Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries
COMMISSION GIVEN TO MINISTERS
Ezekiel 2:4. You shall say unto them, Thus says the Lord God.
ASTONISHING is the patience which God has exercised in all ages towards his rebellious creatures. After their wickedness had attained such an height that he was constrained to pour out his indignation upon them at the Deluge, he still deferred his judgments an hundred and twenty years, that, if possible, he might reclaim the world by the ministrations of Noah. At a later period, when he had chosen to himself a peculiar people, and with mighty signs and wonders had brought them forth out of Egypt, and they requited all his kindness with nothing but murmurings and disobedience; though their provocations were beyond all conception great, he bore with them for the space of forty years, and would not utterly take away his loving-kindness from them. Again, when he had sent his people into captivity for the multitude of their iniquities, and especially for despising all his reproofs, and persecuting all his prophets 2 Chronicles 36:16, he still would not altogether abandon them, but sent his servant Ezekiel to preach to them in the land where they were carried captive. In the words of our text we are informed what Ezekiel was commissioned to say unto them: it was emphatically this; "Thus says the Lord God." We do not suppose that this was the whole of Ezekiel's message; but it was a peculiarly important and emphatic part of it: it was that which above all other things characterized the end and object of his mission. It is particularly to be noticed, that no specific message is annexed to these words; and that they occur twice also in the following chapter precisely in the same way Ezekiel 3:11; Ezekiel 3:27. Can we suppose that so peculiar a commission should contain in it no more than what appears upon the surface? Surely it must be acknowledged to be either very defective, or very comprehensive. To say that it was defective, would be to arraign the wisdom of God himself: we shall do well therefore to search into its real and extensive import. Three things then were evidently implied in it (which indeed are implied also in the commission given to ministers at this day); namely,
I. To declare God's will—
God has declared it unto us: And we are to declare it unto others with fidelity and affection: When objections are made to the word delivered, we must produce our warrant from the Holy Scriptures, and remind them whose word it is; "Thus says the Lord God." With this we ourselves are to be satisfied; and we must require others to regulate their views by the infallible dictates of inspiration.
II. To assert His authority—
We find men in a state of rebellion against God: We, as his ambassadors, are to offer them terms of reconciliation: If our terms be thought too humiliating, we must declare that God will never offer them any other; and that unless they accept these, they must inevitably perish: While we encourage them by representations of God's mercy and love, we must also intimidate them with exhibitions of his justice, his power, and his truth.
III. To seek, notwithstanding all our discouragements, the salvation of their souls—
We must expect, that, if we discharge our duty aright, we shall meet with many and great discouragements: "briers and thorns will be with us; yes, we shall dwell among scorpions." But "nothing is to move us," "nor should we account even our lives dear unto us, so that we may but fulfill our ministry," and be "pure from the blood of all men": The saving of souls is the work committed to us; and we must prosecute that work, "whether men will bear, or whether they will forbear".
Learn from hence,
1. The importance of the ministry—
God has ceased to impart his mind to men in a way of immediate revelation. His written word is that by which he now instructs the world: and he has set apart an order of men, whose duty it is to make known his revealed will. They are "not to teach for doctrines the commandments of men," but simply to declare what God himself has spoken. In the execution of their office they are God's ambassadors, yes, if we may so speak, his representatives: they speak to men "in Christ's stead;" and the word they deliver, is "not theirs, but God's." While then, on the one hand, we magnify our office, we ought, on the other hand, to say, "Who is sufficient for these things?"
2. The duty of those who are ministered unto—
When a minister is proclaiming, "Thus says the Lord God," the people should "tremble at the word;" and, while he "declares the whole counsel of God," it becomes them to "receive it with meekness" and simplicity. They should not be offended at his fidelity, but be thankful for it. They would nut commend a watchman, who should leave a family to be burnt in their beds, rather than alarm them with the cry of fire; or a sentinel, who should suffer a camp to be surprised by their enemy, because he would not alarm them by giving notice of their approach: much less then should they approve of those who "prophesy smooth things," and "speak peace unto them, when there is no peace." "Those who have God's word, must speak God's word faithfully;" and those who hear it, should obey it cheerfully, and without reserve.
APPROACHING END OF GOD'S FORBEARANCE
Ezekiel 7:5-9. Thus says the Lord God: An evil, an only evil, behold, income. An end income; the end is come: it watches for you; behold, it is come. The morning is come unto you, O you that dwell in the land: the time is come; the day of trouble is near, and not the sounding again of the mountains. Now will I shortly pour out my fury upon you, and accomplish mine anger upon you; and I will judge you according to your ways, and will recompense you for all you abominations. And my eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity: I will recompense you according to your ways, and your abominations that are in the midst of you; and you shall know that I am the Lord that smites.
EZEKIEL is perhaps the most terrific writer of all the prophets: there is a force and energy in his denunciations which can find no parallel: his repetitions are so frequent, as to present before the view of the reader the very judgments which he predicts. In the chapter before us we are made to see, as it were, the Chaldean army in the very act of desolating the city and temple of Jerusalem, and of carrying into captivity all who should survive the mortality occasioned by pestilence, by famine, by the sword See the foregoing chapter. In fact, the siege commenced within three years of these predictions, and terminated in their most exact accomplishment. It is not our intention to enter into the consideration of this prophecy as it relates to the Jews: we shall rather take occasion from it to observe in general,
I. That the final execution of God's judgments is fast approaching—
The period for the execution of them is certainly fixed in the Divine counsels—
"Known unto God are all his works from the foundation of the world." Nothing is left to chance: everything takes place "according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God." We are ready to consider things as depending altogether on those by whose agency, or whose authority, they are done. But men are only instruments in God's hands: they are his sword, and the staff of his indignation; and they only carry into effect what "his hand and his counsel have determined before to be done." The elements in like manner all "fulfill his will." It was at the precise time that he had ordained, that the waters deluged the earth, and that fire and brimstone consumed the cities of the plain. As in the self-same night that had been foretold four hundred and thirty years before, God brought his people out of Egypt; so at the precise period fixed by him were they carried captive to Babylon, and dispersed all over the world at the destruction of their ecclesiastical and civil polity by the Romans. The time also for the day of judgment is fixed, though it is still hid in the bosom of the Father: and "the times," whether of communities or individuals, are altogether "in his hands."
When that period is arrived, they will be executed to the uttermost—
At present there is mercy mixed with judgment; but in the last day there will be "judgment without mercy." Wrath now comes on offenders with measured severity; but then without any other measure than their own deserts. Then the cup of God's indignation will be poured out for them without mixture, and they shall drink it to the very dregs Revelation 14:10-11. Terrible is that name whereby the day of judgment is designated, "The day of the perdition of ungodly men 2 Peter 3:7." This present time may, even in reference to the ungodly, be called "The day of salvation;" because salvation is freely offered to every one of them: but that is "the day of wrath," against which an accumulated and daily augmenting treasure of wrath is laid up for them, and shall "come upon them to the uttermost."
This view of the day of judgment sufficiently shows,
II. That that time should be much and deeply contemplated—
Let us then contemplate,
1. Its gradual approach—
Every day and every hour is bringing it nearer to us. The delay to us indeed may appear long: but it is nothing when compared with eternity: "A thousand years are in God's sight as one day, and one day as a thousand years." Profane persons and infidels will ask, as it were, in derision, "Where is the promise of his coming 2 Peter 3:4." But "their judgment lingers not, and their damnation slumbers not 2 Peter 2:3. Let those who are advanced in life consider this. Their days must of necessity be few; and consequently every hour should appear to them as it does to criminals under sentence of death; even the striking of the clock should remind them, that the hour for their departure is rapidly advancing, and must soon arrive. And young persons too should remember, that they also are liable to be cut off in the midst of their days; and that, even if they live to the age of man, their time will soon have passed away, and appear as a dream in the night. But our text informs us, that "the end watches for us:" yes, it may come as a thief in the night." Who then should not stand on his watch-tower, that he may be prepared for it?
2. Its actual arrival—
The day of judgment, whenever it shall arrive, will find men as much unprepared for it as at this moment. In the days of Noah, persons of every description engaged in their respective occupations with the same confidence as if nothing had been spoken respecting a deluge; "they ate, they drank, they planted, they built, they married and were given in marriage, until the very day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came: thus will it be also in the day of judgment; persons of every age and condition will be as secure as at any period of their existence, until the trumpet shall sound, and the Judge shall summon them to his tribunal. What a sound will this then be, "An end, the end, is come!" Then will be an end of all that now renders life desirable; an end of all pleasures, whatever be their kind or quality; an end of all means of grace, no opportunity now remaining for prayer and seeking after God: there will be an end of all hope of mercy, the door of Heaven being closed, as Noah's ark was, by the hand of God himself. Then will be "evil, an only evil," such as will have no mixture of good in it. O what "a morning" will that be, when the voice shall sound, "Awake, you dead, and come to judgment!" This will not be a mere echo, a delusion, "a sound reverberated from the mountains;" but a fearful reality. Let us for a moment contemplate the state of the antediluvian world, when they saw the face of the earth gradually disappearing, and the loftiest mountains sinking into the waters of the great deep: O what fear, what terror, what distraction would be visible on every side! Thus will millions, in the last day, be "calling upon the rocks to fall upon them, and the hills to cover them from the wrath of the Lamb." Would to God that men would now endeavor to realize that scene; and that they would "prepare," while yet there is time afforded them, "to meet their God!"
That time being the commencement of a never-ending eternity, it is obvious,
III. That we should spend our whole lives in preparation for it—
What is the preparation that becomes us?
1. We should humble ourselves before God for all our sins—
When Nineveh was warned that in forty days it should be overthrown, the inhabitants, from the highest to the lowest, repented of their sins in sackcloth and ashes; yes, they, though heathens, and warned only respecting the death of the body, made this improvement of their time. How much more then should we do it, who are warned respecting the death of our souls, and know not that we have forty hours to live! If God will "judge us according to our ways," and "pour out his fury" upon all in proportion to their sins, methinks we should mourn over our sins day and night, and get them washed away in "the fountain opened for sin and for impurity," even in "the blood of Christ, which cleanses from all sin."
2. We should get our souls renewed by Divine grace—
The foolish virgins, as well as the wise, expected the coming of the heavenly Bridegroom: but the foolish were not careful to have oil in their vessels with their lamps: hence, when the cry was made, "Behold, the Bridegroom comes!" they had their oil to seek, and were therefore excluded from the marriage-feast Matthew 25:1-13. This shows us what should be now our one concern. If we have not the Spirit of God dwelling in us, in vain will be all our profession, in vain the flame which arises only from our natural spirits: the distinction between us and others will speedily appear, and a corresponding judgment be passed upon us. How long he may delay his coming, or how soon he may arrive, we know not; and therefore we should not lose an hour in seeking that unction of the Holy One, which alone can fit us for the possession and enjoyment of the heavenly bliss.
3. We should be watching against everything that may unfit us for the Divine presence—
This is the instruction which the Apostles uniformly give us: "The end of all things is at hand: be therefore sober, and watch unto prayer 1 Peter 4:7;" and again, "Let your moderation be known unto all men: the Lord is at hand Philippians 4:5." There are dangers and temptations all around us: not only do evil things solicit our regard, but things that are most innocent often become a snare to us. Surely then it becomes "those who have wives to be as though they had none, and those who weep to be as though they wept not, and those who rejoice as though they rejoiced not 1 Corinthians 7:29-31;." "The fashion of this world is passing rapidly away;" and "then comes the end." O! happy they who are prepared for it! Happy they "whose loins are girt, and whose lamps are trimmed, and whom the Lord, when he comes, shall find watching for him!" "What I say then unto one, I say unto all, Watch."
4. We should be intent on finishing the work which God has given us to do—
Our Lord cautions us to "work while it is day, for the night is coming, wherein no man can work." When the end comes, there is no more scope for exertion, no further opportunity to supply what is defective, or to remedy what is amiss: "there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave." "Whatever then our hand finds to do, let us do it with our might".
HIDDEN ABOMINATIONS EXPOSED
Ezekiel 8:15. Then he said unto me, Have you seen this, O son of man? Turn you yet again, and you shall see greater abominations than these.
MAN is ready to complain of God's judgments, as though they were unmerited or severe. But "God will be justified in his sayings, and will overcome when he is judged Romans 3:4." The captives in Babylon thought that God had dealt hardly with them. God therefore gave to the Prophet Ezekiel, who was among the captives there, a vision of what was at that very time transacting in the temple at Jerusalem, notwithstanding the judgments that had been inflicted on them. This was the sixth year of king Jehoiakim's captivity; and yet did the remnant of the people in Jerusalem continue as impenitent as ever. It was on account of their idolatries that God had given them over into the hands of the Chaldeans: yet was idolatry practiced at Jerusalem in all its most hateful and abominable forms, even by the priests and elders, who ought to have exerted their authority to repress it. They labored, indeed, to conceal their impiety from common observation; and therefore they built a wall to obstruct the common entrance into the place where they assembled: but the prophet, in his vision, spied a hole in the wall, which he was directed to enlarge, so as to get access to the door; and then on entering at the door, "he saw every form of creeping things and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel, portrayed upon the wall round about, and seventy elders, with Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan at their head, offering clouds of incense to them verse 7–11." Being directed then to go to another part of the temple, he saw "still greater abominations," even a multitude of "women sitting, weeping for Tammuz," some deified monster of iniquity verse 13, 14." Then, in the passage which I have read, he was told, that, on going to another part of the temple, he should "see greater abominations still." Accordingly, he went into the inner court of the temple, and there saw about five-and-twenty men, "with their backs towards that part of the temple" where the holy of holies was, and which was the more immediate residence of the Deity, and "worshiping the sun towards the east verse 15, 16." The Lord then appeals to the prophet, whether there was not abundant reason for the judgments which he had inflicted on the nation; and declares his determination to chastise them with yet greater severity; "Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it a light thing to the house of Judah that they commit the abominations which they commit here? Therefore will I deal with them in fury: my eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity: and, though they cry in mine ears with a loud voice, yet will I not hear them verse 17, 18."
In its primary sense, this passage doubtless refers only to the Jews; and to them at the period here specified. But, when we consider that the deportation of the Jewish people into captivity, their subsequent deliverance from that captivity, and their restoration to their own land, were all typical of what yet passes in the world, and in the Church, and in the heart, we feel authorized so far to accommodate the words of our text to existing circumstances, as to take occasion from them to point out the hidden abominations which may be discovered from a closer inspection of,
I. The world—
The abominations that are visible to all are exceeding great—
It is not possible to have the least fellowship with the world, and not see that iniquity abounds on every side. In truth, "the whole world lies in wickedness," or under the power of the Wicked one 1 John 5:19.
But the more we know of the world, the more wicked will it appear—
A person who looks only on the outward appearance of things would be ready to think that Paul's description of mankind is a libel on human nature. But the picture which he draws is indeed but too accurate. "Men like not to retain God in their knowledge; and therefore he gives them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful; who, knowing the judgment of God, that they who commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them Romans 1:27-32." There is no abomination that was ever practiced among the most abandoned of mankind in former ages, but may still be found, nearly, if not altogether, to the same extent as ever. Where Christianity has diffused its light, these deeds of darkness are kept from common observation: but human nature is the same in every age; and "the God of this world" exercises over it the same despotic sway as ever Ephesians 2:2.
The same humiliating truth may be applied also to,
II. The Church—
The outward-court worshipers are, for the most part, exceedingly corrupt—
Let any one dispassionately survey the principles and practices of the Church of Rome; and then say, whether the abominations of that Church will not be found abundant, in proportion as the scrutiny is minute. What is the very foundation of the whole edifice of Popery, but a compound of pride, ambition, covetousness, fraud, cruelty? The doctrine of merit is at the root of all. The heads of that Church have no object in view but to promote their own secular interests and power. They draw from the votaries of their religion all which they can by any means exact. A system of lying wonders is maintained, to delude their followers: and the most horrible cruelties are exercised towards those who submit not to their impious ordinances and institutions. The Heathen themselves are not more flagrant in their idolatries, than they who exalt the Virgin Mother above their Incarnate God.
I say these things in reference to the Romish Church, because the ear of Protestants is open to receive the truth in relation to a Church from which they have separated. But, if Protestant Churches are freed from some of the grosser abominations of Popery, are they not on a par with Papists themselves in relation to the evils from which Popery has sprung? Do we not find Protestants, whether priests or people, as secularized as any of the votaries of Popery can be? Do we not find them as full of pride, ambition, covetousness, fraud, cruelty, as Papists themselves, only not exercising these dispositions exactly in the same way? The truth is, that, among the generality of Christians, there is little found except the name: and that, if they had been brought up as heathens, they would have occupied much the same place in the scale of morals, as they do at this hour.
Would to God we could except from this censure the worshipers of the inner court!
On the two first occasions, the prophet was directed to the outer court of the temple; but, on the last, God himself, in his vision, "brought him to the inner court of the Lord's house verse 16." Come we, then, to inspect that part of the Church which professes more of sanctity, and boasts of greater nearness to God. Are there no abominations to be found there? Are there no evil practices indulged by those who would be thought to excel in piety? It is well, perhaps, that the world do not know all that passes in the secret inclosures of the temple: for they would be far more stumbled than they are by the inconsistencies and impieties which would there be found. They do wrong, indeed, in casting reflections on religion, on account of the faults of those who profess it. "To speak evil of the way of truth 2 Peter 2:2," and to "blaspheme the name of God Romans 2:24," on account of the falls of professors, is absurd in the extreme: for religion discountenances evil of every kind; and, as far as it prevails in the soul, it restrains evil. And therefore while I open the abominations of the inner court, I solemnly guard all against imputing them to religion, or thinking less favorably of religion on account of them. But it must be confessed, that, among religious professors, there are multitudes who walk unworthy of their holy profession; multitudes, who are as worldly and as covetous in their desires, as destitute of truth and honesty in their dealings: yes, and as corrupt and vicious in their practices, as the ungodly world. Those who have seen the interior of religious societies, and witnessed the proud domineering spirit of some, the conceit and forwardness of others, the bigotry of others, the hypocrisies, envyings, evil-speakings of others, the lying and dishonesty of others, the lewdness and impurity of others; in a word, those who know the most of what is called the religious world, will have seen, to their grief and shame, that the evils of the seven Asiatic Churches are far from being yet excluded from the fold of Christ: there are yet "wolves in sheep's clothing," many who "say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie;" and, though professedly of the Church of Christ, are yet, in truth, "of the synagogue of Satan Revelation 3:9." God knows, that, in declaring these things, we would be glad to be found false witnesses, and to retract our assertions, if the truth of them were not unhappily established beyond all possibility of doubt.
It is yet further applicable to,
III. The heart—
This, as the prophet tells us, is superlatively deceitful—
There is not anything which we greatly affect, but the heart will find out some special reason for doing it: nor are we called to anything that will thwart our inclinations, and obstruct our interests, but it will furnish us with some convenient pretext for declining to make the sacrifice. It has a great deal of ingenuity, in covering the malignity of what is evil, and in discharging us from the obligation of what is good Isaiah 5:20. By the substitution of a name, it operates a change in our views of any action, as much as if it changed the quality of the action itself. Under its guidance, covetousness becomes a just regard for one's family; bigotry, a holy zeal; cowardice, a prudential care. Peter thought with himself, perhaps, to benefit the circumcision, when he constrained the Gentiles to submit to Jewish ordinances; whereas he was beguiled by a fear of that resentment which the Judaizing teachers were likely to manifest, if he did not comply with their wishes: and Barnabas too, and other holy Jews, were carried away by his dissimulation Galatians 2:12-13. There is no man who is not at times betrayed by it into some line of conduct, which, on a more calm and unselfish view of it, is found to have been injudicious: and we often find that the motives for which we gave ourselves credit were only a delusion of Satan, operating under the semblance of an angel of light 2 Corinthians 11:14.
It is also, as the same prophet informs us, unsearchably wicked Jeremiah 17:9.—
The corruptions of it are, for depth, unfathomable; for number, countless; for enormity, surpassing all conception. None but the heart-searching God himself can know it. Let any one mark, for one single day, the workings of his heart, and the thoughts which pass through it; and he will be perfectly amazed, that a creature, sensible in some measure of his obligations to God, and desirous to serve him, should, in despite of all his endeavors to purify himself, be so corrupt. But, after having accomplished the most diligent search, and renewed it ever so often, he will be very far from having attained a perfect self-knowledge; and circumstances will still arise, that shall bring fresh corruptions to light, or place their workings in a new point of view: so that, on turning again to view some corner unexplored, he shall find more and greater abominations than before.
Behold then here—
1. The folly of man—
The Jews in the temple, having concealed themselves by a wall from the eyes of men, and practicing their abominations; in the dark chambers of their imagery," supposed that they were hidden from the eyes of God also. "They said, The Lord sees us not; the Lord has forsaken the earth verse 12." But God saw them, and directed the prophet how to get a sight of them also. And can we suppose that God does not see us, or that he will not record our ways in the book of his remembrance? Be it known to you, my brethren, that "there is no darkness nor shadow of death where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves Job 34:22." "God knows the things that come into our mind, every one of them Ezekiel 11:5;" and "He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the heart 1 Corinthians 4:5.""Settle it then in your minds, that God's eye is over you; and never presume to do that in darkness which you would be ashamed to have proclaimed upon the house-tops.
2. The forbearance of God—
What does God behold! All the iniquity that is committed upon the face of the whole earth is seen by him completely, in all its bearings, and with all its aggravations. How wonderful must be his patience, that he can bear thus with us, under such an accumulated load of guilt! We wonder not that he once destroyed the earth with a deluge, or once poured fire and brimstone on the cities of the plain: the wonder is, that these judgments have not been so repeated, as utterly to destroy the whole human race. To go no further than to our own individual state: that man can know little of himself, who is not utterly amazed that he is at this moment an inhabitant of earth, and not doomed, long since, to endure all the pains and miseries of Hell. Let then "this patience and long-suffering and forbearance no longer be despised; but let the goodness of our God lead us to repentance Romans 2:4."
3. The wonders of redeeming love—
This is the world for which God has given his only-begotten Son. This is the world for which the Lord Jesus Christ left the bosom of his Father, and came down to earth, that he might bleed and die. Nor in this whole world is there a single individual, who, if he repent and believe in Jesus, shall not find acceptance with his God. Not one should be cast out; no, not one: "Though his sins were red as crimson, they should be white as snow." What wonders of love are here! Who can ever comprehend their height and depth, their length and breadth? Search into them ever so deeply, and contemplate them ever so minutely, and we will say without hesitation, "Turn again, and you shall see greater wonders than these." Indeed, to all eternity will they be unfolding to us, with ever-augmented light and evidence; and to all eternity will they be to us an ever-increasing source of joy and blessedness. To contemplate them here, is the way to be filled with all the fullness of grace Ephesians 3:18-19; and to contemplate them in Heaven, will be to us a fullness of glory for evermore Revelation 5:8-13.
DUTY AND BENEFIT OF MOURNING FOR SIN
Ezekiel 9:4. And the Lord said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.
THERE is in the minds of ungodly men an atheistical idea, that God "does not regard" the actions of men; and that, as to any interference in their concerns, "he has forsaken the earth." This was a common sentiment among the Jews Ezekiel 8:12; Ezekiel 9:9; and it practically obtains to a vast extent among us. To imagine that God notices such trifling matters as those which occupy our minds, is supposed to derogate from his honor. But God is omnipresent and omniscient; the minutest as well as the greatest things are all equally present to his all-seeing eye; and everything is noticed by him with an especial view to a future day of retribution. This is particularly stated in the whole of the preceding chapter. The elders of Israel who were at Jerusalem were given to idolatry; but they were extremely anxious to conceal their practices from the eyes of men: hence they performed their idolatrous rites in some secret chambers of the temple, which they had enclosed with a wall in order to a more effectual concealment. But God in a vision pointed out to his prophet, who was at Babylon, everything that was transacted in the temple at Jerusalem: and, after having given him many successive and more enlarged views of the abominations that were committed there, issued an order to the angels who had charge over the city, "to go forth and slay" the offenders; but strictly prohibited them from coming near to any person to whom these abominations had been a source of grief, and who had, in consequence of that, been "marked in the forehead" by a person expressly commissioned for that purpose Read the whole preceding chapter, as connected with the text.
Though the whole of this was a vision, it was, in fact, a just representation of the distinction which God would make between the persons who were guilty of idolatry, and those who lamented its prevalence among them: and it may serve to show us, in a very instructive way,
I. The character of the Lord's people—
Sin is "that abominable thing which God hates:" and, as it prevailed to an awful extent at that day, so abominations of every kind yet prevail—
They prevail in the world at large. We speak not now of the evils that are visible to all, but of those which are of a more hidden nature. In every order of society there are peculiar and appropriate evils, justified perhaps by those who commit them, yes possibly dignified with the name of virtues, which yet are an utter "abomination in the sight of God." Were all the intrigues of the ambitious, the wantonness of the licentious, the deceits of the covetous, the characteristic arts of every class of sinners, exposed to view, what a mass of iniquity should we behold! Yet God beholds it all; a mass which infinitely exceeds our highest conceptions, and which none but God himself could endure to behold.
