Confronted by Glory- What Isaiah 6 Teaches Us About the Process of Salvation

People are always curious what we Christians mean by salvation.  And by this I don’t mean the gospel– though surely they are curious about that as well– but genuinely what do we mean by salvation?  What does it look like?  How does it proceed?  How does it begin (ah, the Calvinism question)?  

When faced with this question, my gut reaction is always to turn them to Romans 8.30– “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”  This seems about as straightforward as possible, but in reality it leaves many more questions to be answered.  Specifically we are left with what all these terms like “predestined,” “called,” “justified,” and “glorified” mean themselves, and so, unless the person is well read already, this isn’t actually the most illuminating of verses.  

However, another place I am learning to turn to is in Isaiah 6, verses 1 through 7:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

Though Isaiah 6 leaves much shrouded in mystery (at least at the time of its writing) about who made the atonement, I do not believe we have a more vivid depiction of the process of salvation anywhere else in Scripture.  

So, how does it begin?  Well, we aren’t really told.  We are introduced to this vision rather bluntly: “Someone died and I saw Lord on his throne.”  Not much information there.  Is this a waking vision or hallucination? a sleeping vision (dream)?  was Isaiah physically there or spiritually?  Not much is really offered.  But, in the end, I don’t think it matters.  

What we should focus on instead is what he sees, namely the glory of God.  There is the Lord (pre-incarnate Christ?  Again, not really important for what we are looking at), and he is seated on his throne, “high and lifted up.”  He is wearing a robe and “the train of his robe filled the temple.”  And he is surrounded by six-winged angels, all singing his praises to one another.  There is smoke and there are earthquakes caused by a calling.  This is the glory of God.  The angels sing, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts.”  The Lord is holy, and the visible manifestation of his holiness is his glory; this is what Isaiah is confronted with in this great scene.

So then, how does Isaiah respond to this glory which now stands before him?  ”Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (v.5).  Isaiah is so overcome by what he sees that he pronounces condemnation on himself.  ”Woe is me.”  This vision of God’s glory makes Isaiah supremely aware of the fact that he himself is not glorious, that he is filthy, that he is “a man of unclean lips” from “a people of unclean lips,” and thus only deserving of death.  Yet this is his confession.  He is not worthy to be here.  He has great sin in his life which should force God, who he recognizes as Lord, to separate from him.

But what does happen?  It tells us that one of the seraphim carried a coal from the altar to Isaiah and pressed it to the prophets lips to remove his guilt and atone for his sin.  Check that.  Isaiah repents of his sin, confesses that the Lord (Christ) is Lord, and the atonement earned by a sacrifice which was already made is now applied to his sin, cleansing him from it, making him acceptable to God. This IS salvation!

Now, let’s take it from the top once more: Isaiah is confronted with the glory of God, with the utter holiness of the Lord of hosts.  This in turn leads him to repent of his own sins– which are surely to damn him in light of the revelation of God’s holiness– and to confess the Lordship of the Lord of hosts.  Instead of being damned however, Isaiah is reconciled with God through the application of the atonement already made for his sins.  At the most basic level, without any idea of penal substitution or imputed righteousness or what not, this is what salvation looks like.

Then practically we are left with the following questions, which we will pick up on tomorrow.  First, notice how Isaiah is confronted with the glory of God and from there seems to be compelled to repent and believe.  Is this always the case?  Or is it possible that someone could be confronted by the glory of God and not be led to repentance and belief in him?  Second, is it possible that someone may exercise true repentance and belief without first having been confronted with the glory of God?  I believe these are both crucial questions to answer and play a large role in how we carry out the practice of sharing the gospel with nonbelievers.

3 Responses to “Confronted by Glory- What Isaiah 6 Teaches Us About the Process of Salvation”

  1. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    Sequence:

    The Lord reveals himself. The foundations of sin are discovered (the meaning of undone), the response is woe. This confession is unrighteous, the devils make this confession. Sin which is atoned for is removed and the lips are purified. It is then that Isaiah can call upon the Lord he has seen in righteousness, holy and lifted up. It is then he becomes a witness.

    First, the Glory of God shines in our darkness, discovering for us what we are. But who has eyes to see? It is the Lord who has blinded, and it is the Lord who must open those eyes (Why was this man born blind…for the Glory of God). How does one see, John tells us: a man must be born again before he can see. The regeneration gives eyes to see the light, the darkness comprehends it not. Those living in darkness love it because that is all they know, they are blind, have no eyes to behold the light and those who come to it do so because God has done it in them.

    We do not know that good confession we must make until the Lord purifies the lips. God will not accept an unclean sacrifice of the lips- “These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”

    Elsewhere the prophet testifies, “Return to me,” says to Lord, “for I have redeemed you.” And Jesus makes clear than none have the eyes or ears to hear that call of repentance except those who God has given the understanding of what is said.

    “Isaiah repents of his sin, confesses that the Lord (Christ) is Lord, and the atonement earned by a sacrifice which was already made is now applied to his sin, cleansing him from it, making atonement for him with God.”

    So no, this is backwards. It is first, The Lord’s Glory shines and sin is revealed, the life is already or the eyes could not perceive, a righteous confession sent and only then can confession be made. God gifts repentance, because of the atonement which was made, he does not reward it, it merits nothing. We remember the words of the apostle that devils believe and tremble but they have no confession for it has not been given that they should. No coal comes forth for them. But Isaiah is the “servant” chosen for this gift. That he sees rightly the gulf between he and God and that he repents is one gift. Out of the heart the mouth speaks and if the heart has not been renewed by the application of the atonement, the lips remain impure.

