Chapter 1 - A Coal from the Altar

A GOSPEL ADDRESS.
(ISA, Chap. vi.)

The lesson of this chapter, as we in our day may read it, is very full in its evangelic teaching. Its two broad features are these, that, let man but take his true place before God, he shall surely find God’s mercy for him; and then, also, that this mercy is, and must be, also righteousness. As the apostle puts it concerning the gospel: "It is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." And then, why? "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed." In God’s good news to fallen man is His righteousness revealed. The prophet, though he be that - God’s man toward the people, - in the presence of God must fall as low as any other. A Manasseh or a thief on the cross could do no more than utter that cry, "Woe is me, for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips." And that is all the man of God can say. Like the Psalmist, "Enter not into judgment with Thy servant, O Lord! for in thy sight shall no man living be justified." It is the first essential thing for blessing to be brought just to this point, to the utter giving up of all pretension to anything before God, - to the acceptance of His sentence of utter condemnation upon all the world, - all the world guilty before God.

When we have reached that point we do not look round with self-complacency upon our neighbours, to reflect upon how much guiltier they are than we. That word "LOST," if we know what it means, swallows up all other distinctions. It refuses to know any distinction. "Undone!" "Lost!" The sinner of the city and Isaiah the prophet absolutely upon the same level as to that! Have you come down to that dead level reader? Death is you know, the abolisher of all distinctions. Men are dead, - all dead, - dead in trespasses and sins alike. Oh the hopelessness of that condition! Can you educate or improve death? Can human power do aught with death? No; God alone can quicken. You must have "life." You must be born again. No works can come of you but "dead works," nothing that has not the odour of corruption in it, until you are born again, born of God, born of His word, which liveth and abideth forever "and THIS is the word, which by the gospel is preached unto you." (I Pet. i. 25.) Where and as you are then, - utterly powerless and helpless, - doing nothing, being nothing, promising nothing, you must receive the sweet and gladdening message of God’s good news. You can be and do nothing, till you have received it; for you are born again by it, and only so. You do not even begin to live to God until it does its work upon you.

And now, mark. No sooner is there the acknowledgment, "Woe is me, for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips," than the mercy of God supplies the remedy. "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 purged." How blessed, how worthy of God! No long laborious process of cure is here! No conditions are imposed, no work of self-help is enjoined. The provision of grace is simple, immediate, and immediately effectual, then and there. On the sinner’s part is solely the confession of ruin which sin has wrought. The declaration of iniquity taken away and of sin purged meets it at once on God’s part. It is preached to the "undone" one. God’s word gives him the assurance of what is done for him. He is not left to examine himself and to search out by his own feelings what is the mind of God toward him. He has to believe only, and be at peace.

And so it ever is. Everywhere the gospel proclaims for all, because all are sinners, the good news of a salvation provided just for sinners. The call is to "repent, and believe the gospel," - that is, to take the place of sinners, and just drink in the mercy provided for sinners. To "repent" is to give up the pretence and effort at self-justification. To "believe the gospel" is just to believe in the justification which God has provided. "Being justified freely by His grace." "Freely,"- what does that mean? "Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely." What is taking it freely? Surely, just believing that it is mine, unconditionally mine, because I want it. That I am to assure myself that it is mine if I "will," without any further question. This is the only "appropriation" scripture knows of. The prophet confesses himself "undone" He is a needy anxious convicted one. He is thereupon assured that his iniquity is taken away, his sin is purged. That is what he is called on to appropriate. Not something that is not his own, but something that is freely his, upon the ground of his being a poor, lost one, needing it.

Many, if I could ask, 'do you need a salvation such as this', would have no difficulty at all in giving answer that they did. And further, if I asked them, would they have just such a salvation, if they could, would think it folly to ask such a question. With them the question is of God’s will, not of theirs. In Scripture the question is of man’s will, not of God’s. "How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, AND YE would not." "Lord if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean." "I will, be thou clean." "Who would have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth" Thus, if we will, there is no difficulty. For lost ones God has provided salvation, through the work of Jesus. If we are, and would have that salvation, it's ours. It is not for us to question, but to believe our blessedness.

But what a strange mode of purging unclean lips! "A live coal" from the altar. A coal red-hot with the fire which has just been consuming the victim. Yes, "our God is a consuming fire." What a picture of that indignation and wrath against sin, which is a necessity in the nature of a holy God! And though he pity, yea, love the sinner, that cannot change His holiness. Set me in presence, then, of this righteous and holy God, how can He show me favour? How can the righteousness of God clear or justify me? It seems as impossible as that a "live coal" should purge instead of blasting human lips. But look again. It is a coal from off the altar: a live coal still, for God’s wrath against sin never can die out, God’s righteousness never can be aught but what it ever has been. But this live coal from the altar of sacrifice is nevertheless changed in its character so far: it does not blast, but purges. And, looking not at the type but at the antitype, the righteousness of God in the cross of Jesus Christ does not condemn but justifies the sinner. That cross surely is the altar of sacrifice where the live coal has done its work. It is where the righteousness of God has been declared as nowhere else; but where it is declared, perfect as ever, living and active in its antagonism to sin; and yet not against the sinner, but on his side.

So that if I, confessing the sins which prove me one of those for whom He died, take my place thus before Himself, I find Him faithful and just to forgive me my sins, and to cleanse me from all unrighteousness. God has title to tell out His love, - title to show it me, - has earned this title at such cost to Himself that I cannot but believe He must love much, and love much to tell it out, and make souls happy in it. The gospel sent out everywhere is His witness that it is so. I cannot honour Him more than by giving credit to it. Will you, beloved reader, if yet you have not? Will you let in this tale of joy which is seeking admittance to your heart at this moment? Is it too good to be believed? Too good for a tale from God Himself? Does it give Him more glory than He deserves? Only take your place with the prophet in this chapter. God’s testimony to the work of Christ is this: That it avails for you; for you, poor undone one, so glad to have this salvation if you only might, for you it avails. "Your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged." Believe it and rejoice.