They prevail also, we regret to say it, even in the Church of God. It was among those who professed the worship of the true God, that all those abominations were practiced in the Temple at Jerusalem: and we know that many lamentable evils were found in the Churches that were planted by the Apostles themselves. Can we wonder, then, if at this time tares be growing up with the wheat? It were vain to deny that there are many who dishonor their holy profession, and give sad occasion to the enemies of religion to blaspheme that name whereby we are named. The pride, intolerance, and overbearing conceit of Diotrephes may yet be found, amidst high professions of superior zeal and sanctity. Who has ever looked into the interior of religious societies, and not seen the same undue preference to some preachers, and contempt of others, as disgraced the Corinthian Church in the days of Paul? Who has not discovered many a Demas, who "loves this present world," and foregoes his spiritual advantages with a view to increase his gains 2 Timothy 4:10. It would be well if even the base crimes of falsehood, and overreaching, and dishonesty were not sometimes found in the skirts of those who would be thought to have kept their garments clean; yes, if intemperance also and impurity did not give the lie to their profession. But the more we inspect the sanctuary of God, the more we shall see occasion for humiliation and grief on account of many, who "have a name to live, but are dead;" and who, through their misconduct, "cause the way of truth to be evil spoken of." And such may well expect that "judgment shall begin with them Compare verse 6 with 1 Peter 4:17." We need scarcely add, that evils prevail also in the heart even of true believers. Paul himself confessed, that there was "a law in his members warring against the law of his mind, and sometimes bringing him into captivity to the law of sin in his members:" and the more conversant we are with our own hearts, the more we shall bewail our innumerable short-comings and defects. Our impatience, our distrust of God, our unbelief, our obduracy, our sloth, our coldness in duties, our sad mixture of principle even in our better actions; our want of love to the Savior, our want of compassion for our fellow-creatures, our want of zeal for God; alas! alas! our want of everything that is good, may well make the very best of us "sigh and cry," and, like Paul, to account ourselves "less than the least of all saints," or rather as "the chief of sinners."
To bewail these abominations is characteristic of every child of God—
Hear how Moses lamented them in his day Deuteronomy 9:18-19; how David also Psalm 119:53; Psalm 119:136, and Ezra, bewailed them Ezra. 9:3; Ezra. 9:5; what extreme heaviness the Apostle Paul felt in his soul on this account Romans 9:1-2; and especially in relation to those very evils which we have specified as obtaining among the professing people of God Philippians 3:18-19. And where is the saint in all the Bible who did not "groan within himself" on account of the burden of his own in-dwelling corruptions Romans 8:23. The more any person knows of God and of his own soul, the more disposed he is to say with Job, "Behold, I am vile Job 40:4."
Before we proceed to the second point for our consideration, let us examine ourselves, whether these things are a burden to us, yes, our chief burden Zephaniah 3:18. Jeremiah 13:17. Romans 7:24.: We have no pretensions to true religion, any farther than we answer to this character of mourners on account of sin.
From marking thus minutely the character of the Lord's people, we proceed to notice,
II. Their privilege—
God sets a mark on every one of his people, a mark on their foreheads, whereby they are infallibly known to him, and shall assuredly be screened from the destroying angels. They shall be protected,
The deliverance of Noah from the Deluge, and of Lot from Sodom, shows not only what deliverances God can grant to his chosen people, but what may be expected by all who mourn over, and labor to counteract, the abominations that are around them 2 Peter 2:5-9. In Babylon, God interposed to effect a literal accomplishment of this prophetic vision; obtaining liberty for Jeremiah, and others of his believing people, while the unbelieving part were visited with the heaviest calamities Jeremiah 15:11; Jeremiah 39:11-12. And at the final destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, the disciples of Christ were rescued, as it were by miracle, from all the horrors of the siege, while their unhappy and devoted brethren were left to experience such troubles as never came upon any other nation under Heaven.
But, if God do not see fit to exempt his people from the calamities that fall on others, he will so support them under their trials, and so sanctify to them their afflictions, that they shall be constrained to say, "It was good for them to have been afflicted." He will enable them to "glory in tribulations," and to "take pleasure in distresses," as fruits of his paternal love, and as means of furthering in their souls the purposes of his grace.
The seal which God has set in their foreheads will distinguish them from all others, as clearly as sheep are distinguished from goats. Nor will there be any danger of mistake in any instance whatever. In Egypt the destroying angel did not smite one house whereon the blood of the Paschal lamb was sprinkled; nor will the judgments of God fall on one individual, who has laid to heart the abominations of Israel. "God has set them apart for himself;" and for him they shall be preserved. No evil shall be "come near to him who has the mark in his forehead." While "fire and brimstone are rained" down upon all others without distinction, these will be safely lodged in God's holy mountain, beyond the reach or possibility of harm.
1. To those who think lightly of sin—
By many it is thought a mark of weakness to sigh and cry for the sins of others, or even for our own See their character drawn: Amos. 6:1; Amos. 6:3; Amos. 6:5-6. But let those who have such light thoughts of sin, consider what sin has done, in this world, and especially in the world to come. What innumerable evils have existed, and do yet exist, throughout the world! yet is there not one in the whole creation, which is not the fruit of sin. And if we could obtain one sight of those dreary mansions, where fallen angels, together with all who have perished in their sins, abide; or could hear but one groan of a damned soul; we should no more account sin a light matter: no indeed, it is "fools only, who make a mock at sin." If this do not suffice, let such an one consider, what has been done to expiate sin. Go, sinner, to Gethsemane, go to Calvary, and contemplate the agonies and death of your incarnate God; and then say, Whether sin be not a tremendous evil, for which no sighs or tears can ever be sufficient? But, without extending our thoughts to subjects so much beyond our reach, let us only observe what have been the feelings of persons when once they were brought to a just sense of their sins: let us hear the bitter lamentations of Peter, or the heart-rending cries of the converts on the day of Pentecost; and we shall no longer doubt what ought to be our views of sin, by whoever it may have been committed, whether by ourselves or others. Sure we are, that in the last day there will be no diversity of sentiment respecting this: the glorified saints, and the condemned sinners, will have but one view of this matter, O that now, even now, the judgment of every one among us might be rectified; and that, before another day, God might see reason to set his mark upon us, as "mourners in Zion!"
2. To those who answer to the character described in our text—
Persons who sigh and cry on account of sin, are apt to yield too much to desponding fears. But they have in reality abundant cause for joy and gratitude: for if, on the one hand, they be greatly burdened on account of sin, they have, on the other hand, reason to rejoice that sin is their burden. Instead of being in so deplorable a state as they imagine, they are in a state most pleasing to God, and most profitable to themselves. So pleased is God with those "who are poor and of a contrite spirit," that his eyes are fixed upon them with the utmost delight and delight Isaiah 66:2; and the Lord Jesus, the Judge of quick and dead, repeatedly declares them blessed Matthew 5:3-4. Let not any one therefore be dejected because of the depths of depravity which he sees within him; but let him rather conclude, that God has discovered to him these hidden abominations; and let him beg of God to give him a clearer and fuller insight into them; that so his humiliation may he more deep, his faith more simple, his gratitude more lively, and his devotedness to God more entire. Nor let any one be afraid of seeing thus the corruptions of his heart: for, if only our self-knowledge drive us to Christ, and endear him to our souls, it will prove a source of every virtue; of contrition, of fear, of dependence on Christ, of love to his name, and of zeal for his glory. A sense of our necessities will make us cry unto him for the gift of his Spirit; and by that Spirit we shall be "sealed unto the day of redemption," and "rendered meet for our heavenly inheritance."
THE OMNISCIENCE OF GOD
Ezekiel 11:5. I know the things which come into your mind, every one of them.
THERE is much of atheism in the heart of man. The language of every one, in the secret of his own bosom, is, "The Lord does not see, neither will the Almighty regard it Psalm 94:7." Doubtless this argues more than brutish stupidity Psalm 94:8-9; but still it prevails to an awful extent, even over those who have the best means of instruction. The Prophet Ezekiel had reason to complain of it in his day; and, for the purpose of counteracting it, he declared from God to all the rulers of the Jewish people, "I know the things that come into your mind, every one of them."
That we may all be suitably affected with this thought, I will,
I. Establish the assertion in our text—
There is no man who does not consider God as approving or disapproving of his conduct according to the testimony which his conscience gives respecting it 1 John 3:20-21; and this universal conviction respecting the omniscience of the Deity is, though not a demonstration, yet certainly a strong presumptive proof, that God is omniscient. But his omniscience may be certainly inferred,
1. From the law he has given us—
The law, not by construction only Matthew 5:28, but in plain terms Romans 7:7, takes cognizance of the secrets of the heart. But to what purpose is such a law given, if God be not able to enforce it? Or how can he enforce it, if any motion of the heart be hid from him?
2. From the plain declarations of Holy Writ—
These are numberless. Hear in what terms God himself appeals to the whole world respecting it: "Am I a God at hand, and not afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? says the Lord. Do not I fill Heaven and earth? says the Lord Jeremiah 23:23-24." The whole of the 139th Psalm is written for the confirmation and illustration of this truth; which Job also was persuaded of in his inmost soul: "I know that you can do everything, and that no thought can be withheld from you Job 42:2." But we have an illustration of it in the New Testament which is worthy of more particular notice: "All things," says the Apostle, "are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do Hebrews 4:13." Here the writer refers to a fact well known to the Hebrews. When a sacrifice was to be offered, not only was it examined externally, to see whether there were any blemish in it, but it was flayed, and cut down the back-bone, and laid open, that so its inward parts might be inspected by the priest. Thus are the inmost recesses of our soul both naked and opened before our God, and not an "imagination of the thoughts of our heart" concealed from him.
3. From the appointment of a day of judgment to judge the world—
To what purpose can such an appointment be, if God do not behold every secret of the heart? The true quality of our actions depends chiefly on the motives and principles from which they spring. But nothing short of omniscience can discover these: and hence God asserts his omniscience in reference to this very day: "I the Lord search the heart; I try the reins, even to give to every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings Jeremiah 17:10."
Not to multiply proofs of so clear a point, let me proceed to,
II. Suggest a suitable improvement of it—
The subject being as important as any that can occupy the human mind, I will endeavor to improve it,
1. In a way of general reflections—
In the contemplation of God's omniscience, we cannot but be struck with the thought of God's wonderful patience and forbearance. If only the actions of men were discerned by him, there were abundantly sufficient every day and hour to provoke him to wrath, and to bring down on the whole world the judgments which desolated the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. But he sees all the motives and principles of men, and all the hidden abominations which are indulged in their hearts: and yet he bears with us, and waits to be gracious to every returning penitent. O let us be sensible of our obligations to him, and "let his goodness lead us to repentance Romans 2:4."
Nor shall we be less struck with the erroneousness of the judgment which many form of their state before him. Many judge of themselves only by their acts, while in their hearts, if they would but watch the motions of them, they might find abominations without number. Well does Solomon say, "There is a generation that is pure in their own eyes, but are not washed from their filthiness Proverbs 30:12." But let it be remembered that an angry thought is murder, and an impure look adultery, and the only contention among us will be, who shall take the lowest place.
Nearly connected with this is the thought of the awful disclosures which will be made in the day of judgment. If we look back only upon our own lives we shall see enough to fill us with shame and confusion of face: What then will be the feelings of the whole assembled universe, when the thoughts of all hearts shall be disclosed, and the whole aggregate of iniquity that has ever been either acted or conceived be made to appear in one collective mass! Ah! the whited sepulchers that will then be opened, and the loathsome abominations that will be exposed to view! In those indeed who have obtained mercy of the Lord, the exposure will only call forth songs of praise and thanksgiving: but to those who have died in their sins, the anguish will be inconceivable: and glad would they be if rocks or mountains could fall upon them, to hide them from the shame with which they will be overwhelmed Daniel 12:2.
2. In a way of more particular ADDRESS—
Tremble, my beloved brethren, for your past sins: for not one shall be concealed in that day, unless indeed through the tender mercy of our God it have been blotted out of the book of God's remembrance: The evil of our thoughts, no less than of our acts, must be accounted for Acts 8:22. Wash too in the fountain of the Redeemer's blood. If so much as one sin be left for you to answer for, it were better for you that you had never been born. Nor ever imagine that the tears of penitence can wash away sin: there is no fountain for you but that which was once opened on the cross for sin and for impurity. It is the blood of Christ alone that can cleanse from sin: but "that can cleanse from all sin." At the same time guard against the incursion of sin in future, even in thought. Already are our sins more in number than the sands upon the sea-shore; and shall we yet be adding to the mighty load? Have we not rendered ourselves sufficiently loathsome in the eyes of a holy God? Let us never forget that "his very name is, You God see me Genesis 16:13." But not to act from a mere servile fear, labor to approve yourselves to God in the whole course of your lives. Let your actions, words, and thoughts be such as the heart-searching God will approve Proverbs 4:23. Then will he bear testimony to you as "Israelites indeed in whom was no deceit;" and he who has beheld your most secret thoughts will, in the presence of the whole assembled universe, applaud and "reward you openly."
DEPARTURE OF GOD FROM HIS TEMPLE
Ezekiel 11:23. And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city.
THE vision with which the Prophet Ezekiel was favored, and which he records in the first chapter, is of very difficult interpretation. In it there were represented to his view four living creatures, all moved and actuated by the Spirit of God Ezekiel 1:4-14; there were also wheels moved by them Ezekiel 1:15-21, and the glory of God was enthroned above them Ezekiel 1:26-28. The general import of this vision we apprehend to be, that the God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ, by the ministration of angels and holy men devoted to his service, manages everything for the good of his Church. But from the eighth chapter God shows, that when his people shall provoke him by their impieties, he will withdraw from them, and give them up to all those judgments which their iniquities have deserved. This is at first but slightly intimated Ezekiel 8:6; but in our text it is actually carried into effect. The manner in which his departure took place, is deserving of particular attention. It was by several successive steps; the bright cloud, which was the symbol of his presence, and which is here called "his glory," left the accustomed place of its residence between the cherubim, and descended "to the threshold of the house Ezekiel 9:3." From thence it moved to the court of the temple, which was on the north side, where the cherubim had already moved Ezekiel 10:3-4; Ezekiel 10:18. The word "went," verse 4. should rather be, "had gone." After that, it went to the door of the last gate, attended both by the cherubim and the wheels Ezekiel 10:19. Then, lastly, with the cherubim and the wheels, it deserted the city altogether, and went to the mountain on the east side of the city Ezekiel 11:22-23. What was the design of God in all these gradual removes, but to manifest the reluctance with which he yields to the necessity imposed upon him, of leaving his people to the ruin they have merited?
Hence then we take occasion to show,
I. How averse God is to forsake his people—
Look we to his declarations?
What can be more express than his assertion, yes, his oath, that he "has no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live Ezekiel 33:11." How pathetically does he lament the obstinacy of those who withstand all the influences, and defeat all the purposes of his grace: "How long shall it be before you attain to innocency?" "Will you not be made clean? when shall it once be Jeremiah 13:27." The idea of abandoning his people seems almost to overwhelm him: "How shall I give you up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver you up, Israel? How shall I make you as Admah? How shall I set you as Zeboim Hosea 11:8. See also Psalm 81:13-16." But of all the passages in Holy Writ in which the Divine compassion towards obstinate offenders shines forth, there is none that exceeds the lamentation of our blessed Lord over Jerusalem; "O that you had known, even you, at least in this your day, the things belonging to your peace!" "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered you, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and you would not!"
Look we to examples?
What more astonishing than the forbearance of God towards the antediluvian world during the space of one hundred and twenty years? Mark his patience also towards his people in the wilderness, where for forty years their conduct was one continued scene of murmuring and rebellion. Even towards the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who had imbrued their hands in the blood of their Messiah, he commanded his messages of mercy to be delivered in the first place: that city which had exceeded all others in iniquity was to be the most favored of any in the whole universe, by the united labors of all the Apostles. But we need no further proof of God's backwardness to cast off his people, than what we may all find in our own bosoms. We all are living monuments of his patience, and long-suffering, and forbearance. If his compassions bad not been infinite, not one of us would have been here this day, to speak or hear of them.
True it is, that "his Spirit will not always strive with men:" but yet he does not abandon them at once; as will appear, while we show,
II. What are the different steps by which his approaching departure may be discovered.
God "has pleasure in the prosperity of his people:" but, when constrained to leave them, he manifests his anger gradually, in order to awaken them to repentance, and to prevent the execution of his severer judgments. He withholds,
1. The manifestations of his love—
While his people conduct themselves in a becoming manner, he delights in every possible exercise of mercy towards them. He "draws near to them," and "lifts up the light of his countenance upon them," and "sheds abroad his love in their hearts," and testifies to them of their adoption, and "witnesses with their spirits that they are his." But when they draw back from him, he withholds from them these gracious communications. They now pray indeed, but find not a present and prayer-answering God: they read also, but feel not that power and sweetness in the word which they once did: they attend ordinances, but find them not, as once, to be "the gate of Heaven." The sun is hid behind a cloud; and they are no longer animated with his cheering rays: "I hid me," says God, "and was wroth, because they went on frowardly in the way of their hearts."
Inquire, then, beloved, whether any such calamity as this is come upon you? If it be, know that this is God's first step towards a final departure; and if you do not arrest his progress by penitence and a renewal of your first works Revelation 2:5; Revelation 3:3, he will go yet farther from you, and be brought back again to you with ten-fold difficulty. If you have lost the cheering presence of your God, know that he has already gone "to the threshold of the house."
2. The influences of his grace—
God is pleased to strengthen his people with might by his Spirit in their inward man, so that they are enabled to overcome the world, to mortify the flesh, and to with stand all the principalities and powers of Hell. He endues them with grace sufficient for them: but, if they are unfaithful to the grace received, he will withdraw it, and leave them to the unassisted efforts of their own arm. Then, like Samson with his locks shorn, they will become weak as other men: the world will regain its ascendant over them: their natural propensities will return with renewed force: and Satan will be able so to practice his former wiles, as to gain the most fatal advantage over them. They are like Israel before Ai, because of the Achan in their camp Joshua 7:11-12.
Here then is another subject of inquiry for us. Do we find that we are less able than formerly to resist our besetting sins? that we have less power to repress the workings of evil tempers, and of corrupt affections? Do we find that duty is more difficult than in former times, and sin more easy and pleasant?: Then we may know that God has gone, not to the threshold only, but even to the court. O fearful state! What cries, and tears, and labors, become the person that is reduced to it! He has not a moment to spare: if he would not lose God speedily and forever, he must humble himself before God in dust and ashes; he must "repent and turn himself from all his transgressions, else his iniquity will become his ruin."
3. The warnings of his Spirit—
The conscience of one that lives near to God is made tender, as the apple of his eye: and if by any means he be betrayed into sin, he mourns, and weeps, and never finds a moment's rest, until he has "washed it away in the fountain opened for sin and for impurity." But this sensibility is soon lost: it is God's presence only that preserves it: and if God's "Holy Spirit be quenched by us, he will give us over to a hardness of heart," so that the things which once would have occasioned the deepest humiliation, shall now scarcely produce a sigh.
And can it be, that any one is so far left, as to have his eyes blinded as to the malignity of sin, and his conscience seared as to the commission of it?: Yes: there are many who are thus beguiled by Satan from the simplicity that is in Christ;" and they have reason to fear that God will speedily take his flight, and execute that threat, "If any man defile the temple of God, him will God destroy." Truly, "there is but a step between them and death."
This leads us to set before you,
III. The dreadful state of those who are forsaken by him—
"Woe unto them," says God, "when I depart from them Hosea 9:12." yes, woe unto them indeed; for,
1. They are delivered up into the hands of their spiritual enemies—
As, when Jesus had departed from Mount Olivet (the very mountain on which the glory of God abode, when it had forsaken the temple and city) that began to be fulfilled, "Your house is left unto you desolate:" and when, "by grieving and vexing the Holy Spirit we have provoked him to become our enemy," our case is become altogether desperate: he says concerning us, "They are joined to idols; let them alone." Then "the evil spirit that had been driven out, takes to him seven other spirits to occupy our hearts;" and our "last state becomes worse than the first." Not that such a person must necessarily be given over to gross and open vice: he may be left under the power of pride and infidelity, or of terror and despondency, or of hardness and obduracy: but, to whatever he is left a prey, "God swears in his wrath, that he shall never enter into his rest."
2. They live only to increase their guilt and misery—
Every day they live, they only augment the measure of their iniquities: and, strange as it may seem, immediate death, though attended with immediate damnation, would be to them a mercy. In one view indeed, the shortest respite from death may appear a blessing: and so it would be, if they were not sealed up under condemnation: but, being "given over to a reprobate mind," they live only "to heap up misery against the last days," and to "treasure up wrath against the day of wrath." Unhappy soul, whoever you are, when thus forsaken by your God! "Good were it for that man if he had never been born."
We will conclude this subject with answering two questions—
1. How are we to reconcile this doctrine with other parts of Scripture?
It is certain that the Scriptures speak much respecting the determination of God never to forsake his people 1 Samuel 12:22. Isaiah 54:9-10. Jeremiah 32:40. Hebrews 13:5; And we believe that God will fulfill his promises, and that not one of them shall ever fail. But there are passages equally strong on the other side 2 Chronicles 15:2. 1 Corinthians 9:27. 2 Peter 2:20-22; and they in their place need equally to be enforced. The former are necessary to encourage hope: the latter, to excite our fear. The truth is, we apprehend, that no person is warranted in believing himself a child of God, any farther than he has an evidence of it in the conformity of his soul to the will of his heavenly Father. With the progress of sanctification his confidence may well increase; but with a declension in sanctity there ought to be a proportionable relaxation of his confidence. When therefore he is in a truly spiritual state, he may fitly he carried forward on the wings of hope, and love, and peace, and joy: but when he declines from that state, he needs the quickening influence of jealousy and fear: and, if any "turn back unto perdition," they then prove to the world, that their former confidence was delusive; and we must say of them, as John does, "They went out from us; but they were not of us: for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us 1 John 2:19."
If men would receive the whole word of God, without contending for human systems, they would find no such contradictions as they are apt to imagine: or, if they found some expressions which they knew not how to reconcile with others, they would at least learn to exercise candor towards those who differed from them, and to leave the full explanation of these hidden mysteries until the day when God himself shall cast the true light upon them. Our concern is, not so much to reconcile the difficulties of Scripture, as to learn from every part its appropriate instruction, and its legitimate use.
2. How are we to avert this awful calamity?
We should mark with extreme care the very first motions of the Deity that indicate his displeasure. The occasional hidings of his face should lead us to inquire, what there has been amiss within us, what neglects or miscarriages that have grieved his Holy Spirit. We should instantly betake ourselves to fasting and prayer, entreating him to "show us, why he contends with us?" Like Jacob, we should "wrestle with him all the night, and say, I will not let you go until you bless me:" and, having regained his presence, we should labor constantly to "keep a conscience void of offence towards both God and man." Were we thus to exert ourselves in the first instance, we should walk continually, as it were, in the light of his countenance: but if we disregard the first intimations of his displeasure, and suffer him to depart, from his throne to the threshold, from the threshold to the court, from the court to the gate, we shall find it no easy matter to recover the testimonies of his love, and the influences of his grace. "Be instructed then, (says the Lord,) lest my soul depart from you Jeremiah 6:8." Be instructed in the necessity of unintermitted watchfulness and prayer. Be instructed to "guard against the very appearance of evil," on your own part, and against the smallest withdrawment on the part of God. Thus will your whole life be a continual feast; and God will be greatly glorified in the whole of your conversation.
DEATH AND ETERNITY NEAR AT HAND
Ezekiel 12:23. The days are at hand, and the effect of every vision.
EXCEEDINGLY diversified were the ways by which God communicated his mind to his ancient people. At Mount Sinai he spoke to them by an audible voice, and by legible characters engraved on tables of stone. To the high-priest he imparted the knowledge of his will, by means of the Urim and Thummim, which constituted his breast-plate. To the prophets he revealed himself by dreams, and visions, and inward inspiration. The Prophet Ezekiel was favored with many and most extraordinary visions; some of which were very obscure; while others were either manifest in themselves, or were made clear by a special revelation of their import. On many occasions the prophets were directed to make use of some significant actions, which were to convey to the people knowledge of the events which awaited them. Of this last kind was the revelation now made to them by the Prophet Ezekiel. Many of the Jews had been carried captive to Babylon. But, because there yet remained in Judea a king of their own nation, the people who lived under him thought that he would protect them from any fresh invasion, and even liberate their captive brethren also from the Chaldean yoke. But they continued to rebel against God as much as ever; and God therefore warned them, that all of them, both king and people, should go into captivity. Such warnings they had often received from the mouths of other prophets; and because God had exercised forbearance towards them, they thought that the threatened judgments should never be executed, or, at all events, not be executed in their day. This even passed into a proverb among them; so that it became a common saying among them, "The days are prolonged, and every vision fails verse 22." But, in opposition to this, the prophet was ordered to exhibit before them, in his own person, a representation of the impending judgments; and to announce to them God's determination to inflict them speedily: "Say unto them, The days are at hand, and the effect of every vision."