    His mission is to make the right confession, tell the people that they are going to be destroyed and what will be left is the stump, a remnant who will return, i.e, repent. The call of Isaiah is repeatedly put forth in the Gosplels. Only to some are the mysteries revealed, only to some is given the gift of repentance, the rest are destroyed. This is Isaiah’s message, the one he was given: “blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” And as Jesus said in John five, for this judgement he was sent, so that in John three, he also says that God loved the world this way: “whoever does not believe is condemned already…”

    What kind of Gospel message is that? Why does it work that way? Romans nine tells us. When confronted with the Gospel, the heart of Pharoah was hardened, but God has mercy on whom he wills, and Isaiah was one upon whom his mercy shown and he saw it, like Abraham before him, like Moses, and was made glad.

    Look at the examples from Adam on up. Unless the Lord works in man first the repentance, he will not. He will not, nor can he see himself in need, he is content with his fig leaf even fully aware of his depravity. Unless God provides the covering, man is exposed. It is only afterwards that the righteous confession of Abel can be made. So Isaiah says, woe is me because he stands condemned, but it is only after the coal comes forth that he can say, “Here I am, send me.” The turning around, the repentance, the going another way, is after the application of the atonement.

    As I said above, no one returns to the Lord, repents, until he knows that his sin has been atoned for, for the prophet says: “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.” The returning in Isaiah 44:22 is after the eyes and ears have been made new. The servant returns because he was formed in the womb for this very thing. Or, in the words Jesus in John, “Unless one is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom.” And who would turn toward that which they do not know is there?

    As Spurgeon said: “Do not regard your repentance as the cause of your remission, but as the companion of it. Do not expect to be able to repent until you see the grace of our Lord Jesus, and His readiness to blot out your sin. Keep these blessed things in their places, and view them in their relation to each other. They are the Jachin and Boaz of a saving experience; I mean that they are comparable to Solomon’s two great pillars which stood in the forefront of the house of the Lord, and formed a majestic entrance to the holy place. No man comes to God aright except he passes between the pillars of repentance and remission. Upon your heart the rainbow of covenant grace has been displayed in all its beauty when the tear-drops of repentance have been shone upon by the light of full forgiveness. Repentance of sin and faith in divine pardon are the warp and woof of the fabric of real conversion. By these tokens shall you know an Israelite indeed.
    To come back to the Scripture upon which we are meditating: both forgiveness and repentance flow from the same source, and are given by the same Saviour. The Lord Jesus in His glory bestows both upon the same persons. You are neither to find the remission nor the repentance elsewhere. Jesus has both ready, and He is prepared to bestow them now, and to bestow them most freely on all who will accept them at His hands. Let it never be forgotten that Jesus gives all that is needful for our salvation. It is highly important that all seekers after mercy should remember this. Faith is as much the gift of God as is the Saviour upon whom that faith relies. Repentance of sin is as truly the work of grace as the making of an atonement by which sin is blotted out. Salvation, from first to last, is of grace alone. You will not misunderstand me. It is not the Holy Spirit who repents. He has never done anything for which He should repent. If He could repent, it would not meet the case; we must ourselves repent of our own sin, or we are not saved from its power. It is not the Lord Jesus Christ who repents. What should He repent of? We ourselves repent with the full consent of every faculty of our mind. The will, the affections, the emotions, all work together most heartily in the blessed act of repentance for sin; and yet at the back of all that is our personal act, there is a secret holy influence which melts the heart, gives contrition, and produces a complete change. The Spirit of God enlightens us to see what sin is, and thus makes it loathsome in our eyes. The Spirit of God also turns us toward holiness, makes us heartily to appreciate, love, and desire it, and thus gives us the impetus by which we are led onward from stage to stage of sanctification. The Spirit of God works in us to will and to do according to God’s good pleasure. To that good Spirit let us submit ourselves at once, that He may lead us to Jesus, who will freely give us the double benediction of repentance and remission, according to the riches of His grace.

    The remission of the atonement, and the gift of repentance are bestowed in the coal sent forth from the throne. But we would not know that except that we had first been born again, for this also is a benefit granted the heirs of the kingdome through his atoning sacrifice.

    • Todd Burus Says:

      Thomas,
      Thank you for your comments. To give a short reply, in expectation of what I have yet to say, we know that Isaiah can see God’s glory, which means his eyes have been opened, which we would take to mean he has been regenerated. Also, note that the sacrifice has already been made before Isaiah speaks, which seems to also be verified by the smoke. What happens after Isaiah’s confession is that the atonement is applied, i.e. justification. No, I don’t think it is his confession that provides the atonement or anything like that, but it is by his confession of repentance and faith that the atonement made by Christ (which he understands later in Isaiah 53.5) is applied to him. To claim that atonement is applied prior to this borders on hyper-Calvinism and seems only a short distance from eternal justification, both of which are views I would not ascribe to.

      Again, to be a little more detailed in what I see here, we have that Isaiah is brought into the throne room where he is confronted by the glory of God and this leads to his confession of faith and repentance (i.e. the effectual call), and from his confession the atonement previously made on the altar is applied to him (i.e. justification). Therefore, this is illustrative of the middle two events from Romans 8.30, the two which are most tangible for us as believers.

      From reading what you say, I don’t think we are really that far apart in what we believe, but that possibly I wasn’t clear enough in what I was saying initially. Hope this helps.

  2. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    I thought that might be where you were going. I agree fully that in the declarative sense the order is as you say, the benefit of the atonement is justification by faith, and of course, repentance Spurgeon so deftly analyzed, is woven together with it.

    Sorry for the long sermonette. I do have to watch that.

    Thanks you for your work.

    tt

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