The incident with which these words are connected was a real mosaic in sacred history. You have the record of a vision which was not a dream but a revelation -- a panorama of actualities. The background of this vision might well absorb our attention. The temple and the glory which filled it; the throne and Him who sat thereon; the seraphim, with their wings and ascriptions of Holiness. The atmosphere was, indeed, electric with the presence of God and the angelic host.
Isaiah, the solitary human figure in the scene, was overawed with the glorious majesty of the Divine character; shame at the revelation of his own impurity overwhelmed him. He rightly felt that he was a blot upon this temple scene, but the Divine touch of the living fire transformed him, and prepared him for that which was to follow.
Analyse this conversation, and you see three things standing in a most natural order: --
First. An Appeal sounds out: 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?'
Second. A Response is made to that Appeal: 'Here am I; send me'.
Third. A Commission was given: 'And He said, "Go"'.
Now this conversation was not only important and imperative as regards Isaiah and his circumstances, but in its application to ourselves and our surroundings. I think we shall get some blessing and inspiration for duty if we consider the three facts as they stand.
1. The nature of the appeal was a very simple one. The Lord wanted a suitable representative to stand for Him among a sinful, backslidden people.
Isaiah was already supposed to fill that position -- at any rate, on special occasions; but he was so much like the people themselves that in the ordinary way his religion had little weight with them. No doubt he felt the honour and privilege of being a prophet when a special message had to be sent, but he hardly realized the high purpose of his mission, and maybe his cry, 'Here am I; send me', was a pleading for another chance to better represent His Lord.
The same appeal, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?' is sounded in our ears to-day. There are certain aspects which I would like you to note. It was an appeal based upon a great need. Then, as now, the people were without God; indifferent to His claims, few of them with any experimental knowledge of His Salvation, and, consequently, having no hope in the world. And in these respects God wanted a man who would arouse the people, assert His claims, and lead them back to His service.
Believe me, the world's need to-day is a deep and terrible one. I need hardly enlarge upon it. You know it, because samples of it are at your door and around you. But do not forget that the deepest need of the people lies in their lack of knowledge of God and that Salvation which, after all, is the panacea for human woe.
We live in days when the practical aspects of religion are most emphasized. The social conditions and physical needs of the poor people are regarded as affording a sphere for Christ-like effort quite as much as is the preaching of the Gospel. Bread, not creed; relief as well as pity; material improvements in place of missions and Gospel addresses and such-like are demanded on every hand. God forbid, however, that the doing of these things should be regarded as quite sufficient.
There are humanitarian considerations, and we must not ignore them. Squalor, poverty, debauchery, harlotry, oppression, war, and ignorance are existing evils which must have attention. We must not be so taken up with the souls as to neglect the temporal, social, and physical needs of our fellows. But the deepest wail of want and woe which comes from the world is not to be met by bread, or sovereigns, or sanitation, or education, or more equal conditions of life. It is the absence of God and eternal hope which gives the deepest and most sorrowful tone to the world's bitter cry.
This was also an appeal for human help. I do not know why God has so tied Himself up as He has, but it is a fact. Although angels are available, and the direct operations of His Spirit would be almighty, His plan is to get His will made known by one man telling another. Men to save men; men to help men; that seems to be God's method, and He appeals now, as before, 'Who will go for Us?'
2. The second point I named was the response to the Divine appeal: 'Here am I; send me'. Cannot that be repeated in various directions among us? Thank God for the responses already made, and but for which dark and hopeless, indeed, would be human hearts and places which have been illuminated by the light of God's Salvation. But, Oh, for more ready and larger responses to the appeal which is ever sounding in our ears!
Isaiah's response was a voluntary one. Some people are like the horse whom his owner said had only two faults; one, that he 'took such a lot of catching', and the other that 'he would not work when he was caught'. Others have to be disciplined and broken by trouble before they fall in line with God's will. But why should not every one who names our Lord's name cry out with a ready spirit, 'Here am I, Lord; send me'?
This was also a response without conditions; or, as we put it, an unreserved surrender, an unconditional consecration. It is a matter to rejoice over when men and women express willingness to do any service, but it is infinitely better when, coming up to the Divine altar, they say, 'Here am I, Lord; have your own way; do as you will with me; anything for Jesus -- anywhere for Thee'. Have you got there yet? If not, let that be the advance which you make now, without further bargaining and reserves.