In improving this subject, there are two things to be noticed:
I. The tidings here announced—
These, as I have observed, were, that "the proverb which they had used should cease;" and that all the judgments which God's servants had from time to time denounced against that people should speedily be accomplished.
Now, similar tidings I have to announce to you. Concerning you, also, have many visions been revealed—
You have been warned, times without number, that God hates, and will punish, sin. You have been told, that death will arrest you, and carry you into the presence of your God; that, according to your state before him, God will deal with you in a way of judgment or of mercy; and that the state in which you will then be fixed, will abide forever.
But you have disregarded them, even as the Jews of old did—
Some will go so far as to say, that "these visions will fail," and never be accomplished. Others of a less daring habit, who would not venture thus flatly to contradict the word of God, will yet divest it of all its power, by supposing that it refers to other times and other persons, rather than to themselves at this time: "The vision that he sees is for many days to come, and he prophesies of the times that are afar off verse 27." If a man, duly authorized, were to come and arrest us for any crime, we should feel a personal interest in all that he said: but when the plainest and most pointed truths are spoken to us from the Lord, we hear them as if we had no personal concern in them whatever; and are no more affected with them, than we should be with a relation of some events which had occurred, or were about to occur, in some foreign nation with which we were personally unconnected.
I must however declare to you, that "the days are at hand, for every vision of God's word to take effect"—
Death and judgment are not far off from any of us: for what is the longest life, when viewed in connection with eternity? But how few, in comparison, live to an advanced age? yes, what multitudes are cut off in the very prime of life! And what a change in a congregation does a few years effect! and, when "our day is come, has not every vision its full effect?" Go, and see whether God's word was not verified towards the Jews in Babylon. God himself put it to their descendants, in a way of solemn appeal, "My words, and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not take hold of your fathers? To which they were constrained to reply, "Like as the Lord of Hosts thought to do unto us, according to our ways, and according to our doings, so has he dealt with us Zechariah 1:6." And so also shall his every word take hold of you, and be fulfilled in you. Think what you will of his long-suffering and forbearance, if you continue to disregard his warnings, know of a surety, that "your judgment lingers not, and your damnation slumbers not 2 Peter 2:3; 2 Peter 3:9-10."
But these tidings will appear in all their force, if we mark,
II. The sign by which they were confirmed—
The prophet was commanded to dig through the wall of his house, and carry out his furniture upon his shoulders in their sight, and, as through excess of grief, to cover his face, so as not to see the ground; in order to show the people what should be done by them, both king and people, in their approaching siege and captivity ver 3–12. Thus "he was to them as a sign verse 6, 11."
And have we no sign, confirming God's word to us?
Yes, (the departed year is a sign to us; or our departed brother is a sign to us;) every person who dies around us, and every sound of his funeral knell, is a sign to us, that the visions of God are taking effect, and that soon they shall take effect with respect to us. We may, in our imagination, "put the evil day far from us;" but every day and hour brings it nearer to us: and when "the day is fully come," not all the universe can arrest the hand of death, or protract our existence here one single moment. Then, whatever be our age, whatever our rank, or whatever interest the whole nation may have in our life It was preached in Jan. 1827, on account of the death of the Duke of York; we must obey our summons, and go into the presence of our God. Prepared or unprepared, we must stand naked before him, and receive from him that doom which his word has taught us to expect: I say again, therefore, to you, that every person that is called into the eternal world is precisely such a sign to you as Ezekiel was to the Jews—a sign that the visions of God are true, and that "every one of them, in due season, shall take effect."
And now, what encouragement had the prophet to discharge his painful office? It was but a perhaps: "It may be they will consider ver 3." With that humble, but feeble hope 2 Timothy 2:25-26, I address you, my Brethren.
1. It may be that some of you will consider—
O that God would incline your hearts to consider all the visions which from time to time are set before you! Truly, not one has ever been kept back from you: no; "I have declared unto you, as far as I have been able, the whole counsel of God." Your lost estate has been set before you with all fidelity; and the way of salvation proclaimed to you, in all its freeness, in all its fullness, in all its excellency: and that record has been explained to you in an infinite diversity of ways, that "He who has the Son, has life, and he who has not the Son of God, has not life 1 John 5:11-12." "The effects, too, of these visions" have been set before you, by an exhibition, so far as I was able, of all the blessedness of Heaven, and of all the misery of Hell. Now, then, consider these things, I pray you. Consider your own personal interest in them. Consider in what light you will view them the very instant that your soul is separated from your body: and now, so lay them to heart, that they may prove effectual for your conversion to God, and for the everlasting salvation of your souls.
2. It may be, however, and I fear will be, that the great mass of you will not consider—
When I look back, and see how little fruit all my past instructions have produced, I cannot but fear that this will share the same fate as they; and in the space of one hour, or, at all events of one day, be altogether forgotten. Not that they will be forgotten by God, in whose name they are delivered: for they are all recorded in the book of his remembrance, and will rise up in judgment against those who have failed to improve them. Why, my Brethren, will you make so light of these things, which yet you believe to be of everlasting moment, and which God makes known to you by me for the eternal welfare of your souls? I tremble to think, that, at this very instant, while I am addressing these things to you for your good, I am eventually only sinking many of you into deeper perdition. O that God would awaken you to a sense of your condition, before it be too late See Zephaniah 1:12 with Ezekiel 7:5-9. which, though primarily applicable to temporal judgments, may be addressed to a soul in this state. O that so much as one of you would arise from his stupor, and "recover himself out of the snare of the devil, by whom he is led captive at his will!" Let me not, my Brethren, be disappointed of this hope: but go home, and fall upon your knees before God, and pray to him, that, whatever other "rebels" may do, you may "be wise, and consider your latter end."
DELUSIVE CONFIDENCE REPROVED
Ezekiel 13:10-12. Because, even because they have seduced my people, saying, Peace; and there was no peace; and one built up a wall, and, lo, others daubed it with untempered mortar: say unto them which daub it with untempered mortar, that it shall fall: there shall be an over-flowing shower; and you, O great hailstones, shall fall; and a stormy wind shall rend it. Lo, when the wall is fallen, shall it not be said unto you, Where is the daubing with which you have daubed it?
SO deeply is unbelief rooted in the heart of man, that scarcely any testimony from God is ever received with the confidence it deserves. This appears throughout all the sacred history: and our own lives are one continued exemplification of it. To his people of old God was pleased to give many repeated warnings of the judgments that were coming upon them: but the assertions of false prophets were always credited, in opposition to the declarations of God himself. By the Prophet Ezekiel God forewarned the people of the captivity to which they would soon be reduced by their Chaldean invaders. He directed the prophet to set before their eyes symbolic representations of the calamities that awaited them; to dig through the wall of his house, and carry forth his goods by night, and to eat bread, and drink water, with quaking and trembling See the whole preceding chapter. But false prophets persuaded the people that they had no cause for alarm; for that these signs related to distant times; and that there would soon be an end of the impending dangers. It seems that some, women, as well as men, conspired thus to counteract the influence of God's word upon the people; and that they sewed pillows to the armholes, or elbows, of persons, and covered their heads with kerchiefs, in order to intimate to them, that they might repose themselves in perfect ease and safety. To reprove these persons, and to confirm his former assertions, is the prophet's object in the chapter before us. He compares the men to persons building an ill-constructed wall, and daubing it with untempered mortar, which would be washed away by the first shower; and to the women he declares, that God would soon tear from the arms of their deluded followers the emblems of their delusion, and undeceive those whom they had so fatally led astray See the whole chapter.
But it is not our intention to confine our remarks to that particular occasion. Similar conduct obtains among us at this day; and it calls for similar reproof. We propose therefore to consider,
I. Who are obnoxious to this reproof—
All ranks and orders of men who attempt to invalidate the messages of the Most High, are guilty of the evil here spoken of. It is justly imputable to
1. Unfaithful ministers—
Not only among the Jews, but even in the Christian Church, there were many, who, professing themselves to be ambassadors of Heaven, were only deceivers of the people 2 Corinthians 11:13. Galatians 1:6-8. 1 Timothy 4:1. 2 Peter 2:1-2. Their habit has at all times been, to "say, Peace, peace, when there was no peace verse 10 with Jeremiah 6:14. Would to God that none of this character yet existed in the world! But are there not still some who keep out of view the desperate depravity of the human heart, the absolute necessity of a new birth, the impossibility of being saved by any righteousness of our own, and the duty of giving up ourselves wholly and unreservedly to God as his redeemed people?: Are there not those who decry these things as enthusiasm; and who tell their hearers, that there is a smoother and an easier way to Heaven than what the Scriptures have marked out?: If then such persons exist, say whether they do not resemble the prophets and the prophetesses spoken of in our text?.
2. Unbelieving people—
Whether seduced by others or not, all are prone of themselves to speak peace unto their own souls: they will not receive the declarations of God concerning them: they cannot endure to think that they are in such danger as God's word declares them to be; or that the way to Heaven is so strait and narrow as his Gospel represents it. They substitute some terms of their own in the place of those which God has prescribed; and they persuade themselves that they shall be saved at last, though they conform themselves in no respect either to the principles or practice of the Christian code: Are not these then daubing their wall with untempered mortar, and sewing to their arms pillows which shall he rent away?.
Let us then proceed to notice,
II. The warning here given them—
Their labor is, alas! and must ever be, in vain: it will end,
1. In certain and bitter disappointment—
Their wall will surely fall: and shall it not then be said to them, "Where is the daubing with which you have daubed it?" Sad indeed will be the reproaches which both the deceivers and the deceived will cast on each other: the one will say, Why did you mislead me? the others will say, Why did you believe me in preference to the word of God? Sad reflections too will all cast upon themselves: Why did I set up my own opinion against the most express declarations of my God?: The very disappointment which the Jews experienced, when Ezekiel's prophecies were verified in the destruction of their city, and in their own captivity, will before long be realized by all who now buoy themselves up with their own delusions. If they should entreat their God to give them an opportunity of undeceiving their surviving relatives, the answer will be, No: they have Moses and the Prophets; and if they will not attend to their voice, they must receive their deserved recompense.
2. In irremediable and endless ruin—
No further means of salvation will be afforded them. Their day of grace is irrecoverably gone: their state is fixed forever. O to what anguish of heart are they now a prey! What weeping, what wailing, what gnashing of teeth do they now experience, under a sense of God's wrath, and in the prospect of its everlasting duration! This must assuredly be the end of all our self-deception. As "Ezekiel was a sign to the Jews Ezekiel 12:14," so have we signs in plenty, that the threatened vengeance shall come 1 Corinthians 10:5-11. 2 Peter 2:4-9. Jude, verse 6, 7. "Set forth for an example.", and that they who will not believe God's word shall find it true at the last Jeremiah 44:28.
1. To careless sinners—
You will persuade yourselves that no evil consequence shall arise to you from your neglect of God and of your own souls. But will God falsify his word to save you? Do not entertain so vain, so impious, a thought. He will not, he cannot, deny himself: nor shall one jot or tittle of his word ever fail.
2. To self-complacent formalists—
You profess to reverence the word of God, and to comply with its commands: but, while you rest in mere forms and ceremonies of religion, you greatly err. God requires the religion of the heart: you must have "the power of godliness as well as its form." The wall that you are constructing may look fair to the eye; but it will not stand: it is raised on a sandy foundation: it is formed of bad materials: it wants the cement of the Spirit: the showers shall soon wash off its external covering; and the stormy wind shall scatter the loose materials: in the name of God we declare to you, that "it shall fall." Nothing will ever stand, but that which is laid on Christ as the foundation, and has all the graces of the Spirit for its superstructure.
3. To inconsistent professors—
Be it granted, that, as far as relates to your views of the Gospel, you are right: still we must look to the effects of the Gospel on your heart and life; and must declare unto you, that, if you do not manifest by your life and conversation that you have "the same mind as was in Christ," you only deceive your own souls: you may have a faith indeed; but it is no better than the faith of devils. From this point we cannot recede a hair's breadth. We do not say that you must possess sinless perfection; for then who could be saved? But we say, that no sin must have allowed, or habitual, dominion over you: the right eye, or right hand, if knowingly retained contrary to the will of God, will as effectually cast you into perdition, as any number of sins whatever: your condemnation indeed may be increased by a multitude of sins; but it will not be rendered more certain, than it is by one reigning sin. O that those who are worldly-minded, or covetous, or proud, or passionate, or impure, or slothful, or addicted to any one sinful disposition, would consider this! God says, By their fruits you shall know them: and by their fruits they shall be known. If ever we would be Christ's, we must "walk as Christ walked."
HEART IDOLATRY CONDEMNED
Ezekiel 14:4. Thus says the Lord God: Every man of the house of Israel that sets tip his idols in his heart, and puts the stumbling-block of his iniquity before his face, and comes to the prophet; I the Lord will answer him that comes according to the multitude of his idols.
IT is gratifying to see the ordinances of religion well attended: but it is painful to reflect how few there are who derive any saving benefit from them; or rather, how many there are who find them, not a savor of life unto life, but rather a savor of death unto their deeper condemnation: If we inquire into the reason of this, we must trace it, not to the word itself, (for that, if dispensed aright, is quick and powerful, as in the days of old,) but to the manner in which the ordinances are attended. Men come up to the House of God, just as the Elders of Israel came before the Prophet Ezekiel, with idols in their hearts; and, being unwilling to part with them, they provoke God to withhold from them his blessing, without which not the ministry of Paul himself could be of any avail.
In the case of Ezekiel's hearers, we see,
I. What inconsistencies are found in the Church of God—
One would have supposed that these Elders of Israel would either have renounced Jehovah altogether, or have put away the idols which estranged their hearts from him. But they wished to keep up an appearance of godliness in the midst of all their impiety; and therefore came to the prophet for instruction, at the very time that they addicted themselves to the worship of their idols.
Thus it is that men come up to the house of God at this day: they cannot altogether renounce their profession of regard for God; but,
1. They set up idols in their hearts—
The cares and pleasures of this world are as dominant in the hearts of the generality as in the heathen themselves. And a love to these is declared by God himself to he idolatry Colossians 3:5 and Philippians 3:19; And shall I say that these "idols are set up in their hearts?" Yes, truly, and in their houses also: for you may live for years in the houses of the generality of Christians, and hear nothing, and see nothing, but what tends to exalt the creature above the Creator, and proves, that Mammon, rather than Jehovah, is the God whom they serve.
Yet they wish to be thought the Lord's people—
They would be indignant if they were accounted heathens. They suppose themselves to be Christians, notwithstanding they have not one real mark of Christianity about them. If a mere attendance on public ordinances would suffice, all were well: but if an inquiry be made, who or what stands highest in their regards, not the worshipers of Baal, with their vestments on, can show more clearly "whose they are, and whom they serve." The inconsistency of the elders who came to Ezekiel, is apparent to all; but, if candidly examined, it is a perfect representation of that which is found in the great mass of Christians at the present day. In truth, the prophet himself marks the correspondence, when he says, "They came to him, as Gods people came; and sat before him as God's people, and heard his words, but would not do them: for with their mouth they showed much love; but their heart went after their covetousness Ezekiel 33:31-32." A juster description of the great mass, even of the better sort of Christians, is not to be found in all the book of God.
That we may guard you against these inconsistencies, we proceed to show,
II. The fearful disappointment in which they will surely issue—
They cannot but be highly displeasing to a God of truth and holiness. Indeed he tells us, in our text, how such inquirers shall fare. He will answer them,
1. In a way of silent contempt—
Among men, silence is often the severest answer: and such an answer shall all such worshipers receive. God even puts the question to us, "Shall I be inquired of by them? As I live, says the Lord, I will not be inquired of by them verse 3 with Ezekiel 20:3." Of this indignant contempt we see an instance in Saul; whom "God answered not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets 1 Samuel 28:6." And this exactly accords with the experience of multitudes, who, though they have attended the house of God ten thousand times, have never received one answer to their prayers; and, though they have as often sat before the prophets of the Lord, have never found any efficacy in the word, to convert and save their souls.
2. In a way of infatuating delusion—
They come with their prejudices and vain conceits, no one of which do they desire to have rectified and removed. God therefore gives them over to blindness and hardness of heart, and to the very delusions which they have chosen Isaiah 66:4. He has plainly declared, that he will do this "to those who love not the truth, but have pleasure in unrighteousness: he will give them over to strong delusion, that they may believe a lie, and perish in their sins 2 Thessalonians. 2:10-12." In fact, these people prefer the prophets that will deceive them Isaiah 30:9-11. Jeremiah 5:31; and they will either be given up to the guidance which they affect verse 9 with Jeremiah 23:17-18, or be left under the influence of eyes that cannot see, and ears that cannot hear Isaiah 6:9-10. 2 Corinthians 4:4.
3. In a way of just and indignant reprehension—
Against persons of this description, our blessed Lord himself, meek and lowly as he was, spoke in the severest terms Matthew 23:13-33. And, truly, God will answer them "according to the multitude of their idols;" "setting his face against them, and consigning them over to the judgments which their hypocrisy has deserved verse 8. Matthew 24:31. His word to them is the very reverse of that which will be uttered to his obedient people: "Say to the righteous, that it shall be well with them; for they shall eat the fruit of their doings: but woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him; for the reward of his hands shall be given unto him Isaiah 3:10-11."
1. Examine, I pray you, with what dispositions you have come hither at this time—
In coming hither, to inquire of the Lord, have you been sincerely desirous to know his will; and fully determined, through grace, to obey it without reserve? O! judge yourselves; for God knows your hearts, and his judgment will be according to truth.
2. Look to it, that this message from God produce in your hearts its due effect—
If you will approve yourselves to God, you must "be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own souls James 1:22-25."
THE EFFECT OF GOD'S MERCY ON THE RENEWED SOUL
Ezekiel 16:62-63. I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall know that I am the Lord: that you may remember, and be confounded, and never of en your mouth any more because of your shame, when I am pacified towards you for all that you have done, says the Lord God.
WHOEVER attentively reads the writings of the prophets, will observe, that there is one image in particular which predominates, as it were, above all others, in representing and characterizing the departure of the soul from God; it is that of the violation of the nuptial vows. God has been pleased to speak of himself as the Husband of his Church: and hence, when his people have turned aside to idols, they are said to have "committed adultery with stocks and stones." Sometimes that idea is prosecuted with a minuteness, which, though proper for the time and occasion on which it was written, would not be suitable for an audience differently circumstanced. The Prophet Ezekiel in particular, who seems to have been a man of a severer cast, and to have been intent only on communicating his sentiments as strongly and forcibly as he could, has given himself great latitude in this respect. He is not content with using here and there a metaphorical expression; he occupies a whole chapter in drawing, as it were, a parallel between a supposed adulteress, and the Jewish people. Certainly this gives great force to his reproofs; because the minds of all are open to conviction, when truth is stated to them in a way which commends itself to their feelings and judgment. We shall not however follow him any farther than will be necessary for the elucidation of our main subject.
We should not, in the general, take occasion from the single word "you" to investigate largely the character and conduct of the persons addressed: but here our subject absolutely requires that we should do so; since the whole chapter is occupied in delineating it; and a full consideration of it is necessary, in order to the obtaining of a right understanding of our text. We propose then, from a view of our text as connected with the whole chapter, to set before you,
I. The extent of man's wickedness—
We will give, in the first place, a brief summary of the chapter—
It is here supposed that a child, from the moment of its birth, is left exposed in an open field, without any one to pay the least attention to it; and that in that situation, where it must speedily have perished, it is noticed by Jehovah, who instantly administers to all its wants, and thus preserves its life. It is then supposed, that, after this child has been brought up by him to a mature age, she is espoused to him and becomes his wife. He, in the character of her husband, loads her with benefits, so as to make her the admiration and the envy of all who behold her. She however, instead of requiting him with that love, and honor, and fidelity that become her, abandons herself to open prostitution, and that too, not through the solicitations of others, but through the willful depravity of her own heart; she herself being the tempter of all her paramours, and bestowing on them the gifts which her husband had conferred on her. By this licentious and infamous conduct she has compelled her husband to put her away, and to withdraw from her the means of exciting and compensating any more these iniquitous proceedings.
Let us now mark how this image was applicable to Judah and Jerusalem—
The Jews had been originally chosen in Abraham, their common father, when he himself was an idolater: and as soon as his posterity were multiplied in Egypt, they were reduced to such a state of destitution and misery, that they must have perished, if God himself had not miraculously interposed for them. But God had compassion on them, and brought them out with a high hand, and took them for his own peculiar people, and gave them an inheritance in the land of Canaan. There he elevated them to a high rank among the nations, insomuch that they were the envy and admiration of all who knew them; so great was their power, their opulence, their prosperity in every respect. But in time they turned from the worship of God to idols, and from confidence in God to a dependence on foreign alliances, which they sought and maintained at vast expense. "Your renown," says the prophet, (verse 14, 15.) "went forth among the heathen for your beauty; for it was perfect through my loveliness which I had put upon you, says the Lord God. But you did trust in your own beauty, and played the harlot because of your renown." All manner of corruptions at length overspread the land, and provoked God, who was jealous for his own honor, to give them up to the desolations and miseries which they had so justly merited.
But to us also, as well as to them, all this may be applied—
View us as men: how helpless were we in our early infancy! yet through the goodness of God, who has been a father to us, we have been placed in situations of ease and honor, far beyond what, if left to ourselves without his paternal care, we could ever have obtained. God, having formed us for himself, has given us many rich endowments, such as were necessary for the filling of the situation to which he has advanced us. But what use have we made of all his gifts? Have we improved them in obedience to his will, and for the promotion of his glory? Have not our various talents, of mental energy, of bodily strength, of worldly property, been employed solely for our own personal gratification, without any regard for Him to whom they properly belonged, and for whose honor they should have been employed? Truly there has not been any idol, however base, to whose service we have not devoted these things, rather than to the service of our God.
View us as Christians also, and the same wickedness may justly be laid to our charge. In our natural state we were altogether guilty and polluted, yes, helpless and hopeless. But the advantages which Almighty God has conferred upon us have been exceeding great: all the ordinances of his worship, all the offers of his grace, all the hopes of his glory, have been given to us from time to time, in order to convince us of his love, and to stimulate us to an unreserved surrender of ourselves to him. But these things, instead of having been improved aright, have actually been made the means and occasions of our departure from him. We have rested in the ordinances, without any concern whether we enjoyed God in them or not: his offers of mercy have been brought to justify the idea, that we might sin against him with impunity: and the prospects of the eternal world have been considered as little affected by our present conduct. "This has been our way from our youth;" and it is equally prevalent in every class of the community.
Would an earthly husband be satisfied with such conduct in his wife? What wonder then is it if our heavenly Husband regard these our adulteries with grief and wrathful indignation?
But if, on the one hand, these things show the greatness of our depravity, they serve, on the other hand, most strikingly to illustrate,
II. The exceeding riches of God's grace—
Vile as the Jews had been, he promises in our text to restore them to his favor—
That the same persons are addressed as have been described in all the preceding context, is evident from the two verses before our text. The two tribes of Judah and Benjamin having followed the Canaanites in their abominations, it is said, that "their father was an Amorite, and their mother a Hittite." Their character is then compared with that of Samaria and of Sodom (who are called their sisters), and is said to have been worse than either ver, 45–48, 51, 52. Yet, says God, I will restore "Sodom and her daughters (I. e. the heathen world at large), and Samaria and her daughters (I. e. the ten tribes of Israel), to their former estate;" and then, "when you shall receive your sisters, your elder and your younger, I will give them to you for daughters, but not by your covenant verse 53, 55, 61, 62; and I will establish my covenant with you."
Here it is distinctly stated, that there shall be a restoration of the whole Jewish nation, together with a general conversion of the Gentiles: and that they shall be all united, not on the footing of the covenant made with the Jews on Mount Sinai, ("not by your covenant,") but on the footing of the new "covenant made with them in the days of their youth," even with Abraham their father: this is the covenant which he would reestablish with them; and according to the tenor of it he would freely forgive all their past iniquities, and restore them to the everlasting enjoyment of his favor. By this wonderful exhibition of mercy to them, "they should know assuredly that He, even Jehovah, is the only true God;" yes moreover, that He is their God forever and ever.
This was so very partially fulfilled at the deliverance of the Jews from Babylon, that we cannot but look for a more complete fulfillment of it at a period yet future, but, we trust, not very remote.
