Himself Jehovah; and in Him God meets man in the embrace of reconciliation and of love eternal.
This is surely the gospel of the Old Testament, but we must remember here the caution of the apostle of the circumcision as to the real intelligence of even those who wrote of such infinite glories: "Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you; searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed that not unto themselves but unto us they did minister the things which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. Which things the angels desire to look into." (I Pet. i. 10-12.)
Go To Chapter Sixteen
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