But this response came from a heart qualified to make it good. Ah! that is the secret of all successful service. Isaiah, cleansed, sanctified, and touched with Divine Fire, was a different person from the one who lay grovelling in the dust, and crying, 'Woe is me!' Up to that moment he was too much like those around him; but now, touched, baptized, and qualified, he was fit to be God's witness and agent.
That just touches the point where some of you are lacking. You need this cleansing, this 'unction of the Holy One', or you need it afresh in the face of the world's crying need. You hold back, you stumble and often fail; but why? The answer is, you need just what Isaiah got to qualify him for his mission. You must get this so as to be able to respond to God's appeal as he did.
3. Then I also spoke of the Divine commission which followed the response. Observe the process, 'Who will go?' 'Here am I.' 'And He said, Go'. That is still the line upon which our Lord acts in sending out His representatives.
We sometimes dwell upon the 'Come's' of the Bible, quoting the Divine invitations for the encouragement of hesitating souls. May we not with equal force quote the 'Go's' of the Book as indicating the will of God concerning our duty?
You remember the Lord's 'Go' to Moses, when, appearing to him in the burning bush, God set out His plan for Israel's deliverance: 'I will send thee to bring My people out'. In the same manner the Lord gave Joshua his marching orders to 'Go over Jordan, and possess the land'. Paul had a similar experience when the Lord bade him rise and receive his commission to go to the Gentiles.
Christ's Parable of the Great Feast strikes the same note when the liberal host sent out his servants, saying, 'Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled'. But the grand chord was sounded out by our Risen Lord when He said to His disciples, 'Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature'. That is the commission given to us.
During successive years I have, on behalf of The General, had the privilege of commissioning from our International Training Homes batches of 400 or 500 young men and women who have been trained to be Officers of The Salvation Army. That is a grand annual contribution towards the world's Salvation. But the word comes not only to the leaders of God's hosts, but to every Soldier and follower of Jesus Christ who is consecrated to His service.
The Lord's 'Go' means different things to different people. To some, the Divine finger points one way; perhaps to a distant field, where millions lie in the darkness of heathendom, or to Army Officership somewhere. To others it points to spheres of testimony and work near at hand. The kinds of places and labour are varied, but the purpose is the same, and all who go out in obedience in God's name will find His almighty power behind them and blessings in their train.
I cannot direct you in detail, but in general terms I can say, Go where you know God wants you. Where the streams of sin are sweeping the people down to damnation and dark despair -- go there. Where the poor people are being ruined by that cup which not only curses now, but at the last 'biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder' -- go there. Where struggling souls are crying for sympathy and help -- go there. Where the youth of our land are being polluted by depraved men and women among whom they earn their daily bread -- go there. Where God seems unknown, or His claims unheeded for lack of living witnesses -- go there. Go where you may lift up your voice for your Master; go where a helping hand or kindly words can minister comfort to depressed and hopeless hearts.
Hark! for the Master calls,
These thoughts have revived in my memory Scott's poem in which he records an ancient custom found amongst the traditions of Scottish history. A chieftain desired to summon his clansmen to war in great urgency. The shrill blast of the bugle called together his immediate followers, but those at a distance must be summoned by other means. Before sending out a swift and trusty messenger, the priest was called and certain rites which had been observed from time immemorial performed.
A cross was constructed from the branches of the yew tree, and then held aloft by the priest, whilst he pronounced awful curses on the men who, at the sight of the signal, failed to obey the summons of their chief. The cross was then held in the fire until it blazed, was again uplifted and fresh curses added; then it was plunged in the blood of a newly-slain sacrifice, and, smoking and reeking with gore, the charred and bloody cross was given into the hands of a swift messenger, who leaping away as an arrow sped from a bow, flies along the mountain-path, and, holding the crimson sign before the eyes of the clansmen, names the place of assembly, and passes the signal on throughout the borders.
I have no yew-tree cross, no bleeding sacrifice visible to outward eyes, but before the eyes of your souls, I lift up the cross of Calvary, charred by the fires of sin, and reeking with the Blood of the Divine Victim, and in God's name I charge you to go forth to rescue the needy souls of men.
See the brazen hosts of Hell