The promise however is, no doubt, to be extended to us also—
However vile we may have been, God, if we seek him, will remember his holy covenant, and will accept us according to the tenor of it. In that covenant, provision is made for our every want. "It is ordered in all things and sure:" and it is therefore sure, because by it God gives all, and we receive all: God gives the new heart as well as pardon for past offences; and engages to make us his people, at the time that he gives himself to us as our God. Hear how plainly all this is declared in the Epistle to the Hebrews, Hebrews 8:8-12; The very distinction is there made between the Jewish covenant that was made on Mount Sinai, and the covenant of grace which was made four hundred and thirty years before with Abraham: and the knowledge of the Lord will be universally diffused, not in theory only, but in the experience of every individual: "for," says God, "I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more." This then is the promise which we now make known to you; that however you may have alienated your affections from God in times past, if you will but now return to him, your former iniquities shall no more be remembered, but God will be your God forever and ever. O hear the very invitations of God himself Jeremiah 3:1; Jeremiah 3:12; and implore help from God to comply with them!
But is not this a dangerous doctrine? Surely not, if we consider,
III. The effect of this grace upon every soul of man—
It is thought by those who have never experienced this grace themselves, that it must of necessity puff up with pride and conceit all who receive it. But,
This is contrary to reason—
If we maintain that man by nature is in the situation of this outcast child; that God, purely of his own mercy and grace, "looks upon us" in that situation, and "bids us live;" if, after all our innumerable transgressions, he invites us to repent of our iniquities, and to embrace his holy covenant; we should think that there is no possible scope for pride and self-conceit; since the very mercy which God exercises towards us is not founded in any actual, or foreseen, goodness in us, but wholly in the free and sovereign exercise of God's holy will It is the man that arrogates some goodness to himself, and makes the superior worth of the individual to be the ground of God's peculiar favor to him, this is the man that is proud, and that puts the very crown of Jehovah upon his own head. Even in Heaven itself, if such a man were ever to reach that blessed place, he would be robbing God of his glory, and ascribing his salvation, in part at least, to his own superior goodness, which was the first moving cause of God's mercy towards him.
It is contrary to fact also—
"Then shall you remember your ways, and be ashamed:" yes, "I will establish with you my covenant, that you may (what? be lifted up with pride? No: that you may) remember, and be confounded, and never open your mouth any more because of your shame, when I am pacified towards you for all that you have done, says the Lord God." Here is the true state of every pardoned soul: the mercy of God towards him humbles him in the dust, and makes him to abhor himself in dust and ashes.
It would be thought by the generality, that the spirit of a loving, faithful and obedient wife would be proper for the spouse of Christ: and so it would if that spouse had never violated her nuptial vows. But we are all like this adulterous woman: and, as an adulteress, who had been precisely circumstanced like her in the chapter before us, would, after being restored to the favor of her husband, never forgive herself, however freely he may have forgiven her, so will a gracious soul when restored to the Divine favor: yes, the very favor of God, in proportion as it is exercised towards him, will only create in the soul a deeper self-abhorrence forever having sinned against so gracious a God. An admiration of God's goodness, and a loathing of its own vileness, will never cease to occupy the soul that has been thus restored.
We call you then, in conclusion, to remember,
1. Your covenant mercies—
How unspeakable are these! The very vilest of the human race may become the spouse of Christ, and be invested with all the honors and privileges of that relation. Will any of you be indifferent towards your God and Savior, and reject the overtures which he now sends you by me? O remember, that as man and wife are one flesh, so "he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him." Let all of you seek to be partakers of this honor. It is by faith in Christ that you become one with him; and by the exercise of the same faith shall all the blessings of the everlasting covenant flow down into your souls.
2. Your covenant engagements—
You all know what engagements a wife enters into, when she is taking upon her the vows of the marriage-covenant. She is thenceforward to live altogether for him with whom she has contracted this solemn bond. O let every Believer know what he has undertaken, and consider what is to be his constant aim. You must not be contented with some few services; you must be aspiring after such measures of love and purity, as may render you more lovely in the eyes of your blessed Lord, and may cause his very name to be glorified in you. In the world that is approaching, when the Lamb will publicly take home his Bride, you will be clothed in fine white linen, suited to the occasion. Be preparing those robes, while yet you are here; and by the richest unctions of Divine grace be daily becoming meet for the bridal chamber: and then shall the nuptials soon arrive; and you shall be forever happy in the bosom of your God.
PARABLE OF THE TWIG OF A CEDAR PLANTED IN THE HEIGHT OF ISRAEL
Ezekiel 17:22-24. Thus says the Lord God; I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set it; I will crop off from the top of his young twigs a tender one, and will plant it upon an high mountain and eminent: in the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it: and it shall bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a goodly cedar: and under it shall dwell all bird of every wing; in the shadow of the branches thereof shall they dwell. And all the trees of the field shall know, that I the Lord have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree, have dried up the green tree, and have made the dry tree to flourish: I the Lord have spoken and have done it.
THE promises of God to his Church are not unfrequently connected with, and, as it were, made to arise out of, his judgments denounced against his enemies. Of this we have a very striking example in the chapter before us, where the very images which are used to represent the guilt and punishment of the king of Judah are employed to prefigure the establishment and increase of the Church of Christ.
To understand the text aright, the preceding context should be considered.
The prophet was commanded to deliver a riddle, or parable, that should set forth the conduct of the Jewish people in a mysterious, but just, light: and then, lest it should not be fully understood, he was to give them the true interpretation of it. Nebuchadnezzar, having taken Jeconiah king of Judah and all his princes captive to Babylon, would not entirely destroy Jerusalem, but made Mattaniah (whom he named Zedekiah) king in the place of Jeconiah his uncle, and suffered him to enjoy all the rights and honors of royalty, on the express condition of his holding them, not as an independent sovereign, but as tributary to the king of Babylon. All this was quite a gratuitous act; and it lay Zedekiah under the strongest obligations to fulfill towards his benefactor all the engagements that he had entered into, more especially as they were confirmed by a solemn oath. But Zedekiah, unmindful of his oaths, sought the aid of the king of Egypt, that so he might be delivered from what he considered as a disgraceful vassalage, and enjoy a sovereignty independent and uncontrolled. This treachery is represented by God under the image of a twig, cropped off a lofty cedar by a great eagle, and planted by him in a fruitful field, and growing so as to be highly respectable, though inferior in grandeur to the parent stock. This young cedar, dissatisfied with its state, spreads its roots towards another great eagle, (the king of Egypt,) in hopes that through his influence it shall attain a far greater eminence and fertility. But God, whose oath was thereby violated, declared, that the attempt should not prosper, but that, on the contrary, the perjured monarch, who was thus described, should bring ruin, irreparable ruin, on his own head This was preached within about three weeks of Bonaparte being sent to Helena. The extraordinary resemblance between his fate and Zedekiah's, as well as of the grounds and occasions of it, cannot fail to strike the attentive reader, who compares them together. See verse 18–21. From hence it might be supposed, that David's throne should never be re-established; but God promises, under precisely the same figure that had been employed to represent these things, that he will restore the kingdom of David, partly under Zerubbabel, but principally under the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ; and that, instead of being ever subverted, like the Jewish polity, or the kingdoms of this world, it shall stand forever and ever, a glorious monument of his power and truth.
We propose to consider this prophecy,
I. As already accomplished—
The Church, though low in its origin, is become exceeding great—
The Lord Jesus Christ, the Founder of it, was brought into the world when the family of David was reduced to a very low and abject state. He is fitly called "A rod out of the stem of Jesse Isaiah 11:1," that "grew up as a tender plant, as a root out of a dry ground Isaiah 53:2." During the whole time of his sojourning on earth, he existed in a state of the deepest humiliation: and his Church which he established, consisted only of himself and a few poor fishermen. However, this twig, being planted in the height of Israel, grew, and "brought forth boughs, and bare fruit, and speedily became a goodly cedar." Great and vehement were the storms which menaced its existence; but it withstood them all; and in a little time it spread its branches throughout all the Roman empire. Then "birds of every wing (that is, Jews and Gentiles) came to dwell under its shadow," and to be nourished by its fruits. At this hour its growth is visible from year to year: and in due season it will fill the whole earth, and be the one center of union, and source of happiness, to all mankind.
And thus far God is greatly glorified in it—
"Every tree of the field must know" whose work this is, and to whom all the glory of it belongs. Who can survey the Church in its infancy, and not wonder that it was not rooted up as soon as ever it was planted? Every arm was lifted up against it: all the powers of the world combined for its destruction; and not one friend or ally was found for it on the face of the whole earth. The great empires of the world, the Assyrian, Chaldean, Persian, Grecian, Roman, all successively fell to ruin, notwithstanding the efforts made for their preservation: but the Church, without any sword but the word of God, or any shield that was visible to human eyes, stood, and stands to this day, deriding all the efforts of men or devils to subvert it. Who then, we would ask, Who is it that has thus "brought down the high tree, and exalted the low? Who is it that has thus dried up the green tree, and made the dry tree to flourish?" Is not all this the work of God? Truly, the burning bush has been a just and lively exhibition of the Church in every age: God was in it, and therefore it was not consumed. In like manner we may speak of every individual branch or twig that grows upon this tree; Who is it that has preserved even the meanest of the saints, in the midst of all the difficulties and trials he has had to contend with? Must it not be said of all, "He who has wrought us to the self-same thing is God?" Yes, in every tree of righteousness which is the planting of the Lord, God, and God alone, must be glorified Isaiah 60:21; Isaiah 61:3. If Paul himself was constrained to say, "Not I, but the grace of God that was with me," it will scarcely be thought that any one else can arrogate to himself the honor of his own growth, stability, or fruitfulness."
Gloriously as this prophecy has been already fulfilled, it should be contemplated by us,
II. As yet further to be accomplished—
The Church will doubtless be yet more widely extended through the earth—
In truth, this cedar has attained at present but a small measure of its destined growth. It is but in a small part of the world that even the name of Christ is known: and, where his religion is professed, there are but few, very few indeed, who experience its renovating power. But it shall not be always thus: the time is coming when "he will multiply them that they shall not be few, and will glorify them that they shall not be small Jeremiah 30:18-19. Then, in a far different sense from what can be affixed to the words at this time, shall it be said, that "bird of every wing come to dwell under the shadow of this goodly cedar;" for "all shall know the Lord, from the least even to the greatest:" "all kings shall fall down before him, all nations shall serve him:" "the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea."
Then shall God be more abundantly glorified in it—
The whole Church, and every individual in it, is to God "for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory." It is in his hands "a crown of glory, and a diadem of beauty Isaiah 62:3." But how greatly will his power and goodness appear, when "all flesh shall see the salvation of God," yes, and actually enjoy it! If now, when the attainments of his people are so low, he is honored, how will he be glorified when "the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun sevenfold, as the light of seven days!" And how will he be exalted in that day, when all his saints from the beginning of the world shall be gathered in one bright assembly, and shall join together in one general chorus; how, I say, will he then "be glorified in his saints, and admired in all that believe!".
Viewing now the Lord Jesus Christ, or rather his holy religion, as this goodly cedar, let us, in conclusion,
1. Come and rest under his shadow—
Truly there is no rest for us any where else: we are like "the dove which Noah sent forth from the ark, and which could find no rest for the sole of her foot but in the ark itself." But if we feel our need of a Savior, if we are sensible that without an interest in him we must forever perish, then let us attend to his inviting voice, "Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest!".
2. Give him the glory of all the rest we enjoy—
Nothing can be more offensive to God than "the sacrificing to our own net, and burning incense to our own drag." This is a provocation which God will not endure: he will not give his glory to another, nor will he suffer "any flesh to glory in his presence." Let us in particular remember, that by the law of faith, that is, by the Gospel, "boasting is, and must forever be, excluded." For the Savior that he has given, for the inclination and ability which we have to trust in him, and for all the grace that we have derived from him, we must say, "Not unto me, O Lord, but unto your name be the praise." Let us remember, that by covenant and by oath we are bound to trust in him alone: let us not then, like Zedekiah, be bending our roots towards any other, or be looking to any other confidence; but let us seek to please him only whose servants we are, and to glorify him only who has done so great things for us.
EQUITY OF GOD IN HIS JUDGMENTS
Ezekiel 18:25-30. You say, the way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal? When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, and commits iniquity, and dies in them; for his iniquity that he has done shall he die. Again, when the wicked man turns away from his wickedness that he has committed, and does that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. Because he considers, and turns away from all his transgressions that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die. Yet says the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal. O house of Israel, are not my ways equal? are not your ways unequal? Therefore I will judge you, 0 house of Israel, every one according to his ways, says the Lord God. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.
THERE is a general disposition in man to reply against God; and rather to arraign his justice, than to condemn himself. Occasion was taken for this by the Jews of old, even from the declarations of the law and the prophets. The law had said, that God would "visit the sins of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation;" and the prophets had frequently declared, that the iniquities of Jeroboam, Manasseh, and others, should be visited on their descendants. From hence the Jews profanely characterized the Divine procedure by this proverb, "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge verse 2." They did not consider, that they themselves were sinners like unto their fathers, and merited for their own iniquities every judgment which God had threatened to lay upon them; nor did they ever consider, that if God was pleased to exercise forbearance towards some, he was not necessitated to continue it towards all, when he saw that the very exercise of it emboldened men the more to sin against him: nor did they ever consider, that the menaces, which were uttered in reference to temporal judgments, were erroneously interpreted, when they were applied to the judgments of the eternal world. The prophet therefore was instructed to expostulate with them on their misinterpretation of God's word; and to declare to them, that though in this world children must unavoidably participate in the judgments of their fathers, it should not be so in the world to come: there the son should not bear in any respect the iniquity of the father, nor the father of the son; but "the soul that sinned, it should die." In confirmation of this truth, the prophet argues with them in this chapter, wherein the whole plan of the Divine proceedings, in reference to the different characters of mankind, is stated, vindicated, and improved. It is,
If the righteous man turn away from his righteousness, and die in his sins, he shall perish—
This is a solemn truth, which men strive by every possible method to evade. When Christian principles are insisted on, they will speak of practice: but here, when practice is spoken of, they will recur to principles, and deny that a righteous man can so turn away from his righteousness as to perish in his sins. They are like the Samaritan woman, who, when our Lord reproved her for her adulteries, had recourse immediately to controversial matters, and inquired, who were right, the Samaritans, or the Jews, as to the place where Divine worship ought to be performed? Ungodly professors of religion now fly off from what comes home to their own bosoms, and enter on controversy in order to avoid the awful truth that is brought to their ears. But it is a fact, that a righteous man may depart from his righteousness: Demas did 2 Timothy 4:10; Paul was constrained to use the utmost possible care, lest he should 1 Corinthians 9:27; and all are commanded to take heed to themselves, lest they should do so too 1 Corinthians 10:12. Hebrews 3:12-13. As to God's secret decrees, no man knows what they are, as relating to his own person, or to the person of any individual whatever: nor is there a man in the whole universe that is warranted in saying, I never can fall; at least, can never so fall as to perish. David, and Solomon, and Peter, display sufficiently the instability of man; and, if they were restored, their restoration does not show that they could not have perished, but only, that God, for the magnifying of his own grace and mercy, did not leave them to perish. They might have perished, and would have perished, as much as Judas, if they had been left to themselves: it was not any gracious principle which they had in them, and that was in itself indefectible, that recovered them, but God's unbounded grace and mercy, given to them according to the good pleasure of his own will.
Hear this then, you professors of religion, you who are accounted righteous, and who think yourselves righteous; you may turn away from your righteousness, and perish. O let this consideration lead you to the utmost vigilance, and stimulate you to the most unremitting exertions in the path of duty!
On the other hand, if the wicked man turn from his iniquity, and do what is lawful and right, he shall live—
Delightful reflection! Hear it, you sinners of every description: it is the declaration of the Most High God. You must turn indeed from your iniquities, and especially from your besetting sin, mourning over it, fighting against it, bringing it into subjection. You must also be doing all that God requires of you in his blessed word. You must flee to Christ for refuge from the wrath of an avenging God: you must trust altogether in his meritorious death and passion: you must renounce every other hope; and must seek "to be found in Him, not having your own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." You must also, in dependence on his Holy Spirit, endeavor to fulfill the whole will of God, and to "walk in everything as Christ walked." And if indeed you act thus, we declare, in the name of Almighty God, that "you shall never perish, but shall have eternal life." As the foregoing characters entertain too little fear, so you are apt to indulge too much; and, because things have been ill, you are ready to suppose they never can be such as to warrant an expectation of the Divine favor. To remove these apprehensions, God repeats his gracious assertions respecting you, and declares that you, if you turn to him in the way before specified, "shall surely live; you shall not die." Whatever your sins may have been, they shall all be blotted out as a morning cloud; nor shall so much as one of them ever be remembered against you: though they may have been of a crimson dye, you shall, in the sight of God himself, be white as snow. As the righteousness of the righteous shall never be remembered, when once he departs from it; so neither shall the wickedness of the wicked, when once he turns from it. The present character of every individual is that which shall determine his eternal state.
One would think that such a procedure as this should not stand in any need of vindication: but men, not with standing the obvious and undoubted equity of it, will complain of it as unjust.
In our text however it is,
Inequality indeed there is in abundance on the part of men—
Every description of sinners is chargeable with injustice towards God. The profane sinner accounts it very hard that his sins are to be visited with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord. What has he done that deserves such a sentence as this? Why did God give him passions, if he is to be punished to all eternity for the indulgence of them? and, supposing his conduct to be sinful, what proportion do the sins of a few days or years bear to the everlasting torments of Hell? He cannot believe that God will ever be so unmerciful and unjust as to execute on men the threatenings of his word. The proud formalist thinks it strange indeed that he is to perish. What! must he, who has been so sober, so moral, so regular, so observant of all his duties to God and man, must he perish, because he does not adopt the principles, and imitate the practice, of a few wild enthusiasts? No: he hates fanaticism; and will never believe that God requires all that strictness which some enthusiasts speak of; and much less that he will ever banish from his presence those whose whole lives have been so blameless as theirs. The hypocritical professor, who can talk of Christ, and exert himself zealously to promote the Gospel, cannot imagine, that he should be obnoxious to the Divine displeasure, or that God could be at all just in condemning him. True indeed, he does not always adhere to truth, and perhaps is not very strictly just in his dealings: his cares about the world too engross almost all his thoughts; nor has he any pleasure in the duties of the closet: evil dispositions too are unhappily very prevalent in him; pride, anger, envy, hatred, malice, evil-speaking, uncharitableness, retain more or less the ascendant over him; perhaps too intemperance and impurity, if not indulged to such an extent as to expose him to public disgrace, are far from being mortified so as to give way to the habitual exercise of the opposite virtues. But can it be that God should reject him, when all his confidence is in Christ, and in the covenant which God has made with us in Christ?
Such are their modes of arguing on the subject of God's final judgment. But we ask, What equity is there in such expectations as these? Is it equitable that a man who lives altogether without God in the world, should be placed on the same footing with one who devotes himself entirely to God? Is it equitable that a man who possesses no more than a form of godliness, should find the same favor with God as one who lives under the continued influence of its power? Is it equitable that a professor of religion who in no respect adorns his holy profession, should be honored of God like one who is a bright pattern of every virtue, and daily increasing in a conformity to his Lord and Savior? We ask, Is there any equity in such things? Will any reasonable being venture to say, that such a procedure is becoming a God of holiness and truth?
But on the part of God there is no such inequality—
The moral and religious character of men will be the one ground of all his decisions in the day of judgment: "According to your ways and according to your doings will he judge you, O house of Israel." "Say you to the righteous, that it shall be well with him; for they shall eat the fruit of their doings: but woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him; for the reward of his hand shall be given him Isaiah 3:10-11." This is what in God's name we are authorized and commanded to declare. Respect indeed will be had to the means and opportunities which different persons enjoyed; and on this principle, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for the Jews, who rejected the ministry of our Lord: but still there will be one test to which every man will be brought, namely, How did you improve the privileges you enjoyed, and how did you act up to the principles you professed? No favor will be shown to any man because he was a Jew, nor will any man be despised because he was a Gentile: "the uncircumcision of the Gentile will be reckoned to him for circumcision, if he keep the law; and the circumcision of the Jew be reckoned for uncircumcision, if he break the law." The conformity of every man to the mind and will of God, as far as he had an opportunity of knowing it, will be the object of inquiry; much or little being required of him in proportion to what has been committed to him: and according as he has neglected or improved his talent, shall be the sentence passed upon him; regard being had, not to the state of a man at any former period of his life, but to his state at the time that he is summoned to the judgment-seat. Now can any man condemn this as unequal or unjust? Twice does God appeal even to the very people that presumed to accuse him; and twice does he challenge them to say, on whose part inequality is chargeable, their own, or his?
The prophet, assuming that after this statement there must be an end of the controversy, shows how these determinations of God should be,
It is to no purpose that God has declared these truths, if they have not a practical operation on our minds.
The prophet therefore improves the subject for us, by a word,
1. Of direction; "Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions"—
Repentance is necessary for every child of man: "God commands all men everywhere to repent." But it is not a partial repentance that will suffice: we must "turn from all our transgressions: there must be no exceptions, no reserves; no right eye, which we will not pluck out; no right hand, which we will not cut off. The profane sinner must abandon all his evil ways, and turn unto God with his whole heart. The proud formalist must renounce all his self-dependence, and must live a life of faith on the Lord Jesus Christ, and a life of entire devotedness of heart to God. The inconsistent professor also must be brought to a sense of his peculiar guilt and danger; and must become like his blessed Lord and Savior in all his tempers and dispositions, in all his spirit and deportment towards God and man.
True it is, that these things cannot be done by any power of our own: but this is no reason that we should not address ourselves to the work; nor will it be any excuse for not accomplishing the work, since God has promised to give his Holy Spirit unto all that ask him, and has assured us that his grace shall be sufficient for us. This then is the direction which all must follow; and the foregoing statement clearly shows how important it is that we should follow it earnestly and without delay.
2. Of encouragement; "So iniquity shall not be your ruin"—
Iniquity must be our ruin, if we do not thus repent: nothing can save us: God himself, if we may so speak, cannot save us; because he cannot depart from the rules which he has prescribed to himself for his procedure in the last day. However much he may desire to extend mercy to us, he will not do it to the dishonor of his own perfections, and to the destruction of all the established principles of his moral government. No: "except we repent, we must all" inevitably and eternally "perish." But if we thus repent, all will be well: our iniquities, whatever they may have been, shall all be put away from us, as far as the east is from the west. Hear the declaration of the Most High God: "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon Isaiah 55:7." O let this sink down into our ears: let it encourage us to put away all our hard thoughts of God, and to seek him with our whole hearts. Let us search and try our ways: let us bring ourselves to the touchstone of God's unerring word: let us now so "judge ourselves, that we may not hereafter be judged of the Lord:" and, if a fear arise in our minds that our sins are too great to be forgiven, let this thought comfort us, that "where sin has abounded, grace shall much more abound; and that, as sin has reigned unto death, even so shall grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord."
CONVERSION, IN ITS COMMENCEMENT AND PROGRESS
Ezekiel 20:37. I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant.
THE precise import of these words is not clear at first sight. If we take them in connection with the preceding context, they must be considered as a continuation of the threatening denounced against the Jews for their abominable idolatries. Then their meaning will be, 'I will inflict upon you the judgments which your violations of my covenant demand:' or, as God had said by Moses, "I will bring a sword upon you, that shall avenge the quarrel of my covenant Leviticus 26:25." If, on the other hand, the words be taken in connection with the following context, then they must be regarded as a promise, that, notwithstanding the judgments that should be inflicted on them, God had mercies in reserve for them, and would, at a future period, restore them to his favor. And this is the sense to which I rather incline. The obstinately rebellious among them, indeed, he would give up to their own lusts, and utterly destroy them verse 38, 39; but he would take out a chosen people from among them, and bring them to his holy mountain, and accept all their offerings, and make himself known to them as their reconciled God and Father, and give them repentance to salvation, not to be repented of verse 40–44. This exactly accords with what the prophet had spoken in a preceding chapter: "Thus says the Lord God: I will even deal with you as you have done, which have despised the oath in breaking the covenant. Nevertheless, I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth; and I will establish unto you an everlasting covenant Ezekiel 16:59-60." In this view the words have a singular beauty; and will lead us to some extremely profitable reflections.
It was customary with shepherds, as it is also at this day, to make their flocks pass under their pastoral rod, in order that he might number them, or separate some from the rest Leviticus 27:32. Jeremiah 33:13. In this way God promises to make Israel pass before him, in order to select from them a people unto himself, and to bring them into the bonds of his everlasting covenant. And, in conformity with this view, we might well direct your attention to the future conversion of the Jews, who shall assuredly be restored to the favor of their God. But, waving this part of the subject, I will rather speak of conversion generally; the process of which is the same, whether in them or in us. We may notice, then, this work of conversion, as here described,
I. In its commencement—
"The Lord," we are told, "has set apart him that is godly for himself Psalm 4:3." This he accomplishes in a variety of ways:
1. By the dispensations of his Providence—
Sometimes things which, humanly speaking, we should call accidental, are ordered with a special view to the awakening of immortal souls, and leading them to the knowledge of himself. In our Savior's progress from Judea to Galilee, "he must needs go through Samaria; and, being wearied with his journey, he stopped at a city called Sychar, and seated himself by a well called Jacob's well. While he was there, a woman of Samaria came thither to draw water." In all this there appears nothing but an ordinary occurrence: but it was God's appointed way of bringing her, together with many others, under the rod, and eventually into the bond of his covenant John 4:3-7; John 4:25-26. Not unfrequently he is pleased to make use of some afflictive dispensation; as in the case of Manasseh, upon whom "God brought the armies of the king of Assyria, who, as his instruments, took him among the thorns, and bound him in fetters, and carried him to Babylon:" the effect of all which was, that, "when he was in affliction, this monster of impiety besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers 2 Chronicles 33:11-13," and obtained mercy at his hands. Multitudes of others also, in every age, have found reason to say, "Before I was afflicted, I went astray; but now have I kept your law."
