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.–Isaiah 6:5
Scofield and other Bible students have called the sixth chapter of Isaiah, the prophet’s “transforming vision.” The account of his experience seeing God’s glory reminds us of Simon Peter’s transforming experience in Luke 5. When Peter realized Who Jesus really was, he could see how sinful he was, and said to the Lord, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” In response, the Lord said to him, “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.”
When Peter saw the Lord as He is, and himself as he was, he was transformed and made more useful to God than he had ever been. The same thing happened to Isaiah for the same reason. When he saw the Lord as He is, high (“high and lifted up,” verse one) and holy (“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts,” verses two through four); he was profoundly surprised by the discovery in the light of his vision that he was “unclean.” And it was only the first surprise he got that day.
In total, there were three surprises that purged the prophet that day. This happened after he had already been preaching in Judah for five chapters (Scofield estimates two years). Many preachers have been surprised by the Lord in a similar way, and after the troubling experience, have known much greater blessing from God. The surprising facts that transformed the prophet were these:
1. That He Had the Problem
In the fifth verse he pronounces a “woe” that stands as the seventh woe he had pronounced as a prophet. In chapter five we find him proclaiming “Woe unto them” six times. He said “woe” to the greedy, “woe” to partiers, “woe” to the mockers, “woe” to the perverted, “woe” to the self-conceited, and “woe” to the lawless.
But now the “woe” was “Woe is me!” It was not only the wicked of Judah to whom he had been preaching that were in trouble. He himself was in trouble with God. And this became crystal clear to him when he saw the Lord on His throne.
He recognized that he had “unclean lips.” The meaning is that his sins (whatever they were—not necessarily sins of the lips or the tongue) made it impossible for him to respond to the chant of the seraphim who cried to one another, “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts” as the saints do in Revelation chapter four,
God works in a preacher’s own life just as He works through his ministry in the lives of others. This is evident in many of the books of the prophets. These books are generally made up of sermons, but there is biographical material, too. And the accounts of their lives include records of how the Lord purged and grew them. How many times does Jeremiah tell us God was growing him and purging him while he was preaching! Such accounts are recorded in chapters 11, 15, 19, 20, 26, 28, 32, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 45, and other places in the book of Jermiah. Especially note what God said to the prophet while he was being persecuted in chapter 15.
If thou return, then will I bring thee again, and thou shalt stand before me: and if thou take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as my mouth: let them return unto thee; but return not thou unto them. And I will make thee unto this people a fenced brazen wall: and they shall fight against thee, but they shall not prevail against thee: for I am with thee to save and to deliver thee, saith the LORD.—Jeremiah 15:19–20
The trials of Jeremiah would bring him to a new day of usefulness to the Lord if he would “take forth the precious from the vile.” It is hard for us to imagine anything vile in the life of this devoted, tender-hearted, and bold servant of God to whom the Lord Jesus Himself was compared (Matthew 16:14), but God was calling him to take the precious from the vile in his life.
God often brings a preacher to the point where he must deal with the inconsistencies of his Christian life. Think of the precious things God is doing in your life and through your ministry. Then pay attention to the thing that God is calling “vile.” The prophet was told that if he would remove the vile from the precious, the Lord would speak through him and stand with him. What a promise! And what a surprise for Isaiah that the preacher actually had the problem of sin in his life that was blocking the blessing!
Malachi chapter three speaks of a time when Israel will be revived—a revival predicted in both the Old and New Testaments. “He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness” (Malachi 3:3).
The first thing God will do as the Kingdom age begins is purify and purge the priests. The leaders must be purged and cleansed first. So it is now. When the pastor gets an appreciation of the glory and holiness of God through preaching he hears or the study of the Bible, he is sometimes struck and surprised at how unclean he really is. It is a jolting experience, but it will do much good if he will let God have his way.
Evangelists also experience the surprise of finding out that the problem is not mainly with the people who hear them preach, but rather in their own hearts and lives. The evangelist is the one in need of revival first.
2. That He Could Be Purged
After the prophet experienced the blow of being surprised by his own uncleanness, he was surprised again that he could be purged of that sin and made clean. A seraphim flew to Isaiah, having taken a live coal off the brazen altar. “And he laid it upon my mouth [remember the issue of his unclean lips], and said, Lo this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged” (Isaiah 6:6–7).
Of course, the sacrifices burning on the altar represented the offering of Christ on the cross as the sacrifice for our sins. That atoning sacrifice not only provides salvation for the lost soul, but also cleansing for the believer whose sins have put him out of fellowship with God (read 1 John 1:3–9). So the unclean prophet was purged, and the sins that had made him unclean before God were taken away.
Often Christian people have trouble believing that they are really clean. Even after they have confessed their sins, they only allow themselves to feel “cleaner.” But when the Lord Jesus washed His disciples feet, He pronounced them “clean every whit” (John 13:10), and taught them that the saved man who confesses all the sins that have stood between him and God’s blessing can claim a complete purging. See what He said in John 15:2–3.
“…every branch that beareth fruit, he [the Father] purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.”
Sometimes it comes as a surprise that a man can be clean before God. But when the servant sees how sinful he is, he must deal with his sins, confess them, and then claim forgiveness based on the promises and mercy of God.
You can be purged! Don’t listen to the Devil who wants to make you think that you can never be used of God again. The words that follow the promise of purging in John 15 call upon the cleansed branch to abide in Christ and bear “much fruit” (read verses 1–8). No matter what has happened the child of God can be cleansed and made useful again.
3. That He Could Be Used
Now that he was purged of his sin, Isaiah was given another surprise. In spite of his failure, after he had been cleansed, he could be greatly used of God!
Verse eight records a conversation he was allowed to overhear between the Persons of the Trinity. “Whom shall we send,” he heard them say, “and who will go for us?” Then Isaiah spoke up and said, “Here am I; send me.”
God was looking for volunteers, and He is still looking for volunteers. The disciples Jesus trained in His earthly ministry were folks who answered the call, “Follow me.” Anyone who volunteers to do God’s work on earth will be used. Of course, this is different from deciding to pursue ministry as a career. Those who labor together with God have taken the yoke of Christ upon them and surrendered to fulfill His plan (Matthew 11:29 and 16:24). Jesus said that His true friends are the ones who do “whatsoever I command you” (John 15:13–14). And God will use you if you yield your body for His use (remember Romans 12:1–8).
Your past sins may limit the positions from which you may minister. Sometimes a certain kind of failure will necessarily prevent a man from being a pastor. However anyone who has been purged can be used of God.
Please keep in mind that usefulness in the service of the Lord is not about position anyway. It is about being the branch that bears His fruit. If you covet being a pastor or a deacon so much that you will not accept God’s will for your life, God will not be able to use you.
The Lord has left every believer in the world to be a witness for Christ and to minister to His people, and He will use you in some way according to a wonderful plan if you will surrender to Him and trust Him for the power to bring forth His fruit. Jesus said, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).
What a surprise that a man who found himself too dirty to offer acceptable praise to a holy God was now made fit to be used of Him! And what a phenomenal ministry the Lord gave to the prophet after he learned these three surprises.
The Lord has great things He will do with you, too, if you will “see” Him in the Scriptures, high and holy as the King, confess your uncleanness, and let Him purge you. Then you will be ready to hear His voice and volunteer to fulfill His purpose for your life.