2. By the conversion of some pious friend—
We see not, in general, anything remarkable in an accidental interview with a pious person; while yet it may, perhaps, have been as particularly ordained of God for a special end, as the meeting of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. God especially directed Philip to join himself to the eunuch's chariot, and to explain to him a passage of Scripture which he was not able to comprehend. By this was the eunuch guided to the knowledge of the Lord Jesus, and made a partaker of everlasting salvation. Thus, persons sent to us, though they received not their commission in so plain and direct a way, have come to us under the same Divine guidance, and have been made alike successful in their efforts for our good. For similar benefits was Peter indebted to his brother Andrew, and Nathanael to his friend Philip John 1:40; John 1:45; and perhaps many among ourselves must trace our first awakenings to some event of this kind, even to a friendly suggestion from some pious or benevolent instructor.
3. By the public ministry of the word—
It is by this, for the most part, that God is pleased to separate, and seal us up, for his own. He sends home his word with power to the heart of one and another, just as he did to the heart of Lydia; and causes them to surrender up themselves to him, as his redeemed people. A whole assembly is present: but a discrimination is made by God, according to his sovereign will and pleasure; who makes "the same word to be to some a savor of life unto life, while to others it becomes only a savor of death unto death 2 Corinthians 2:16."
4. By the secret operation of his Spirit upon the soul—
We see not the rod in the hand of the great Shepherd; but he is using it every moment, for the purpose of separating a people for himself. By his good Spirit he imparts a sensation to the soul, a heavenly touch, of which the person himself perhaps, at first, is scarcely conscious. By that he enlightens the eyes, and draws the heart; and prepares a person for fuller discoveries of his power and grace. Job says, "God speaks once, yes, twice; yet man perceives it not. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men, in slumberings upon the bed; then he opens the ears of men, and seals their instruction, that he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man Job 33:14-17." Doubtless, whatever is done by the Holy Spirit, is, and must ever be, in perfect accordance with the word: but his motions are not confined to means or instruments of any kind: yet, in his operations, he always deals with us as rational creatures; drawing us, not by force, as inanimate beings, but "with the cords of a man, and with the bands of love John 6:44 with Hosea 11:4."
This, then, is the preparatory work, whereby "God causes us to pass under the rod:" and this is the commencement of that conversion, which we are next to mark,
II. In its progress—
God's ultimate view, in these diversified dispensations, is, to bring us into the bond of his covenant, because it is only by virtue of that covenant, and through an interest in it, that sinful man can be saved. When, therefore, he has made us to pass under the rod,
1. He reveals that covenant to us—
Previous to a work of grace upon our souls, we are altogether ignorant of the covenant which God has made with us, and with his only-begotten Son in our behalf. We have, perhaps, some general notions about repentance and faith; but we have no distinct view of the Savior undertaking for us to expiate our guilt by the sacrifice of himself, and to work out a righteousness for us by his own obedience unto death. We see not our need of such a covenant: much less do we so behold its excellency, as to "comprehend the breadth and length and depth and height of his love" displayed in it. But, when God, in tender mercy, arrests us in our course, and directs our attention to eternal things, he opens and unfolds to us this covenant, in all its merciful provisions: he shown us, that in this covenant there is abundant security, both for the honor of God and the happiness of man; inasmuch as, by the provisions of it, all his perfections are glorified, and every want of man is supplied. Thus "his secret is with us, and he shows us his covenant Psalm 25:14."
2. He enables us to lay hold on it—
There is much reluctance in us, at first, to embrace this covenant. It is too humiliating for us; in that it requires us to abandon all self-dependence, and to look for acceptance with God solely through the merits of his dear Son. But when once we have passed under the rod of our divine Shepherd, and been set apart for him, then comes "the day of his power; and we are made willing" to be saved on any terms which it has pleased God to prescribe. The salvation of our souls is then, in our estimation, "the one thing needful:" and, without any wish to stipulate for ourselves, we cry, "Lord, what will you have me to do?" Then, as the man-slayer sought a city of refuge, and fled to it with all earnestness from the pursuer of blood, so do we most thankfully lay hold on this covenant, and "flee for refuge to the hope that is set before us." In truth, this way of salvation appears precisely such as our necessities require. The covenant makes over to us everything, as the free gift of God for Christ's sake: and, deeply conscious that we have nothing, and can do nothing, whereby to merit even the smallest of its blessings, we are glad to receive them all "without money and without price."
3. He confers upon us all the blessings—
"This covenant is ordered in all things, and sure:" it makes over to us all that we can ever need, for body or for soul, for time or for eternity. Accordingly, from the time that we are brought to "lay hold upon it," God showers forth his blessings upon us in rich abundance; "he blots out all our iniquities, as a morning cloud;" and pours down upon us the riches of his grace, whereby we are enabled to mortify all our corrupt affections, and to walk before him in newness of heart and life. He makes known himself to us as a Covenant God, that is engaged to fulfill to us all his promises, and to "perfect in us the work he has begun." In short, he gives us to see that Heaven itself is our inheritance; and that, while "that is reserved for us, we also are kept by his mighty power for it 1 Peter 1:4-5." His faithfulness then becomes no less an object of our affiance than his mercy; and we are enabled, with confidence, to say, "There is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me," at the great day of his appearing.
We cannot but remark from hence,
1. How sovereign God is, in the dispensations of his mercy—
If a shepherd separate any sheep for his own peculiar use, it is probable that he has some reference to their intrinsic worth, as the ground of his preference. But our heavenly Shepherd has respect to nothing but his own sovereign will and pleasure. This remarkably appears in the passage before us; where the promise of God's mercy is so interwoven with the denunciations of his wrath, as to involve a doubt in which of the two lights it is to be viewed. And in this way it is that God's promises are frequently introduced. By the Prophet Isaiah, God says of his Church, "For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth; and yet he went on frowardly in the way of his heart." Now, what might we expect to follow this? What, but some heavy denunciation of his wrath? Yet, behold, he adds, "I have seen his ways, and will heal him, and will restore comfort to him and to his mourners Isaiah 57:17-18." It was in this sovereign way that Saul was "made a chosen vessel to the Lord:" and I doubt not but that every individual among you, who has ever experienced conversion in his own soul, will trace it altogether to the same source, and say, "By the grace of God I am what I am 1 Corinthians 15:10."
2. How mysterious are his dealings with the children of men—
Sheep, when undergoing the process referred to in my text, are usually full of fear and terror, expecting nothing but evil, while their shepherd designs them nothing but good. So it is also, most generally, with the children of men, at their first awakening: they apprehend nothing but vengeance at the hands of an offended God; and regard the rod as held over them only for their ruin. But at no distant period their fears are turned into joy: and it is delightful to contemplate what shall soon be the issue of those convictions which perhaps at this time may be filling the souls of some among you with terror and dismay. Could you but see what is really passing in reference to you at this moment, you would behold, perhaps, your heavenly Shepherd standing over you, and by his word and Spirit marking you for his own. O, beloved, lift up your hearts to him in earnest prayer, and say, "Take me, Lord, even me, the least and meanest of your flock!" and learn to regard all his dispensations as means to this blessed end.
3. How you may best answer all the purposes of his grace—
You have heard what God's gracious purpose is towards all the objects of his love: he seeks "to bring them into the bond of his covenant." Trouble not then ourselves about the abstruse doctrines of election; but seek to have the ends of electing love accomplished in you. Lay hold on God's covenant; embrace the salvation there offered you; go to the Mediator of the New Covenant, the Lord Jesus Christ; and seek all the blessings of it, in and through him. Then shall you have in yourselves an evidence of that, which you never can discover but by its fruits. It was "from their works of faith, and labors of love, and patience of hope," that Paul knew the election of his Thessalonian converts 1 Thessalonians. 1:3-4; and from our laying hold of God's covenant, we may assuredly ascertain that he has "chosen us to salvation," and loved us with an everlasting love. Again, therefore, I say, perplex not yourselves about what no man can know, except from its effects; but do that which will at once ensure all the blessings of salvation, and demonstrate that God is your God forever and ever.
RESTORATION OF THE JEWS, AND THE CONVERSION OF A SOUL, COMPARED
Ezekiel 20:40-44. In mine holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel, says the Lord God, there shall all the house of Israel, all of them in the land, serve me: there will. I accept them, and there will I require your offerings, and the first-fruits of your oblations, with all your holy things. I will accept you with your sweet savor, when I bring you out from the people, and gather you out of the countries wherein you have been scattered; and I will be sanctified in you before the heathen. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I shall bring you into the land of Israel, into the country for the which I lifted up mine hand to give it to your fathers. And there shall you remember your ways, and all your doings, wherein you have been defiled; and you shall loath yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that you have committed. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have wrought with you for my name's sake, not according to your wicked ways, nor according to your corrupt doings, O house of Israel, says the Lord God.
THE history of the Jews, whether retrospective or prospective, is extremely interesting; not only as abounding in events more wonderful than all the histories of the whole world beside, but particularly as illustrating the dealings of God with the souls of men, at the present day, and in all ages, to the very end of time. Of the retrospective part, such as their bringing out of Egypt, and their sojourning in the wilderness, and their introduction into the promised land, we shall have no occasion to speak at this time: but to the things predicted concerning them, all of which are as certain as if they were already past, and which therefore may be called their prospective history, we would now direct your attention, and especially with a view to illustrate from them the conversion of our souls to God.
Let me, then, point out,
I. The effect which the restoration of the Jews will hereafter produce on them—
They shall assuredly be restored to God, and to their own land, in due season—
"From all the countries, where they have been driven, shall they be gathered:" and they shall, in their own land, be restored to the worship, and the favor, of their God: The terms in which their services are foretold, correspond with the ordinances which are prescribed by the Mosaic Law: But they are intended to express only that spiritual worship, which, under the Christian dispensation, we render unto God. These they will render from their inmost souls; and from God will they receive, as formerly, the most favorable tokens of his acceptance.
The effects produced on them by their restoration will be truly blessed—
They have been the most stiff-necked of any people; and even at this day are remarkable for the hardness of their hearts: but at that day they will be broken-hearted, and contrite in a very extraordinary degree. The recollection of their having "crucified the Lord of Glory" will pre-eminently lead to this Zechariah 12:10; and their views of their own extreme baseness will be exceeding deep Compare Ezekiel 16:63; Ezekiel 36:31 with verse 43.
Their knowledge of God, too, will be proportionably enlarged. Their opportunities of knowing God have been hitherto most unprofitably employed: but in that day, when they shall see all the predictions concerning them so wonderfully fulfilled, they will be made to acknowledge, with more genuine feeling than ever, that God's grace has been magnified towards them; and that they themselves are, above all people upon earth, the most wonderful monuments of his grace.
In all this are shadowed forth,
II. The effects which the conversion of our souls will infallibly produce on us—
There is a considerable resemblance between the restoration of the Jews, and the conversion of a soul to God—
From a dark and wicked world is every soul brought in its conversion to God John 15:19; John 17:14; And from that moment it enjoys sweet communion with God, in all the exercises of prayer and praise 1 John 1:3; Then does "God manifest himself unto the soul as he does not unto the world John 14:22," and communicates unto it all the blessings both of grace and glory 1 John 5:14-15.
And in the effects produced on them is there also a very strict resemblance—
From conversion flows such a deep humiliation of soul as was never experienced before. The need of a broken and contrite spirit may have been long acknowledged; but the reality of it is never felt, until the soul is brought to a saving faith in the Lord Jesus. Then the wonders of redeeming love are seen; and all the evils of the heart and life are felt as heightened and aggravated by the consideration of them: so that the soul actually loathes and abhors itself as a very mass of iniquity Job 40:4; Job 42:6.
From it also is derived such a knowledge of God as the soul never before had any conception of. The perfections of God may have all been acknowledged before, in a speculative way; but now the soul realizes them, and feels itself a living witness and monument of them all: Especially does it then see the sovereignty of God, as exercised in the communications of his grace to men. Once, perhaps, the idea of God's sovereignty was painful to the mind: but now it comes with a power and sweetness that cannot be described. The believer needs not now be told that he has not been dealt with according to his deserts: he knows full well where he should have been, if God had not been exceeding abundant in mercy towards him: and from his inmost soul he gives all the glory of his salvation to God alone: The one subject of thanks giving among the heavenly hosts is the continued subject of his song on earth Revelation 1:5-6.
Let me, then, urge you all to seek this conversion:
1. It is that by which God is to be glorified on earth—
To the Jews, God says, "I will be sanctified in you before the heathen." They, when converted to God, will be most distinguished monuments of God's power and grace; yes, and of his truth and faithfulness also. And such, brethren, are you to be, at this time: you are to be "as lights shining in a dark world." And such should be the change visible in you, as persons turned from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that all who behold you may "glorify God in you." Especially let them see, that the mercies given to you, so far from puffing you up with pride, are the means of humbling you in the dust before God, and of filling you with the most self-denying love to man: You are to be "epistles of Christ, known and read of all men 2 Corinthians 3:2-3;" and so is your light to shine before men, that all who behold you may glorify your Father who is in Heaven Matthew 5:16."
2. It is that by which alone your souls can be saved—
There must be in you a separation from the world, from worldly maxims, worldly habits, and worldly company. "All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world; and is utterly to be renounced; since, if you love the world, the love of the Father is not in you 1 John 2:15-16." To God, also, must you be brought: so as to "walk before him," and to seek all your happiness in communion with him. You must also, to your latest hour, be abased before him in dust and ashes; and maintain upon your souls such a sense of his excellency, as must be to you a very foretaste of Heaven itself. True, indeed, all this is not learned at once: but, as a child, at its first coming into the world, possesses all the parts of a man, so must all these things be begun in you, if ever you would approve yourselves as children of the living God: O, seek of God that grace that shall be sufficient for you; and know, that, as his future mercies to the Jews will not be obstructed by their past obduracy, so neither shall the descent of his grace on you be prevented by any unworthiness of yours, if only you will cry to God in his Son's name, and "flee to Christ for refuge, as to the hope that is set before you." "Of those who come to God in the name of Christ, not one shall ever be cast out."
MEN'S TREATMENT OF THE GOSPEL
Ezekiel 20:49. Then said I, Ah Lord God! they say of me, Does he not speak parables?
THE word of God, by whoever spoken, should be received with reverence and godly fear. Great care indeed should be taken to examine whether the word which is spoken in his name be agreeable to the sacred oracles; but when that point is ascertained, then we should bow before it, and submit ourselves wholly and cheerfully to its directions. This is the plain dictate of reason and common sense: but yet it is far from being the regulating principle of men's actions; for at the very time that men acknowledge the divine authority of the word delivered, they set themselves in a variety of ways to invalidate its force, and to withstand its influence. The Jews who came to inquire of Ezekiel had no doubt of his being a prophet, inspired of God to declare unto them his holy will. Yet when he did deliver to them the messages sent by his divine Master, they poured contempt upon them, and said, "Does he not speak parables?"
From hence we shall take occasion to show,
I. How the messages of God are treated—
The import of the observation made by the Jews on Ezekiel's ministrations seems to have been, that his word was altogether so figurative and unintelligible as to be unworthy of any serious attention. It may be thought perhaps that this was a singular case; but it is, in fact, a just specimen of the way in which the messages of God have been treated from the beginning of the world—
When Noah preached to the antediluvian world, he was regarded as a weak alarmist, who merited only their pity and their scorn. When Lot warned his family of the impending judgments that would soon fall on Sodom and Gomorrah, "he seemed," we are told, "as one that mocked to his sons-in-law." When Jehu was informed by a prophet that God had destined him to assume the royal authority, the messenger was designated by the title, that mad fellow; "What said that mad fellow unto you?" If we come to the New-Testament dispensation, we find our blessed Lord himself, who "spoke as never man spoke," treated in the same contemptuous manner: many of the Jews said of him, "He has a devil, and is mad: why hear you him John 10:20." and again, "Say we not well that you are a Samaritan, and have a devil John 8:48." The name, "that deceiver," seems to have been given him by his enemies as a common appellation Matthew 27:63. His Apostles met with precisely the same reception. Paul was accounted a babbler; and when speaking most unquestionably "the words of truth and sober ness," was thus reviled; "Paul, you are beside yourself; much learning has made you mad Acts 17:18; Acts 26:24." And is it not thus at the present day? Is not every one who delivers the word of God with fidelity and boldness represented as a fanatic, and a deceiver? Some condemn the matter of his discourses, as visionary, as erroneous, as unnecessarily strict, or as lax even to licentiousness. Others condemn the manner: if it be firm, it is harsh; if affectionate, it is canting; if written, it is dull; if unwritten, it is enthusiastic, and devoid of sense. In a word, it is now as in the days of old: when John came, neither eating nor drinking, it was said he had a devil; and when our Lord came with condescending freedom, "eating and drinking," it was said of him, "Behold a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners:" and in like manner we, "whether we pipe or mourn," are equally unacceptable to our hearers, and obnoxious to their censure Matthew 11:16-19.
It is worthy of observation too, that the opposers of the Gospel seem never to entertain a doubt but that they are quite correct in all the censures which they pass upon those who minister the word unto them. "Does he not speak parables?" was in the apprehension of Ezekiel's hearers an obvious fact; and the inference which they drew from it, namely, That he was unworthy to be regarded, was in their estimate perfectly legitimate and undeniable. So now the folly of all who preach the Gospel, and the consequent propriety of disregarding everything they say, are considered as so plain, that none but persons equally weak with themselves can entertain a doubt upon the subject.
If such be indeed the treatment generally given to the Lord's messages, it will be useful to inquire,
II. Whence it is they are so treated—
Doubtless persons who mean well may both speak and act with considerable indiscretion, and may by their injudicious conduct cause the way of truth to be evil spoken of. But as the treatment of God's messages is the same by whoever they are delivered, we must look for the reason of it, not so much in the messengers, as in those to whom they are sent. There are then in the hearers of the Gospel many obstacles to a just reception of it;
1. A pride of understanding—
Men think themselves qualified to sit in judgment upon the word of God, just as much as upon any human composition; and, when it accords not with their pre-conceived opinions, they do not hesitate to pronounce it foolishness 1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 2:14. To receive it with the docility of little children they would consider as a degradation to them. They account it not indeed a degradation to children to receive instruction from their parents, or their authorized instructors; but they see not any such distance between the mind of God and theirs, as to call for any such submission to him on their part, though "they are born like a wild ass's colt." Hence it must necessarily arise that they will stumble, and be offended, at the great mysteries of redemption.
2. An independent spirit—
"Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?" is the reply, which, not Pharaoh only, but the whole host of rebels, make to the commands of God. It is awful to observe how little weight the authority of God has in influencing the conduct of the world. Tell them how much their interest will be affected by this or that line of conduct, and they will give a patient attention to your advice: but speak of God's judgments, and they will "puff at them" with sovereign contempt Psalm 10:5. Such treatment they themselves would not endure, for a moment, from a child or servant of their own: but they offer it to God without any self-reproach, or any fear of his displeasure. They will not indeed confess that they thus oppose themselves to their Maker: they will maintain, that the word spoken to them is no just expression of his will: but this is a mere cover to their rebellion: they will not comply with his commands, and therefore they will deny altogether that they proceed from him, or else wall so interpret them as altogether to change their import, and evade their force.
3. An inveterate aversion to holiness—
To a formal and external righteousness many are not at all averse; they rather love it, as a substitute for spiritual obedience. But bring to their view the requisitions of God's law, and they cry out against them, as unreasonably severe, yes, as utterly impracticable and absurd. Our Lord himself informs us, that this is the true source of their rejection of his word: "They love darkness rather than light: they even hate the light, and will not come to the light, lest their deeds should be reproved." No wonder that they cry, "Does he not speak parables?" when they are determined beforehand not to understand the plainest declarations.
Before any determine thus to reject the messages of Heaven, it will be well for them to consider,
III. What consequences must ensue from this treatment of them—
1. All the ends of our ministry among them must be defeated—
It is in vain to speak to those who will not hear: the invitations, the promises, the threatenings of Scripture can be of no avail to those who will not acknowledge the authority of God in them. What a melancholy reflection is this, that God should send ambassadors to men with messages of peace and love, and that men should "make light of them," and recompense with hatred and contempt every effort that is made for their salvation. Well might Paul "have continual heaviness and sorrow in his heart," when he reflected on the state of such persons, and that, instead of having to present them to God as his joy and crown, he should have to appear as a swift witness against them in the day of judgment,
2. Their guilt and condemnation must be greatly aggravated—
No man leaves the house of God as he came into it: the ordinance which he has attended has either brought him nearer to Heaven, or prepared him more as fuel for the tire of Hell. If the word be not "a savor of life unto life, it is savor of death unto death." Our blessed Lord told his hearers, that "if he had never come and spoken unto them, they would comparatively have had no sin:" but that in consequence of their rejection of his offered mercies, "the state of Sodom and Gomorrah would be more tolerable in the day of judgment than theirs." In like manner we must say to our hearers, that every opportunity of instruction which they have enjoyed is a talent to be accounted for; and that their hiding of it in a napkin will be a ground of their condemnation John 3:19.
And now what account must we carry to our God concerning you? He has sent us to deliver his messages; and he will require of us some account of the manner in which they have been received among you. And what shall we say? Must we not, in reference to the greater part of you, say, "Ah! Lord God," we come with a painful report: we would have rejoiced to have told you, that your word had had "a free course, and been glorified among them;" but we are constrained to declare, that, if not in word, yet at least in spirit, they say of us, "Does he not speak parables?" Some do really think that the message we deliver is no other than "a cunningly-devised fable;" while others, acquiescing in it as coming from you, are too busy, or too careless, to pay any respect to it. Some, it is true, take a pleasure in hearing your word, just as Ezekiel's hearers did; but, like them, they will not comply with any one of your commands: their cares, their pleasures, their desire of earthly things, carry them away, and entirely engross their minds: they are hearers of your word, but not doers of it: and though they sometimes are made to see their face as in a glass, they go away, and presently forget what manner of men they are. Thus, though they differ from one another in many things, they agree in this, namely, to refuse subjection to your blessed word, and to follow the imaginations of their own hearts.
This however is not the case with all: there are some who receive the word, "not as the word of man, but, as it is in truth, the word of God." Some there are that say of us, We have been messengers of glad tidings to their souls, and instruments in your hands for their eternal welfare. The Savior whom we have announced to them is precious to their souls; they look to him; they trust in him; they rejoice and glory in his salvation; and they show forth their faith by their works. "O Lord God, what thanks can we render unto you for all the joy where with we joy before you on their account!" truly "they are our glory and joy." O blessed Lord, increase their number a hundred fold; and "establish all their hearts unblamably in holiness unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ!" that when we shall be summoned to your judgment-seat to give up our account to you, we may do it with joy and not with grief. Let not one of them turn back again to perdition; but keep them all steadfast in faith and love and holiness, that we may have the joy of presenting them perfect before you in that day, saying, "Here am I, and the children you have given me!"
OFFICE AND RESPONSIBILITY OF MINISTERS
Ezekiel 33:8. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, you shall surely die! if you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at your hand.
THE office of a minister is the most important and most difficult of any that we can be called to sustain. It is the most important, because the salvation of multitudes depends upon it: and it is the most difficult, because it requires such self-denying habits, and spiritual affections. The responsibility also that attaches to it is such, that no man would dare to take it upon himself, if he had not a promise of peculiar assistance in the discharge of it. Ministers are the messengers of God to men: to them they must faithfully declare his whole counsel: however painful the truths may be which they are to deliver, and however averse men may be to hear them, they must execute their commission at the peril of their souls. To this effect God speaks in the words before us: in which we may notice,
I. What God says to the wicked—
It is scarcely possible to conceive a more solemn declaration than that before us; "I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, you shall surely die!" Consider,
1. Who are the people addressed—
These are all who do not sincerely turn from sin to God. It matters not whether they be rich or poor, old or young, learned or unlearned. In some sense, it matters not whether their sins have been more or less heinous: for though there certainly are degrees of guilt, and some are more wicked than others, yet all are wicked, who are not following after God in righteousness and true holiness; and consequently, all such persons, however their characters may vary in other respects, are addressed in the text.
2. The declaration of God unto them—
Death is here denounced as the judgment to be inflicted on all who turn not to their God: and to the same effect the inspired writers uniformly speak Isaiah 3:11. Romans 6:23. James 1:14-15. Nor are we at a loss to determine what is meant by "death:" it is the wrath of God Romans 1:18, the misery of Hell Revelation 21:8. This is the judgment that will come upon every individual who shall be found in the state before described. God may be considered as addressing himself to every individual of the human race: "O wicked man!" Nor is this fatal result of wickedness expressed in doubtful terms: there is no perhaps; the decree is fixed; "You shall surely die!" Who can reflect on these words as proceeding from a God of infinite power and of inviolable truth, and not tremble?
3. The condition implied in that declaration—
If there were no condition implied in the declaration, it would have been to no purpose to make known the declaration itself; since it could have no other effect than to torment men before their time. But as in the message to Nineveh, "that in forty days Nineveh should be overthrown," there was an implied condition, that, if they repented, the threatened vengeance should be withheld; so, in this case, there is an implied assurance, that the wicked, if they will repent, shall not die. And this is expressly stated in the following context verse 14–16; so that, awful as this passage is, it is no less encouraging than it is awful; because it assures the contrite and believing sinner that he shall never perish.
Together with this warning, we see in the text,
II. The necessity imposed on ministers to proclaim it—
Ministers are described as watchmen, or sentinels, placed at a distance from the camp to give notice of the enemy's approach. Now this very character marks both their duty and their responsibility. But the consequences of neglect in any minister are declared in two respects:
1. The person whom he neglects to warn, will perish—
If through the sloth or treachery of the sentinels a camp be surprised at midnight, nothing but confusion and ruin can ensue. Thus, if a person appointed to warn the wicked, neglect to do so, the wicked will continue regardless of their impending doom, until it is too late to avert it. And when the hour of vengeance is come, it will be to no purpose to say, "I was not aware of my danger; my minister has betrayed me." No; the wicked have means of information within their own reach, independent of their ministers; and they have secret intimations in their own consciences that they ought to repent: and therefore they must take the consequences of their own wickedness; "they must die in their iniquity." How awful is this effect of one minister's supineness! Alas! that hundreds, and perhaps thousands, should perish eternally, when, if he had warned them faithfully, they might have been saved forever!
2. He himself also will be dealt with as the author of that sinner's destruction—
As a sentinel who, by neglecting to give notice of the enemy's approach, occasioned the overthrow of the army to which he belonged, would be chargeable with all the consequences of his neglect, so will the blood of all that perish through the minister's neglect "be required at his hand." When they shall all stand before God, he will ask of the minister, Why did you not warn that man, and him, and him, and him? It will be to no purpose to say, "Lord, he was rich, and I was afraid of his displeasure;" or, "Lord, he was poor, and I overlooked him;" or, "Lord, I was so engaged in business or pleasure, that I never thought about the souls committed to my charge." No: he must answer for every soul that perishes through his means, and must sink ten-fold deeper into the bottomless abyss than the most guilty of the people whom he has neglected and betrayed.
After stating these reasons for ministerial fidelity, we need make no apology for "warning the wicked from their way:" or rather, we need apologize for not using far greater plainness of speech that we have ever yet done.
Hear then, you wicked, with solemn awe, the voice of God to you. "O wicked drunkard, you shall surely die!" "O wicked whoremonger, you shall surely die!" "O wicked swearer, or Sabbath-breaker, you shall surely die!" Is there any one here that, though free from gross sins, lives in a neglect of secret prayer; "O wicked man, you shall surely die This may be easily extended to the formalist, the hypocritical professor, etc."
But while we declare these things, we would not be unmindful of the compassion which is expressed in the very mode in which God has denounced his judgments; "O wicked man!" This seems to intimate, that God is grieved for the misery of the wicked, even while he declares the doom that awaits them. So would we be; and the rather, because we ourselves are involved in the same condemnation, if we do not repent and turn to God.
O then, brethren, whether you have committed gross sins or not, remember that you all need to humble yourselves before God as condemned sinners: you all need to wash in the fountain of the Redeemer's blood: you all need to "turn from your transgressions, that so iniquity may not be your ruin." O that God may enable you to accept this warning with all thankfulness! We have striven, as it became us, to "deliver our own souls:" the Lord grant that, in thus endeavoring to "save ourselves, we may be instrumental to save also those that hear us 1 Timothy 4:16."
GOD EXPOSTULATING WITH SINNERS
Ezekiel 33:11. Say unto them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn you, turn you from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?
THE excuses which men offer for not turning unto God, are, for the most part, reflections cast on the Deity himself. One man deems the service of God unnecessary; another thinks it impracticable in his particular situation; another says, I can do nothing without grace, and if God do not bestow his grace upon me, how can I help myself? Such was the disposition manifested by the Jews of old, when they were invited and commanded to repent: they complained, that it was to no purpose to repent, since they were already pining away under their transgressions; and that the promises of life, which were held forth to them in God's name, were delusive, since God, so far from wishing to pardon them, had shown a pleasure in executing his vengeance upon them This seems to be implied in verse 10. as connected with the text. Against such unrighteous accusations, God vindicates himself by an oath, and by the most pressing and affectionate exhortation renews his calls to repentance. In the message which he sent by the prophet to the Jews, we have his message to sinners of every age and nation: and in delivering it to you at this time we would call your attention to two things contained in it:
I. A solemn oath—
"Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the Lord speaks," yes, swears; and, "because he can swear by no greater, he swears by himself," even by his own life and immortal perfections. But what is it which Jehovah condescends to confirm in this solemn manner?
1. That he has no pleasure in the death of a sinner—
What? was this a matter so doubtful, that it was necessary to remove our doubts in such a way? Methinks, we need no further proof of this than our own continuance in the land of the living. Should we, should any of us, have been here, if God had taken pleasure in our death? Have we not provoked God in ten thousand instances to cut us off, and would he not long since have consigned us over to perdition, if he had not been slow to anger, and rich in mercy?: Would God moreover have given his only dear Son to die for us, and his blessed Spirit to convert and sanctify us, yes, would he wait so long to be gracious unto us, and, notwithstanding our obstinacy, follow us every day with invitations, entreaties, promises, and expostulations; would he act thus, I say, if he had pleasure in our death?: Surely it was not any uncertainty respecting this truth itself, but our backwardness to believe it, that gave occasion for such an astonishing vindication of it.
2. That he has pleasure in the conversion and salvation of sinners—
This is not at all less obvious than the foregoing truth: and the same observations which confirm the one, will establish the other also. But we may farther refer both to existing facts, and most explicit declarations, in support of this assertion. We cannot conceive more atrocious guilt than that which David had contracted, guilt aggravated a hundred-fold by his past professions and experience. But no sooner did he acknowledge his transgression, than the prophet who had been commissioned to denounce the heaviest judgments against him, was inspired to reply, The Lord has put away your sin, you shall not die 2 Samuel 12:13. In what beautiful colors is the mercy of our God painted in the parable of the lost sheep, and the returning prodigal! Is it possible for words more fully to describe how much "he delights in mercy?" Let us marvel then at the condescension of our God in confirming such declarations by an oath. Had he "sworn in his wrath that we should not enter into his rest," we might easily have accounted for it; because, however merited such a judgment might be, he is never brought, but with extreme reluctance, to execute it Isaiah 28:21. "His strange act." But to establish his character for mercy in such a way, was altogether superfluous, except for the more abundant display of his own goodness, and the richer consolation of our minds.
That this testimony of God, respecting his own delight in mercy, may not fail of producing its proper effect on our minds, it is enforced by,
II. An affectionate exhortation—
Had we not already seen such condescension as almost exceeds our belief, we might well be filled with wonder at the further proofs of it which are exhibited in the text—
The Creator and Judge of all stoops to use the language of entreaty towards perishing sinners—
He does not simply issue his command, but repeats it with all the tenderness and solicitude of the most affectionate parent. He sees with deep concern how "all like sheep are gone astray, every one to his own way:" one is wandering in the paths of open sensuality and profaneness; another has involved himself in the labyrinths of worldly care; another is pleasing himself with the idea that he belongs to the fold of God, while he has nothing but "the form of godliness without any of its power." But God would have all return to him, to walk in his ways, and to enjoy his blessings. He longs to see the sensualist, the worldling, and the formal professor of religion, all truly and thoroughly awakened to a sense of their guilt and danger, and all seeking after the salvation of their souls as the one thing needful. He would not that one of them should perish, but that all should come to repentance and live. Hence his earnestness in urging their immediate and effectual return.
He further enforces his request with a most animated expostulation—
Sin and death are inseparably connected: there is no alternative but to flee from sin or perish forever; we must turn or die. This is evidently implied in the expostulation which God uses; and the certainty of it is far more strongly marked, than if it had been asserted in the plainest terms. Let sinners then answer the question which God puts to them, "Why will you die?" Is death, eternal death so light a matter, that you will subject yourselves to it for the fleeting gratifications of sin? Is it a light thing "to fall into the hands of the living God," and to have "both body and soul cast into Hell" forever? Or is a life of godliness so painful, that the labors of it will not be repaid by all the felicity of Heaven? If we were to ask you, Why will you seek after God? Why will you regard your souls? Why will you forsake the beaten paths of sin, and walk in the unfrequented ways of righteousness? your answers would be plain; the most ignorant might give such a reply, as not all the wisdom of man could gainsay or resist. But what will you answer to the interrogation in the text? And if you are constrained now, notwithstanding your habits of self-vindication, to acknowledge the folly and madness of your conduct, how much more will you be speechless in the day of judgment, when the enormity of such conduct will appear without any palliation or disguise! Let not God then reason with you in vain: but turn from those ways, which you are not able to justify, or, with any shadow of propriety, to excuse.
1. To those who are now at length desirous of returning to God—
It is not from profaneness to morality, or from morality to an outward observance of religious duties, that God calls us; but from all sin whatever to a sound and thorough conversion. Be sure then that you do not mistake in a matter of such infinite importance; but turn to God in the ways which he has appointed. Go with penitence and contrition to the Lord Jesus, that you may be washed in the fountain of his blood: and pray to God for the influences of his Spirit, that you may be "sanctified wholly in body, soul, and spirit, and be preserved blameless unto his heavenly kingdom." Rest in nothing short of this, for it is to this only that the promise of life is annexed; "you must be converted, and become as little children (simple, teachable, dependent, obedient in all things) if ever you would enter into the kingdom of Heaven."
2. To those who are still determined to withstand the entreaties of God—
Go on in sin, until you have filled up the measure of your iniquities: but remember, you will not have to cast the blame on God in that day when your calamities shall come upon you. God has at this very hour testified with an oath, that it is his desire to save your souls; yes, he at this moment expostulates with you, and beseeches you to seek his face. Nor shall you have to accuse your minister in that day. We are told indeed, in the very chapter before us, that the blood of those who perish, shall be required at the hands of negligent and unfaithful ministers verse 7–9; but, even though your blood were to be required at the hands of your minister, it would be no alleviation of your misery, since you also would die in your iniquity, and be condemned together with him. We hope, however, and are determined, God helping us, to be "pure from your blood:" we have warned you, and do warn you yet again, that you must turn or die; "if you live after the flesh you shall die; but if you through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live." Whatever others therefore may plead, you have, and shall have, none but yourselves to blame; and it will be a bitter reflection in the day of judgment, to think, that "God called, and you refused;" and that "Christ would often have gathered you as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, but you would not." May God prevent those reflections by giving you repentance unto life, for his dear Son's sake: Amen, and Amen.
THE SELF-DECEPTION OF COVETOUS PROFESSORS
Ezekiel 33:31-32. And they come unto you as the people comes, and they sit before you as my people, and they healthy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goes after their covetousness. And, lo, you are unto them as a very lovely song of one that has a pleasant, voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear your words, but they do them not.
NONE can be religious without appearing so; because religion must of necessity regulate our outward conduct. But persons may appear religious, while they are wholly destitute of vital godliness. Such were they, who talked of "So the word "against" should be read in verse 30. as the whole context evidently shows; and it is so rendered in the margin of the Bibles. the prophet in their houses, and expressed so much solicitude to hear from him the word of the Lord—
We propose to consider,
I. The characters here described—
If we look at their profession only, all is well: they unite themselves to the Lord's people, and account themselves to be of their number. They pay great attention to the ordinances; they feel peculiar delight in the ministration of the word; they express a very high regard for those who labor in the word and doctrine; they are not offended even with the most searching discourses; nor are the sons and daughters of pleasure more gratified with musical entertainments, than they are with the fluent, fervent, eloquent harangues of a faithful minister.
But, alas! their practice ill accords with their profession: it is amusement rather than real edification that they seek. Their hearts are set upon the world, and riveted to their earthly possessions. In the pursuit of gain they will be guilty of falsehood or dishonesty; they will commend their goods, when they know them to be bad; they will impose on the ignorance or the necessities of those who deal with them; they will take advantage of the confidence reposed in them to overreach their neighbor; and will condescend to meannesses, of which an honest heathen would be ashamed. They may be generous where their own inclination is strongly concerned, or where a liberal donation will advance their reputation; hut at other times they will be as penurious and niggardly as the most unfeeling miser. It may be indeed that a principle of honor keeps them tolerably observant of truth and justice; but they give abundant evidence that their hearts are set upon things below rather than on things above, and show, that they are more solicitous to be rich in this world, than to be rich towards God.
Such there have been in every age; nor are there wanting many such characters among the professors of the present day The characters of a proud and passionate professor, and of a censorious and uncharitable professor, might here be drawn, as being equally common, and equally hateful. They hear the duties of a Christian opened and enforced; but they remain as much under the dominion of their lusts as ever.
II. The light in which they are viewed by God—
In their own eyes they are as good as any. Whatever be their besetting sin, they have reasons enough to extenuate and excuse it. Their covetousness is nothing more than prudence and diligence; their fretfulness and fiery passions are the mere infirmities of nature, the trifling ebullitions of a warm and hasty temper, that are far more than counterbalanced by a proportionable zeal for what is good. When they hear the contrary dispositions recommended from the pulpit, they acknowledge the directions to be exceeding proper; but they scarcely ever feel their own conduct condemned by them. They are eagle-eyed in spying out the faults of others; but they are almost utter strangers to their own. Their zeal for the Gospel, and their attachment to those who preach or profess it, is to them a decisive evidence of their own conversion; and nothing that God or man can say to the contrary is suffered for one moment to shake their confidence.
In the estimation of the Church these persons often pass for eminent saints. Their faults are not generally known, and the best construction is put upon all they say or do. Godly men are afraid of judging harshly, and have learned to exercise the "love that hopes all things," and that "covers a multitude of sins." Hence they give the right hand of fellowship to those who show a love to the Gospel; and, even when they fear that all is not right, they are content to "let the tares grow up with the wheat until the harvest, lest through their ignorance they should pluck up the wheat with the tares."
But in the sight of God, who searches the heart, these men appear in their proper colors. Are they covetous? "he abhors them Psalm 10:3." Are they proud, passionate, contentious? they are actuated by an infernal spirit James 3:14-15. Have they no government of their tongue? their religion is vain James 1:26. Are they hearers of the word, and not doers of it also? they only deceive their own souls James 1:22. Are they habitually and allowedly under the dominion of any sin whatever? they are children of the devil 1 John 3:8, and not of God 1 John 3:9; not with standing all their profession, they have no part in the Gospel salvation 1 John 3:6 and Romans 6:14, no acceptance in their prayers Psalm 66:18, nor any portion but eternal misery in Hell Mark 9:43-48. They may have a name to live; but they are really dead before God Revelation 3:1.
1. How far must they be from a Christian state, who feel no delight in divine ordinances!
It has already appeared that men may be extremely fond of the offices, the ministers, and the professors of religion, and yet perish forever, for want of that conformity to the Divine will, which is essential to the Christian character. How much more then must they be destitute of religion, who have not even the outward appearance of sanctity, but live in an open contempt of God's word and ordinances! Let not any one imagine that the naming the name of Christ is sufficient to constitute us Christians. The tree must be judged of by its fruits: and according to our works will be the sentence that shall be upon us in the last day.
2. What need have the professors of religion to examine well their own hearts!
Love to the word and people of God, if accompanied with an unreserved obedience to his commandments, is an excellent evidence of our conversion: but, if there be a reigning inconsistency in our conduct, our love to the one or to the other of these is mere hypocrisy Matthew 15:7-8. Psalm 78:34-37. Isaiah 58:2-3. Let us then inquire diligently, and beg of God to try us, whether there be any wickedness practiced in our lives, or harbored in our bosoms Psalm 139:23-24. Let us not be content to "honor God with our lips, while our hearts are far from him." Let us rather entreat him to "put truth in our inward parts," that, while we profess to be interested in the promises, we may "purify ourselves from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, and perfect holiness in the fear of God 1 Corinthians 7:1."
CHRIST'S EXECUTION OF HIS PASTORAL OFFICE
Ezekiel 34:16. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and. the strong; I will feed them with judgment.
THERE is no office under Heaven so important as that of ministering unto men the Gospel of Christ. But, alas! its importance is but too little felt, and its duties are too negligently performed See verse 2–10. There is, however, one Shepherd, whose care and vigilance are without intermission. He it is, who, many hundred years before he came into the world, spoke by the prophet, and declared the manner in which he would execute his office verse 23.
In the words before us we see,
I. The different states of Christ's sheep—
All are considered as the sheep of Christ, who by name and profession belong to him, as well "the fat and the strong, who shall be destroyed," as those who shall be saved John 10:16.
All without exception, while in their natural state, are "lost," straying from God, and ignorant of the way in which alone they can return to his fold Isaiah 53:6. Some feel an inclination to enjoy his benefits, and at times resolve that they will turn from their evil ways: but they are "driven away" by the violence of their passions or the fear of man.
Of those that have been brought home to the fold, many, like David, are complaining of griefs and sorrows, more painful than a "broken" bone Psalm 51:8. And all are "sick" of sin, that loathsome malady which pervades all their powers both of body and soul, and incapacitates them for serving God as they would wish to do Romans 7:18-19; Romans 7:21; Romans 7:23-24. Galatians 5:17.
There are too many, alas! who are "fat and strong," in their own conceit It is in this sense that our Lord speaks of "the whole," and "the righteous." Matthew 9:12-13. Were they really in good condition, they should not be "destroyed." But, like the Laodiceans of old Revelation 3:17, they deceive themselves; being really destitute of all wisdom, goodness, and strength, in exact proportion as they fancy themselves possessed of these things.
II. The correspondent dealings of Christ with them—
Though in many instances our Lord displays his sovereignty in stopping the progress of most grievous sinners, while he suffers persons of more amiable deportment to wander further from him Acts 9:1-6. Mark 10:21-22, yet all are to expect that he will deal with them in a perfect correspondence with their character.
He came from Heaven in human flesh, and still comes in the preaching of his Gospel, to "seek" and save "that which was lost." And if any, who have been "driven away" by the force of temptation or persecution, are desirous to put themselves under his care, he will gladly bring them to his fold, and protect them from every inward or outward foe verse 11–15, with John 10:10-11; John 10:28.
As for those who are already in his fold, he will administer to all their wants, "binding up" the broken-hearted Isaiah 61:1; Isaiah 61:3, and "renewing the strength" of those who are ready to faint Isaiah 40:29-31. By the efficacy of his word, and the consolations of his Spirit, he will turn their sorrows into joy Isaiah 35:1-2; Isaiah 35:10; and his grace shall be sufficient for them under all the trials they may be called to endure 2 Corinthians 12:9.
Willing as he is to pardon the very chief of sinners on their repentance, he will awfully punish the impenitent. The proud and self-sufficient, who despise his offers of mercy, shall surely feel his awful displeasure. He will "destroy" them as enemies both to himself and his flock: and, in order to their destruction, he will "feed them with judgment," giving them up to follow their own delusions, until they shall have completed the measure of their iniquities, and fattened themselves for the sword of his indignation Psalm 81:11-12. Yes; to eternity shall they eat of the fruit of their own ways Proverbs 1:31, and feel the judgments which they would not deprecate Isaiah 50:10-11.
1. Let us put ourselves under the care of this good Shepherd—
The more we consider our state the more shall we see, that we are straying, or, at best, diseased sheep. But here is our comfort, that we have a tender and faithful Shepherd that will forgive our wanderings, and supply our wants Isaiah 40:11. Let us then return to him, if we are afar off 1 Peter 2:25; or, if he have brought us to his fold, let us rely upon his care and faithfulness Psalm 23:1-3.
2. Let us imitate him to the utmost of our power—
Doubtless it is in the first place the duty of ministers to follow the steps of this great Shepherd, because his flock is more immediately committed to their care If this were the subject of a Visitation or Ordination Sermon, this thought should be prosecuted at some length, in reference to the whole preceding part of the chapter. But it is also the duty of every one in his place and station to exert himself to the utmost to enlarge and edify the flock of Christ. And, if we were more diligent in our respective spheres, how many might be reduced from their wanderings, or strengthened in their difficulties, or comforted in their troubles! We know not how useful a word in season might prove. "Let us then, as the elect of God, put on affections of mercies," and show our relation to Christ by our conformity to his image.
DAVID A TYPE OF CHRIST
Ezekiel 34:23-24. I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I the Lord have spoken it.
THERE is nothing so comforting to an afflicted soul, as to contemplate the promises of God: indeed they were given to us for this very purpose, that they might be our support and consolation in the time of trouble. The same may be observed with respect to the prophecies that relate to Christ; they were delivered to the Church in seasons of peculiar trial, as encouragements to the saints to hold fast their profession. It was under circumstances of this nature, that the glorious prophecy before us was revealed. Both the ecclesiastical and civil governors of Israel had greatly oppressed the poor, and especially the godly: but God afforded them seasonable support, by declaring, that he would not only espouse their cause, but would raise up to them a Shepherd, and a Governor of a very different description, even the Messiah himself, who should redress all their wrongs, and bring them into the possession of perfect happiness.
Such being the occasion of the words, we proceed to consider them,
I. As fulfilled at the first coming of our Lord—
It is undoubtedly the Messiah that is here called "David"—
David himself had been dead many hundred years; nor has there been any other person after him, to whom this appellation was ever given. But Christ is frequently spoken of in the prophets by the name of David Jeremiah 30:9. Ezekiel 37:24-25; and to him the characters, here annexed to that name, most eminently belong. He is called by that name, because David was a very distinguished type of him. David was chosen by God from a very low state, and was anointed to be king over Israel. He was also made a prophet of the Most High God; and, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, often spoke as actually personating the Messiah himself. Many parts of his heavenly compositions, though apparently intended respecting himself, have indeed no reference to himself at all, except as he was a type of Christ, in whom the very things predicted were literally fulfilled Psalm 22:18; Psalm 69:21. And so exact was the correspondence between the type and antitype, that Christ, springing "from the root of Jesse," "as a root out of the dry ground Isaiah 11:1; Isaiah 53:2," and "anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows Psalm 45:7," was born (according to the predictions) in the very place of David's nativity Micah 5:2 with Matthew 2:5-6, was constituted a prophet like unto him, and was raised to "the throne of his father David Luke 1:32.
He sustains the offices that are here assigned him—
Like his honored representative, he was to be a shepherd. David, in his early youth, followed the occupation of a shepherd, and repeatedly exposed his life to most imminent danger in defense of the flock entrusted to him 1 Samuel 17:34-35. And, after he became a king, he still figuratively at least sustained the same office, "feeding his people, according to the integrity of his heart, and guiding them by the skilfulness of his hands Psalm 78:70-72." But he, whom David typified, was in a far more exalted sense, "the great Shepherd of the sheep Hebrews 13:20." He not only exposed, but willingly sacrificed, his life for his sheep John 10:11; nor can a juster description of him be conveyed in words, than that which is given us in the preceding context Ezekiel 34:11-16; He is incessantly "seeking the lost, bringing back that which has been driven away, binding up the broken, strengthening the sick," and administering to the necessities of all. He is also, like David, a prince. The promises of David's exaltation were at last fulfilled, and he was seated on the throne, to which he had been appointed. He did indeed meet with innumerable conflicts in his way to it: at one time, we see him encountering Goliath; at another, fleeing from the murderous attacks of Saul: yes, he was even driven from his kingdom by his own nearest relative, and treasonably sacrificed by his most familiar friend; in consequence of which, he fled weeping over that very brook Kidron, over which his Lord passed afterwards to crucifixion. But God preserved him from every danger, and made him "Head over Israel," and "the heathen" too Psalm 18:43. Thus it was also that Christ was raised to his throne: He had scarcely made his appearance in the world before he became an object of Herod's jealousy, and was forced to seek an asylum in a heathen land Matthew 2:14-15. On many occasions he escaped only by a miraculous exertion of his own almighty power Luke 4:29-30. When his time was come, he was betrayed by one of his own disciples, who, like David's treacherous friend, speedily went and hanged himself Psalm 69:25; Psalm 109:8 with Acts 1:20. show Ahithophel to be in this a type of Judas. But, infinitely beyond David, was Christ "a man of sorrows;" "his visage was marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men." Yet, after all, "the stone which the builders refused, was made the head-stone of the corner." He was "exalted to be a Prince and a Savior Acts 4:11; Acts 5:31," "the utmost ends of the earth were given him for his dominion;" and "of his kingdom there shall be no end Psalm 2:8. Luke 1:33."
For his people also he secures the blessings that are here accorded to them—
"God is made their God:" and this comprehends all that men or angels can receive. It is not possible for a finite imagination to conceive the full import of such an expression as this. It must certainly imply, that he will protect us from all kinds of evil, and fill us with the richest consolation both in this world, and the world to come: every perfection, which God himself possesses, shall be improved for our present benefit, and all his glory shall be enjoyed for our eternal happiness. Yet shall his most assuredly be our portion, if we be numbered among the flock of Christ. To such indeed it is that the promise in the text must be confined. As for the ungodly world, they have no prospect whatever of such a blessing: there is not one word in all the holy oracles, that warrants such a hope. But to those who believe in Christ the promises are made: to those, who have been brought into his fold, who feed in his pastures, and yield up themselves sincerely to his dominion, God has pledged himself to be their God. Nor shall any who seek him in his appointed way, fail to be partakers of it Ezekiel 37:24-28.
But we must view this prophecy,
II. As waiting for a fuller and more glorious accomplishment—
We cannot doubt but it shall be yet more abundantly fulfilled—
Its completion in the apostolic age was very partial. The Jews themselves yet look for its accomplishment in their Messiah. Nor is the time far distant when it shall be fulfilled in all its glorious extent Isaiah 29:17; The Lord Jesus will gather his people from every quarter of the globe Hosea 3:5. Jeremiah 32:37-41; He will feed them in green pastures, and rule over them in Zion Isaiah 24:23; And God will manifest himself to be "their God," with such displays of his glory, as shall far transcend any which he ever given to his people in the days of old Isaiah 60:19-20.
Receive now the Savior under the characters in which he is here offered to you—
Could we obtain mercy with God in any other way, there were the less reason for concerning ourselves about an interest in Christ. But in vain shall we attempt to ingratiate ourselves in the divine favor by any other means: we must obey the voice of that good Shepherd, and follow him: we must submit ourselves to the government of that Prince, and become his faithful subjects: then, and then only, will God acknowledge us as his people, and give himself to us as our God. Let us not then neglect the Savior any more: let us rather go to him with one accord: let us entreat him to take us under his charge. Then, whatever may be the fate of those who are at a distance from him, we shall be delivered from our spiritual enemies; and, having suffered awhile with him, shall in due time be glorified together Romans 8:17. You may safely trust the promises of God.
Many hundred years before the coming of Christ was this prophecy delivered: and how exactly was it accomplished in everything that respected Him! He was appointed our Shepherd; he was exalted to be our Prince; and to this very hour has he executed these offices in their fullest extent. Shall we doubt then whether the prophecy shall be fulfilled as it respects us? Will God refuse to be our God, when we desire to be his people? Or will he be only nominally our God, and withhold from us the blessings that are implied in that relation? Has he done what is so infinitely greater, and will he decline to do the less? Has he not "delivered up for us his only Son, and will he not with him also freely give us all things Romans 8:32." We cannot doubt. He says, "I the Lord have spoken it:" we may be certain, therefore, that he will perform; since "with him is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." Let us trust then, and not be afraid; and in due season we shall enjoy, "according to his covenant, the sure mercies of David Isaiah 55:3."
CHRIST THE PLANT OF RENOWN
Ezekiel 34:29. I will raise up for them a plant of renown.
THE names by which our blessed Lord is designated in the Scriptures are exceeding various. Every one of them illustrates some part of his character, and leads us, as it were, one step towards the knowledge of him; though, as the light of all the stars combined would give but a very faint idea of the sun, so the luster reflected from every image in the creation conveys a very inadequate notion of the beauty, the excellency, the fullness of Christ.
That the image in the text refers to him, is clear from the whole context. God, having severely reproved the negligence of those whom he had appointed to watch over his flock verse 2–10, promises that he will raise them up a Shepherd, who shall faithfully discharge all his duties, and execute for their good the trust reposed in him verse 11–16. This, without any further explanation, would have been sufficient to point out to us "that good Shepherd," the Lord Jesus Christ: but the subsequent verses mark the name and offices of this Shepherd in such plain terms, that there is not a possibility of doubt respecting the person to whom the prophecy immediately and exclusively relates verse 23, 24. In the text, the same person is spoken of, only under a different metaphor: in considering which we shall notice,
I. The representation that is here given of Christ—
Christ is often spoken of by the prophets under the figure of a branch Jeremiah 33:15. Zechariah 6:12-13, or rod, growing out of a stem Isaiah 11:1; and in this view he is represented as contemptible in the eyes of a blind and ungodly world Isaiah 53:2. But he is deservedly called, "A plant of renown,"
1. On account of his mysterious nature—
Never did such a plant as this exist before. Never could the highest archangel have conceived it possible that such a plant should exist, unless God had expressly revealed it to him. Nothing in the whole creation has any resemblance to it, or could convey the smallest idea of it. This plant has two perfectly distinct natures, and each of those natures complete in all its attributes: it is both divine and human: it unites in itself the fullness of the Godhead with all the sinless infirmities of manhood. In short, the Lord Jesus Christ is "God manifest in the flesh:" and a most stupendous mystery it is 1 Timothy 3:16. The manner also in which he assumed our nature was most mysterious. He was not born like other men, but formed in the womb of a pure virgin through the intervention and agency of the Holy Spirit. And in this view, "as a child born, and a son given," it was expressly declared that "his name should be called, Wonderful Isaiah 9:6."
2. On account of his transcendent qualities—
Other trees have one species of fruit, and are useful chiefly, if not entirely, in one view only. But behold, this plant bears twelve manner of fruits; fruit for every season, whether of prosperity or adversity; fruit for every occasion that can possibly arise; and suited to every person who desires to partake of it Revelation 22:2. Moreover, the leaves of this tree are as salubrious as its fruit; and are an infallible remedy for all the maladies to which our souls are exposed. Its virtues have been proved in every age. Its fame has been spread throughout the whole universe: and the more it has been tried, the more, without one single exception, has it been valued. The tree cast into the waters of Marah, was but a faint shadow of this, which, if properly used, would heal the fountains of iniquity that diffuse their deadly poison through the whole world Exodus 15:23-25. This branch is of yet further use to build the temple of the Lord Zechariah 6:12-13; well then might the prophet say of it, that it should be "excellent and glorious Isaiah 4:2."
3. On account of the estimation in which he is held—
See in what light he is viewed by his heavenly Father: "Behold my servant whom I uphold: mine elect, in whom my soul delights Isaiah 42:1. Proverbs 8:30. Matthew 3:17." See what the angels think of him: no sooner did they see him planted in the earth, than they came down from Heaven to announce the glad tidings, and ascribed "Glory to God in the highest Luke 2:7-14." Shall I need to tell you how he is regarded by man?" By those who know him not, "he is despised and rejected:" but "to them that know him, he is precious 1 Peter 2:7." What joy was excited in Abraham's heart, when he only got a glimpse of him, two thousand years before his incarnation John 8:56. With what ecstatic fervor did the prophets call upon the whole creation to rejoice in the prospect of his advent Isaiah 44:23. When he was come, and his excellencies were more fully known, his disciples "counted all things but dung for the knowledge of him Philippians 3:8," and were ready, at all times, and in any manner, to lay down their lives for him Acts 20:24. There are multitudes also in the present day, in whose eyes he is "chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely Son. 5:10; Son. 5:16." But how will they express their admiration of him in the day when "he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and admired in all them that believe 2 Thessalonians. 1:10." In Heaven too, when all that have eaten of his fruits, and felt the healing efficacy of his leaves, shall surround that "tree of life," and unite in ascribing to it their whole salvation; what "a plant of renown" will it then appear!
As God has fulfilled to us this gracious promise, and raised up for us this plant of renown, let us consider,
II. Our duty towards him—
In allusion to the metaphor, of which we ought not to lose sight, it may he observed, that we should,
1. Abide under his shadow—
Many are the storms and tempests to which we are exposed, and from which nothing but this tree can shelter us. It is planted on purpose that it may be "an hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest, as rivers of water in a dry place, and the shadow of a great rock in a weary land Isaiah 32:2." If we flee to him, we are as safe as the Israelites were in their blood-sprinkled houses, from the sword of the destroying angel Exodus 12:21-23. When "God shall rain down fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest on the wicked Psalm 11:6," we shall have no cause for fear; for "though a thousand shall fall on our side, and ten thousand at our right hand Psalm 91:1; Psalm 91:4; Psalm 91:7; Psalm 91:10," "no evil whatever shall befall us;" "he will cover us with his foliage; and his truth shall be our shield and buckler." Let us then draw near to him; and we shall experience the blessedness of the Church of old, who "sat under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet unto her taste Son. 2:3."
2. Live upon his fruits—
We have before observed, that every kind of fruit is to be found in him: wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, peace, and whatever else we can desire, are to be obtained from him in rich abundance Ezekiel 34:30. And every one may get access to him. We need not go up to Heaven, or down to Hell, or travel to a remote country: he is near to us: he is in the Church; he is in our closet; he is in our very hearts Romans 10:6-8; wherever we go, there he is, ever present with us, ever ready to supply our wants. No fiery sword prohibits our approach to him Genesis 3:24; on the contrary, he invites us to come to him, to cease from "feeding upon ashes," and to take of his fruits freely Isaiah 55:2. None are shut out from this right. There is no wall about him, no exclusive privilege to those who by national, or even personal, relation may be considered as near to him: but "all who are afar off," whether they be old or young, rich or poor, moral or immoral, are invited to partake of all his benefits Acts 2:39 with Romans 10:12-13. Moreover, there is no price required, as there is for the fruits of other trees: we are told to "eat abundantly Son. 5:1," and to take it all "without money and without price Isaiah 55:1."
Let us then accept this gracious invitation, and "eat, and live forever Isaiah 55:3."
3. Bless God for him—
What a mercy would the fallen angels account it, if such a plant were to be raised up for them! And how thankful would they be, who are now out of the reach of this tree, if they might return to this world for a single hour with a permission to gather its fruits! Surely then we who have liberty of access to it, and especially those of us who are daily eating its fruits, should bless and adore our God for "his unspeakable gift 2 Corinthians 9:15." If, only on the eve of its being planted in this world, the pious Elizabeth, the blessed Virgin, and the divinely inspired Zachariah brake forth into such exalted strains of praise and thanksgiving Luke 1:68-69, surely we should not be silent, but should call upon "our souls, and all that is within us, to bless his holy name Psalm 103:1."
4. Commend him to others—
The lepers who found abundance in the Syrian camp, could not forbear going to acquaint their famished countrymen with the good tidings 2 Kings 7:9; and shall we be backward to inform our neighbors respecting this tree, whereby all their diseases may be healed, and all their wants supplied? The moment that Andrew and Philip had discovered it, they endeavored to bring their friends to a participation of their bliss John 1:40-41; John 1:43; John 1:45. Let us do the same. Our enjoyment of its fruits will be enhanced, rather than diminished, by a communication of them to others. Let us, I say, in compliance with the direction given us, exert ourselves to the uttermost, if perhaps we may introduce them to the knowledge of Christ, and be instrumental to the salvation of their souls Isaiah 12:4-6.
OUT-POURING OF THE SPIRIT ON THE JEWS
Ezekiel 36:24-28. I will take you from among the. Heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes: and you shall keep my judgments, and do them. And you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
IT will appear strange to say to a Christian assembly, that the true nature of Christianity is but little understood: but it is even so: for almost all persons regard it only as a code of laws, or a system of restraints: whereas, in truth, it is a mine of promises, of "exceeding great and precious promises," which are made to every one who feels his need of them, and desires to embrace them. I say not that it does not also contain precepts; for no doubt it enjoins a total surrender of ourselves to God: but there is not anything which it requires, which it does not also make over to us as a free gift of God for Christ's sake. Take, for example, the passage before us. It is delivered to the Jews in their present dispersed state: and it provides for them all the blessings which they stand in need of, both in this world and in the world to come.
Let us consider these promises,
I. As delivered more immediately to the Jewish people—
Whatever reference these promises might have to the period of their return from Babylon, it is manifest that they did not receive at that time a full accomplishment; and, consequently, that we must look forward to the future restoration of the Jews as the period fixed for their final completion.
The Jews are destined to be restored to their own land—
Of this, I conceive, there can be no reasonable doubt. The prophets speak so fully and so plainly on this subject, that we must divest language of all force and certainty before we can set aside the hope of their restoration to their own land. Whether that event shall precede or follow their conversion, I presume not to determine.
It should seem, from the writings of Moses, that the conversion of some, at least, will precede their return to Palestine: "When you shall return unto the Lord your God, and obey his voice, then the Lord your God will turn your captivity Deuteronomy 30:1-3." The Prophet Jeremiah, on the other hand, represents both events as simultaneous: "They shall come with weeping; and with supplications will I lead them Jeremiah 31:8-9." But in the passage before us, the prophet speaks of their conversion as subsequent to their restoration: "I will bring you into your own land: then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean." All of these testimonies doubtless are true; and they are easily reconciled, by only referring them to the different stages of their conversion, as viewed in its commencement, its progress, and its consummation. But, whatever be determined with respect to this, their future restoration to the land of their fathers is as certain as any event which yet remains to be fulfilled.
It is, however, not to this, but to the conversion of their souls, that I would chiefly draw your attention—
This is indisputably promised to them in the words of my text. And it is surprising how universally this view of the passage has been overlooked by the Christian world. There are few passages of Holy Scripture that are more frequently cited by the preachers of the everlasting Gospel than this: but, as though we were determined to rob the Jews of their interest in them, we have always omitted the first and last verses of the text, and applied the remainder altogether to ourselves: thus cutting off, as it were, the head and the feet, which marked the promise as belonging to the Jews, that we might seize upon the body as our own exclusive property. It is surprising that benevolence, which certainly is characteristic of the Christian world, should never have led us to contemplate and delight in the prospects here set forth for the comfort of God's ancient people. But we have been as unmindful of their spiritual interests as if no such promise had been ever made to them, yes, and as if no such people existed in the world. And this is the more remarkable, because the same connection between their conversion to God and their restoration to their own land is generally marked in the prophetic writings, and especially in places where these peculiar promises are made to them See Ezekiel 11:17-20 and Jeremiah 32:37-39. But it is certain that God will bestow upon them all the blessings which are here specified; sanctifying them wholly to himself, and making them, as in the days of old, his own peculiar people. The gift of God's Holy Spirit was declared, upon the day of Pentecost, to be reserved, not for the Jews of that day only, but "for them, and for their children, and for all that were afar off, even as many as the Lord their God should call Acts 2:39."
In the promise which is made to them in my text, there is an especial reference to the consecration of the Levites under the Mosaic Law. They were separated from all the other tribes, to wait upon God in the more immediate services of his sanctuary: and for this purpose they were consecrated to the Lord with peculiar solemnity: "Take the Levites from among the children of Israel, and cleanse them. And thus shall you do unto them, to cleanse them: sprinkle water of purifying upon them.…Then let them a young bullock with his meat-offering.…and another young bullock shall you take for a sin-offering and the Levites shall lay their hands upon the heads of the bullocks: and you shall offer the one for a sin-offering, and the other for a burnt-offering, unto the Lord, to make an atonement for the Levites Numbers 8:6-8; Numbers 8:12." Thus will God take that whole people for priests and for Levites Isaiah 66:21." in the latter day, and sanctify them wholly to himself as his peculiar people. He will, by the atoning blood of Christ, and by the influence of his Holy Spirit, cleanse them from all their filthiness, and from all their idols: he will altogether renew them, also, in the spirit of their minds, and cause them to walk as holily as any of their most eminent ancestors in the days of old. In the presence of the whole world shall they be thus exalted: and whereas their name is now "Lo-ruhamah, arid Lo-ammi," as disowned, and cast off from God; they shall again be recognized as "Ammi, and Ruhamah;" that is, as his people who have obtained mercy at his hands; and "God will say unto them, You are my people, and I am your God Hosea 1:6-8; Hosea 2:1; Hosea 2:23." Would you see them in the very act of returning; and behold their reception with their reconciled God, the Prophet Jeremiah, in a fore-cited passage, exhibits them before you, "coming to their God with weeping and with supplications;" and God, with paternal tenderness, declaring to them, "I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born Jeremiah 31:8-9."
The Jews, it is true, think but little of these prospects; (they, alas! are occupied rather with expectations of a temporal Messiah, under whom they shall attain the summit of worldly aggrandizement:) but it becomes us to look forward to far higher things in their behalf, and to anticipate with delight their actual enjoyment of them.
While we rejoice in the prospects held forth in this prophecy to the Jewish people, let us consider it also,
II. As applicable to the Church of God in all ages—
The promises here given are those of the new covenant Hebrews 8:8-10; and all who lay hold on that covenant, whether Jews or Gentiles, and whether now or in the millennial age, are alike interested in them. From the time that the Holy Spirit was sent forth by our ascended Savior, have these blessings been poured out, in the richest abundance, on Gods Church and people; and, to every contrite and believing soul, God here promises his Holy Spirit,
1. To cleanse from sin—
To cleanse from the guilt of sin is, in the first instance, the office of Christ, by the sprinkling of his blood. But it is the work of the Holy Spirit also; because it is he who reveals Christ to the soul, and enables us to apply to ourselves his precious blood. And, in fact, it is by implanting in our hearts the principle of faith, that he renews and sanctifies us after the Divine image: "He purifies our hearts by faith Acts 15:9." To what an extent we need his gracious influences, it is scarcely in the power of language to declare. Both "the flesh and the spirit of man" are altogether polluted and corrupt; as the Psalmist expresses it, "Our inward parts are very wickedness Psalm 5:9." Were all the thoughts and workings of our hearts as visible to men as they are to God, who is there among us that would not often be constrained to hide his face with shame and confusion? The idols, too, which we set up in the secret recesses of our hearts, alas! how numerous they are, and how fearfully have they provoked the Most High God to jealousy! But "from all our filthiness, and from all our idols, shall we be cleansed," through the operation of the Spirit of God upon our souls; according as it is said by the Apostle, "Christ has loved the Church, and given himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish Ephesians 5:25-27." O! hear this, all you who are weary and heavy laden with the guilt and burden of your sins; and know assuredly, that if this is promised to the Jews in the Millennial age, it is no less promised to the Christian Church, and shall be fulfilled to all who will believe in Christ.
2. To renew the heart—
Truly, in every unregenerate man is "an heart of stone." Who does not feel this? Who has ever addressed himself to the work of repentance, and not found how insensible his heart is of sorrow. or of shame, even on a review of a whole life of sin? With earthly concerns we are easily moved; but not with the concerns of the soul, even though we know that the wrath of Almighty God is revealed against us, and that we are justly obnoxious to his everlasting displeasure. But God promises to "take away from us the heart of stone, and to give us an heart of flesh," tender, contrite, abased before God in dust and ashes. Shall the Jews, on their restoration, "look on Him whom they have pierced, and mourn, and be in bitterness, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born Zechariah 12:10." Shall they, in the day to which my text refers, "remember their own evil ways, and their doings which were not good, and loath themselves in their own sight for their iniquities and abominations verse 31." And shall not such be the effects wrought on our souls, if the Spirit of God be truly poured forth upon us? Our hearts shall be altogether renewed; so that we shall be, as it were, "a new creation:" "old things shall pass away, and all things become new." Our dark understanding shall be enlightened; our rebellious will be subdued; our earthly and sensual affections be "purified, even as God is pure." Together with our views, our desires shall be renovated; and all our hopes and fears, and joys and sorrows, be brought into an accordance with them. In a word, we shall "be renewed, after the Divine image, in righteousness and true holiness." O! what a blessed change! Who will not from this hour seek to be a partaker of it, through the abounding mercy of our promise-keeping God?
3. To sanctify the life—
What has been before spoken metaphorically, is here delivered in plain terms: "God will put his Spirit within us, and cause us to walk in his statutes, and do them." Adverse as we are by nature to God, and ready to complain of "his commandments as grievous," we shall be made to "delight in his law after our inward man," as soon as he has put his Holy Spirit within us: for "his law will then be written on the fleshy tables of our hearts." There will be a constraining influence of our souls, which shall overcome all our natural reluctance, and make us the willing servants of our God. To state precisely how this work shall be wrought in us, is beyond our power: but methinks there is some analogy between the first creation of all things and this new creation which takes place in the soul of man. As an impulse was given to all the heavenly bodies, which are kept in their respective orbits by the attractive influence of the sun, around which they move, and whose radiance they reflect; so is there a divine impulse given to the soul of the regenerate man, who, from the first commencement of his course, yields to the attractions of "the Sun of Righteousness," and fulfills his destined offices, to the praise and glory of his God. It is by his circuit only that the laws by which he acts are discovered; and they are known to proceed from God, because they lead him invariably to God: the effects produced upon his heart and life are decisive evidences that God is with him of a truth: they show, that "He who has wrought him to this self-same thing is God, who has given unto him of his Spirit 2 Corinthians 5:5."
1. Lay hold on these promises yourselves—
You see how freely, and with what sovereign grace, God makes these promises unto you: for, if they are made to the Jews under their present state of degradation and wickedness, there is no one so debased or sinful, but that he may well appropriate them to himself, and seek an interest in them. You will take especial notice, that here are no conditions imposed in order to obtain an interest in them: nothing is required, but that we seek for these blessings in humble and fervent prayer verse 37. As to the blessings themselves, every part proceeds from the unmerited love and mercy of God: in every clause, God's will is pointed out as the one source of all the benefits. And when God is thus saying, "I will," "I will," "I will," do these things for you, shall there be any reluctance shown on our part? Shall it be said of us, as of the Jews of old, "How often would I have gathered you, as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, but you would not?" O, brethren, let me rather entreat you, in reference to every clause, to add your hearty "Amen," "So be it unto me, O Lord, according to your will." And I the rather urge this; because, without an experience of the things here promised, no soul from among you can ever behold the face of God in peace. Say, I pray you, can you "be the Lord's people, and Jehovah be your God," while these things are disregarded by you? Can you ever be exalted to thrones of glory, if you be not first cleansed by the blood and Spirit of Christ from all your filthiness, and from all your idols? Must not your heart of stone be changed, and your ungodly life be rectified, before you can enjoy the felicity of Heaven? Your own consciences will attest, that this change is necessary: and therefore let all of you, whatever your present character may be, lay hold on these promises, as the one ground of your hopes, and as the only means of securing the blessedness to which they lead.
2. Endeavor to promote the acceptance of them among the Jews—
It is a shame and a scandal to the Christian world, that they have shown such indifference to the welfare of the Jews for so many centuries. And surely it is high time that we awake at last to some sense of our duty. Remember, I pray you, what is the object which you are called to effect: it is not the restoration of the Jews to their own land: that you may well leave to the providence of God to accomplish in his own time and way: it is rather the conversion of their souls to God which calls for your aid; and I appeal to you, whether that do not deserve your most active cooperation. You may say, perhaps, That is God's work, and may also be left to him. But it was not thus that the Apostles judged, in reference to us Gentiles. They could not, by any power of their own, convert a single soul: but did they therefore decline to use the means which God himself had appointed? No: they preached Christ to all to whom they could gain access: and it was in confirmation of their word that the Spirit of God descended on their hearers. Peter, when speaking to Cornelius and his company, said, "To Christ give all the prophets witness, that, through his name, whoever believes on him shall receive remission of sins." And then it is particularly said, "While Peter yet spoke these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them that heard the word Acts 10:43-44." Thus, in concurrence with your efforts, God in his mercy will return to his deserted people; and again "take them as his people, and be their God." Surely, the very hope of this is sufficient to animate you in your exertions: and if only in a few instances you may be instrumental in effecting this blessed end, it will richly repay you for all the liberality that you can exercise, and all the labor you can bestow.
THE DUTY OF SELF-LOATHING
Ezekiel 36:31. Then shall you remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall lathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations.
IT should seem, that the more excellent any man became, the higher thoughts he would have of his own excellence: and the more he was conformed to the will of God, the more he would be filled with self-delight. But the very reverse of this is the truth. Men's humiliation will always increase in proportion as they know the extent of their duty, and are made sensible of their defects; and consequently, the more they advance in holiness, the more they will lament their past, and remaining, iniquities. The words of our text confirm this. They are addressed, not to persons living in willful and deliberate sin, but to persons "cleansed from their filthiness," and possessed of "a new spirit, whereby they are enabled to walk in God's statutes:" even to them is the injunction given, to "loath themselves for their abominations."
We shall consider,
I. The duty enjoined—
Repentance, though an universally acknowledged duty, is but little understood. It implies,
1. A calling of our evil ways to remembrance—
However tenacious our memory may be of evils committed by others against us, we are very forgetful of the evils which we ourselves commit against God. But we should go back to the earliest periods of our life, and review the transactions which then took place: we should then prosecute our inquiries through each successive year, until our reason was expanded, and our judgment informed with respect to the nature and consequences of sin: we should advance in this way through the different stages of our existence, until we arrive at the present time. Much evil will doubtless have passed away, and left no trace behind: but much may be recalled to our minds, sufficient to show, that the whole bias of our souls has been towards wickedness, and that, in proportion as our faculties of body and mind have been enlarged, we have devoted them to the service of sin and Satan.
Having brought our examination down to the present time, we should enter more deeply into the qualities even of our best actions: we should search into the motives from which they sprang; the manner in which they were performed; and the end at which we aimed in the performance of them: we should do this, not with a view to find our good deeds, but "our doings that were not good:" not to furnish ourselves with grounds of self-approbation and self-delight, but rather of humiliation and contrition.
2. A loathing of ourselves on account of them—
The calling of our ways to remembrance is only preparatory to that more essential part of true penitence, "the loathing of ourselves on account of them." To this it must lead: if it stop short of this, it is of no avail. It is in vain that we are alarmed and terrified with a sense of our guilt; for Pharaoh Exodus 10:16-17, and Judas Matthew 27:3-5, confessed their sins under a sudden impression of fear and remorse: nor will it suffice to express a considerable degree of sorrow on account of our state; for even in Ahab's humiliation this was found 1 Kings 21:27; we must be brought to self-loathing and self-abhorrence.
The Scriptures illustrate sin by "a dog returning to his own vomit," "and a sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire 2 Peter 2:22. "It must be confessed that the former of these metaphors is most disgusting: but the more disgusting it is, the more suited is it to the occasion; since the conduct of the sinner, like that of the dog, argues an unspeakably filthy and depraved appetite. Let us apply this metaphor, not to gross sins only, but to sin in general; and then consider, that sin has been, not merely a morsel swallowed under some violent temptation, but our daily food, yes, the only thing towards which he had any real appetite: and what filthy creatures shall we then appear! What disgusting objects must we be in the sight of God; and how ought we to loath and abhor ourselves! The latter metaphor also is a just representation of our conduct; and shows, that no terms are too degrading, no images too disgusting, to represent the filthiness of our habits, and the depravity of our hearts.
Nor let it be thought that this representation is too strong; for it accords, not only with the text, which is frequently repeated Ezekiel 6:9; Ezekiel 20:43, but with the confessions of the most eminent saint Genesis 18:27. Isaiah 6:5, and justifies fully that declaration of Job, "Behold, I am vile! I repent, therefore, and abhor myself in dust and ashes Job 40:4; Job 42:6."
That this is the duty of all, without exception, will appear by considering,
II. When it is to be performed—
We must not limit this repentance to the time of conversion merely; we must, as the context shows us "Then." See verse 25–27, continue it after our conversion: indeed the period subsequent to our conversion is that wherein this duty is more particularly required. For,
1. Conversion qualifies us for it—
Until we are converted, we see but very few of our sins; because we have very defective views of the law of God. Being ignorant of the demands of the law, we must of necessity be ignorant of the multitude of our transgressions against it. Moreover we see but little of the malignity of sin; because we are unacquainted with the immense obligations which we owe to God, against whom our sins are committed. An act of unkindness in a fellow-creature, though trifling in itself, may be an exceedingly heinous offence, if done in return for many and great favors. What then must sin be, when committed against God, who has not only loaded us with temporal blessings, but has given his only dear Son to die for us, and his Holy Spirit to instruct us; yes, and has followed us all our days with entreaties, expostulations, promises, seeking nothing so much as our eternal welfare! This is the view of sin which conversion gives us; and it is this alone which can ever dispose and induce us to loath ourselves.
2. We need it as much after conversion as before—
A converted person will certainly not indulge sin: but he still carries about him a sinful nature, that is bent to backslide from God, and that still operates to the wounding of his conscience, and the offending of his Maker. Now every sin committed in this state is incomparably more heinous than it would have been in his unrenewed state, because it is committed against more light and knowledge, more mercies and obligations, more vows and professions. Even smaller sins involve him now in deeper guilt than his more heinous trespasses before; and therefore they demand a suitable humiliation and contrition. Hence then it is evident, that, while we carry about with us a body of sin and death, we ought incessantly to loath ourselves, and to be crying with Paul, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me Romans 7:24." Indeed this is the very frame to which God's pardoning mercy is designed to bring us. And the more we abase ourselves before him, the more evidence we have of our acceptance with him Psalm 51:17.
1. How opposite to a Christian state is self-righteousness!
If contrition be a state pleasing to God, and self-loathing be a necessary constituent of it, then self-righteousness must be most hateful to God, and most injurious to our souls; because it necessarily leads to self-approbation and self-delight, which are as opposite to self-loathing as darkness is to light. Would to God that this were duly considered! Men profess to repent, and yet make a righteousness of their repentance! a manifest proof that they know not what repentance is! Know, my Brethren, that "all our own righteousnesses are as filthy rags Isaiah 64:6;" that our very tears need to be washed, and our repentances to be repented of; and, that we must disclaim our best deeds in point of dependence, as much as the vilest sins we ever committed. We may indeed "rejoice in the testimony of a good conscience:" but we shall find cause for self-abhorrence, even in our best frames, and our holiest actions.
2. How dear must Christ be to every true penitent!
A certain kind and degree of repentance may arise from fear: but that which is spiritual and saving, partakes richly of love. Nothing advances it so much as a sight of the love of Christ in dying for us Zechariah 12:10. Now exactly as a sense of the Savior's love causes us to loath ourselves, so does a sense of our own vileness cause us to admire him. Let not any imagine that self-loathing will lead us to despondency: the viler we see ourselves to be, the more will Christ be exalted and magnified in our eyes. Our vileness, as well as our weakness, will only illustrate the riches of his grace, and render him unspeakably precious to our souls.
GOD'S MERCIES NOT GIVEN FOR OUR MERITS
Ezekiel 36:32. Not for your sakes do I this, says the Lord God, be it known unto you: be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel.
THERE is not any gift, whether of nature or of grace, from which the pride of man will not take occasion to exalt itself. But the design of God in his Gospel is, to counteract this propensity, and to make his creatures sensible of their obligations to him, and their entire dependence upon him. Hence, having declared, in the preceding context, what he intended to do for his Church and people, he particularly cautions them not to imagine, that he was influenced by any goodness which he saw in them; or that, after having received his blessings, they would have anything to boast of: for to their latest hour they would have in themselves cause for nothing but shame and confusion.
From this caution the following observations naturally arise:
I. God, in imparting his blessings to us, has not respect to any good in us—
There is not in us anything meritorious, to which he can have respect—
Let our actions be weighed in the balance of the sanctuary, and every one of them will be found wanting. If we had done all that is required of us, we should still be only unprofitable servants Luke 17:10. But we have not done all; nor have we done any part as we ought: and therefore instead of having any merit whereon to found a claim of blessings from God, we have need of mercy and forgiveness for our very best actions Isaiah 64:6.
Nor would it consist with his honor to make our goodness the ground of dispensing his favors—
Whatever the measure of our goodness were, if it were considered in any degree as founding a claim for the Divine blessing, or as inducing God to impart his benefits to us, it would instantly become a ground of glorying before God. The possessor of that goodness might ascribe to himself some portion of the honor, instead of giving the glory of his salvation to God alone. But this would be to subvert the whole design of the Gospel, which is, to exclude boasting Romans 3:27. See also Ezekiel 36:21-23, and not to give God's glory to another.
Experience alone sufficiently shows that God is influenced by no such motive—
If God had respect to anything that is good in us, the most moral people would always be stirred up to embrace the Gospel, and the most profligate be left to reject it. But this is by no means the case: yes, the very reverse is more generally true, namely, that "publicans and harlots enter into the kingdom, before the more decent Scribes, or self-righteous Pharisees Matthew 21:31." God is indeed sometimes said to do things for the sake of Abraham, David, and others: but it was not for their righteousness' sake, considered as meritorious, that God given blessings to them or their posterity; but either to testify his love to obedience, or to manifest the immutability of his counsel Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Deuteronomy 9:4-6.
The text goes yet further, and shows that,
II. There is in us nothing which is not a ground rather for shame and confusion—
Doubtless the Jews were a peculiarly "stiff-necked people:" yet, if we have not the same sins to deplore, we have enough to justify the application of this passage to ourselves.
The sins of our unregenerate state may well fill us with confusion—
Time may efface many things from our remembrance; but it cannot alter the nature of them, or blot them out of the book of God. Our sins are all in his sight, as if they were transacted but yesterday: and whatever degree of malignity they had formerly, that they retain at this moment: and consequently we should feel on their account all the shame, and sorrow, and confusion that they either did occasion, or ought to have occasioned, at the time they were committed. Yes, the whole mass of evil that ever passed through our minds ought to lie with a weight upon our consciences, so far at least as to produce an abiding sense of our extreme sinfulness.
The infirmities of our regenerate state also should humble us in the dust before God—
Who is not conscious of innumerable evils working in his heart? Who does not at some time feel the workings of pride, anger, worldliness, impurity, and various other corruptions? Who does not feel that these are properly "his own ways," and that the exercise of contrary dispositions is the fruit of divine grace?
But let us take the best actions of our lives, and the holiest dispositions of our hearts: what are our prayers and our praises, when compared with the importance of the blessings we have received, or that we desire at God's hands? What is our repentance, when compared with the number and heinousness of our transgressions? What is our trust in God? What our love to the blessed Savior? What our zeal in his service? Do they bear any proportion to the occasions that call for them? We know that a godly person would be utterly ashamed of such services as a mere formalist makes the ground of his boast and confidence: and would not a perfect Being, if sent down to serve his God on earth, loath himself, if he were to render no better services than ours? Surely then we ought to blush and be confounded before God, not only for the remains of evil that are within us, but for the very best actions we have ever performed.
The emphatic manner in which these things are delivered, leads us to notice,
III. The importance of being reminded of these things, and of having them deeply fixed in our hearts—
We are apt to take credit to ourselves, and to think ourselves as high in God's estimation as we are in our own. But God would have us know, that there is no just ground for our vain conceit: it is even with considerable indignation that he reminds us of it in the words before us. We need to be well instructed in this matter,
1. That we may be led to humility—
The knowledge of ourselves is indispensably necessary to the attainment of humility: but we must be ignorant indeed of ourselves, if we imagine that there either is, or can be, anything in us to merit the Divine favor. The truth is, that no words can adequately express the unparalleled deceitfulness, and desperate wickedness, of our hearts Jeremiah 17:9. If we know anything of ourselves, we cannot but loath and "abhor ourselves," as Job did, "in dust and ashes Job 42:6." And we need to have our extreme vileness and baseness frequently set before us, in order that we may know what we are, and "not think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think Romans 12:3."
2. That we may be excited to thankfulness—
While we entertain the idea of having purchased, as it were, or merited, the blessings we enjoy, we cannot possibly feel any lively gratitude for them in our hearts: instead of admiring the goodness of our God, we shall be ready to think hardly of him, if at any time his bounties are withdrawn from us. But let us once be convinced of our deep depravity, and we shall wonder that we have not long since been made monuments of divine vengeance. It will then appear no small mercy that we are on praying ground; that we have a covenant-God to flee unto; and that there is a Mediator, through whom we may approach him with an assurance of acceptance. Yes; these things, which are so little regarded by the generality, will make our hearts to overflow with gratitude, and our tongues to sing aloud for joy.
1. Let us concede to God the liberty of dispensing his favors according to his own sovereign will—
To dispute this is needless; for he will not ask our permission Job 33:13, nor consult our inclination; but "will have mercy on whom he will have mercy Romans 9:18.": Moreover, it is ruinous; for we cannot hope to participate his blessings, if we will not condescend to accept them as they are offered. We must "buy them" indeed, as the Scripture speaks; but it must be "without money and without price Isaiah 55:1." Let us then acknowledge God's right to "do what he will with his own Matthew 20:15;" and abase ourselves before him, as "less than the least of all his mercies Genesis 32:10."
2. Let us be thankful that, however unworthy we are, there is a Savior whose worthiness we may plead before him—
Though God will not do anything for our sake, yet he will for his dear Son's sake. There is nothing that he will refuse us, if we go to him in the name of Jesus Christ John 14:13-14. See a pattern for prayer; Daniel 9:17-19. Nor will our unworthiness be any bar to our acceptance with him. On the contrary, the more we humble and abase ourselves, the more ready will he be to accept and bless us.
UNIVERSAL RESTORATION OF THE JEWS
Ezekiel 37:1-6. The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which teas full of bones, and caused vie to pass by them, round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, you knottiest. Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.
WHILE the Jews at large, and the generality of Christians also, believe that the dispersed of Israel will one day be restored to their own land, there is an assured expectation, both among the one and the other, that the Messiah will in due time reign over the face of the whole earth. But, while this blessed event is expected by all, there lurks in the minds of the generality a persuasion, that in the present state of the Jews their conversion to Christ is impracticable; and that, whenever it shall be effected, it will be by some miraculous interposition, like that which took place at their deliverance from Egypt: and hence all attempts to convert them to Christianity are thought nugatory at least, if not presumptuous. In opposition to these discouraging apprehensions, which would paralyze all exertions in their behalf, I have selected this portion of Holy Writ, which meets the objections in the fullest possible manner, and shows, beyond all doubt, that we are bound to use the means which God has appointed for their conversion, and that in the diligent use of those means we may reasonably hope for God's blessing on our labors.
In the preceding chapter are plain and express promises relative to the restoration and conversion of the Jews. In the chapter before us, the same subject is continued in an emblematic form. The Jews in Babylon despaired of ever being restored to their native land. To counteract these desponding fears, there was given to the Prophet Ezekiel a vision, in which the extreme improbability of such an event is acknowledged, while the certainty of it is expressly declared. And, lest the import of the vision should be mistaken, it is explained by God himself, and the event predicted in it is foretold in plain and direct terms: "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost; we are cut off for our parts. Therefore prophesy, and say unto them, Thus says the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, and shall put my Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall you know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, says the Lord verse 11–14."
We cannot but admire the goodness and condescension of God, in so accommodating himself to the weaknesses and wants of men. His people were slow of heart to understand his word; and therefore he "gave them line upon line, and precept upon precept," and exhibited truth to them under every form, if so be they might be able to receive it at last, and to obtain the blessings which he held forth to them in his Gospel.
The restoration promised in the chapter before us does not merely relate to the deliverance of the Jews from Babylon. To that indeed is its primary reference; but it manifestly has respect to a recovery from their present state of dispersion, and to a spiritual deliverance from their bondage to sin and Satan: for, not only are the expressions too strong to be confined to a mere temporal deliverance, but the emblem mentioned in the subsequent part of this chapter, of uniting two sticks in the prophet's hand, shows that the whole is to be accomplished, when all the tribes of Israel, as well those which were carried captive to Assyria as those of Judah and Benjamin, shall be reunited under one head, the Lord Jesus Christ.
That this period is yet future, you cannot doubt, when you hear the words of God to the prophet: "Son of man, take you one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions. Then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions: and join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in your hand. And when the children of your people shall speak unto you, saying, Will you not show us what you meanest by these? say unto them, Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen where they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel, and one King shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all……And David my servant shall be king over them; and they shall have one Shepherd verse 16–25." These things have never yet been fulfilled; but they shall be fulfilled in their season. What though the Jews be like dry bones scattered over the face of the whole earth? Shall any word that God has spoken respecting them fall to the ground? No: the scattered bones shall be reunited, each to its kindred bone, and they shall rise up an exceeding great array, as the Lord has said.
In explanation of this vision, I will endeavor to set before you,
I. The present state of the Jews;
II. Our duty towards them; and
III. Our encouragement to perform it.
Let us consider, First, The present state of the Jews—
Certainly nothing can be well conceived more unpromising than this. The obstacles to their conversion do indeed appear almost insurmountable. One most formidable barrier in their way is, the extraordinary blindness and hardness of their hearts. From the very beginning they were, as Moses himself tells them, a stiff-necked people: and their whole history is one continued confirmation of the truth of Ins assertion; insomuch that any one who is conversant with the sacred records, but unacquainted with the plague of his own heart, would be ready to imagine, that their very blood had received a deeper taint than that of others. Certainly we should have scarcely supposed it possible that human nature should be so corrupt, as they have shown it to be. We should never have conceived that persons who had witnessed all the wonders which were wrought in their behalf in Egypt, and at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness, should be so murmuring, so rebellious, so atheistical as they were during their forty years' continuance in the wilderness; and indeed, with the exception of some occasional and partial reformations, even until their final dispersion by the Romans. It really appears incredible, that, with the Holy Scriptures in their hands, and with the life and miracles of our blessed Lord exhibited before their eyes, they could evince such malignant dispositions towards him, and with such deliberate cruelty imbrue their hands in his blood. Yet such is their state at this hour, that I can have no doubt but that they would reject him again with all the same virulence as before, if he were again to descend from Heaven, and to place himself within the reach of their power. His meek and holy conduct would not be sufficient to disarm their malice; nor could all his benevolent miracles conciliate their regard: they would still, as before, cry, "Away with him! crucify him! crucify him!" The same veil is upon their hearts at this day as there was then: and, as far as they can, they actually repeat all the iniquities of their fathers, sanctioning and approving all which they did towards him, and in their hearts transacting it afresh. Such being almost universally the predominant features of their minds, we must acknowledge, that their restoration to life is as improbable as any event that can be contemplated. But while I say this, let it not be thought that I mean to cast any uncharitable reflections upon them, or needlessly to asperse their character: for I well know that by nature they are no worse than others. They labor under peculiar disadvantages. From their earliest infancy they are filled with prejudice against the religion of Jesus: they hear him designated by the most opprobrious titles; and are taught to regard him as a vile impostor. This constitutes the chief difference between them, and multitudes who bear the Christian name: ungodly Christians are as averse to real piety as they; but having been taught to reverence the name of Christ, they can hear of it without disgust; while the Jews, who have been educated in the most envenomed hatred of it, spurn at it with indignation and abhorrence; and consequently, are proportionably hardened against all his overtures of love and mercy.
Another obstacle in their way is the contempt in which they are held. It had been foretold by Moses concerning them, that they should "become an astonishment and a proverb, and a bye-word among all nations Deuteronomy 28:37;" and such they have been ever since their dispersion by the Romans. There is not a quarter of the globe where this prediction is not verified. Muhammadans and Heathens of every description pour contempt upon them, and load them with all manner of indignities. Nor have Christians been at all more kindly disposed towards them: on the contrary, we have been foremost in executing upon them the Divine vengeance, just as if our religion, instead of prescribing acts of mercy and love, had dictated nothing but cruelty and oppression. To this hour, the very name of a Jew is among us a term of reproach, a symbol of everything that is odious and contemptible. And what is the natural effect of this? Can we wonder that it should excite resentment in their breasts? Has it not a necessary tendency to embitter them against us, and to make them detest the principles we profess? What can they think of Christianity, when they see such conduct universally practiced by its professors? We complain of their blindness and obduracy; but can we wonder at their state, when we ourselves have done, and are yet continually doing, so much to produce it? And what effect has it on ourselves, but to weaken any kind dispositions which may be cherished in the hearts of a few towards them, and to make us despair of ever effecting anything in their behalf? This effect, I say, it does produce: for, while we make extensive efforts for the conversion and salvation of the Heathen, we pass by the Jew with utter disdain, and deride as visionary all endeavors for his welfare. If we saw but a beast fallen into a pit, our affections of compassion would move towards him, and we should make some efforts for his deliverance: but we behold millions of Jews perishing in their sins, and we never sigh over their lamentable condition, nor use any means for the salvation of their souls. They are not allowed even the contingent benefits of social fellowship with us: the wall of partition which God has broken down in his Gospel, is built up by us; as if by general consent they were proscribed, and debarred all access to the light that we enjoy. Their fathers, in the apostolic age, labored and died for us, when we were sunk in the depths of sin and misery: but we will not stretch out a hand for them, or point them to the rock, on which they may be saved from the overwhelming surge. Thus they are left to famish, while the heavenly manna lies around our tents; and they are immured in darkness, while we are enjoying all the blessings of the noon-day sun. Say, then, whether this be not a formidable barrier in their way, so as to render their access to the true Messiah beyond measure difficult?
But a yet further obstacle to their conversion arises from the efforts which they themselves use to prevent the introduction of Christianity among them. The Rulers of their Church exercise authority over them with a strong hand: and the first appearance among them of an inclination to embrace the Gospel of Christ is checked with great severity. Every species of threatening is used to intimidate those who have begun to ask the way to Zion, and to deter them from prosecuting their inquiries: and, if a person yield to his convictions, and embrace the Gospel, he is instantly loaded with all the odium that can be heaped upon him: every kind of employment is withheld from him; and he would be left to perish with hunger, if he were not aided by those whose principles he has embraced. An apprehension of those evils deters vast multitudes from free inquiry; and constrains not a few to stifle their convictions, because they cannot prevail on themselves to sacrifice their all for Christ.
Such being the present state of the Jews, it may well be asked, "Can these bones live?" Can it be hoped that the feeble efforts which we are using should succeed? If, when in Babylon, they despaired, saying, "Our bones are dried; our hope is lost; we are cut off for our parts:" may they not with far greater propriety adopt the same language now? and may not we regard all attempts for their conversion as altogether hopeless, even as hopeless as the resuscitation of dry bones, that have been for ages crumbled into dust?
Yet hopeless as their state appears, we should not be discouraged from performing,
II. Our duty towards them—
The command which God gave to the prophet in my text was not personal to him, but general to all who are partakers of superior light and liberty. The whole was not a real transaction, but a vision, intended for the instruction of the Church of God in all ages, and especially for those who should be alive at the period destined for the accomplishment of the prophecy. We may consider therefore the directions here given as applicable to ourselves, and as comprising our duty towards the house of Israel. It consists in these two things, The communicating of instruction to them, and The praying unto God for them.
We should, as far as lies in our power, communicate instruction to them. The word "prophecy" does not necessarily import an utterance of predictions; it is often used for the conveying of instruction in the name of God: and this is what we are bound to do to the Jewish people, each of us according to the abilities we possess, and the opportunities that are afforded us. We are not all called to exercise the ministerial office; but we are to impart in conversation the knowledge we have received. No Christian whatever is to put his light under a bushel or a bed, but on a candlestick, that it may give light to those who are within the sphere of its influence. If we have but one talent, we are to use it for the honor of our God, and the benefit of our fellow-creatures.
But here it is to be regretted, that the generality of Christians are themselves destitute of the information which they are called upon to communicate. Nor is this true of the laity only: even those who bear the ministerial office are by no means so well instructed in the points at issue between the Jews and us, as to be competent to the task of entering into controversy with the more learned Jews. Even those ministers who have somewhat of a deeper insight into the mysteries of the Gospel, are for the most part but ill furnished with that species of knowledge which qualifies them for instructing the Jews. They are not aware of the principal objections of the Jews to Christianity, nor of the answers which ought to be given to them. Even the peculiar excellencies of the Christian system, as contradistinguished from Judaism, are not so familiar to them as they ought to be. With Heathens they can argue, and with different sects of Christians they can maintain their stand: but so utterly have they disregarded and despised the Jew, that they have thought it not worth their while to furnish themselves with knowledge suited to his case. This is greatly to the shame of Christians in general, and of Christian Ministers in particular. Nor does it offer any just excuse for our continuing to neglect the Jews, since we ought instantly to make ourselves acquainted with all that is necessary for the conviction of our Jewish Brother; and in the mean time should procure for him, from others, the instruction which we ourselves are unable to impart. This is what we should do, if we saw a brother perishing of wounds that had been inflicted on him: we should not account our want of medical skill as any reason for neglecting his case; but we should endeavor to procure for him from others the aid he stood in need of. And this is what we should do for his soul, procuring for him such books as are suited to his capacity, and bringing him into contact with such persons as are better qualified than ourselves to enlighten and instruct his soul.
To withhold these efforts under an idea that God will convert them without the instrumentality of man, is to belie our consciences, and to deceive our own souls. Such an excuse is nothing but a veil to cover our own supineness. Where has God told us that he will convert them without means? He did not do so even on the day of Pentecost. He has commanded that "his Gospel should be preached in all the world, to every creature." Where has he made them an exception? This I say, then, that our duty towards them is, to use all possible means for the illumination of their minds, and for the conversion of their souls to the faith of Christ.
But it is our duty at the same time to pray for them. The prophet was not only to prophesy to the dry bones, but to "say, Thus says the Lord God, Come from the four winds, O breath! (O eternal Spirit!) and breathe upon these slain, that they may live verse 9." Whoever may attempt to convey instruction, it will be attended with little benefit, if God do not accompany the word with power from on high. "Paul may plant, and Apollos may water; but it is God alone that can give the increase." If we set about anything in our own strength, and expect anything from the means, without looking directly to God in and through the means, we shall be rebuked, and left without success; just as Elisha was, when he expected his staff to raise to life the widow's child 2 Kings 4:29-31. Like the prophet in our text, we are to pray for the influences of the Holy Spirit to give efficacy to the word. To this effect we are taught by God himself; "I have set watchmen upon your walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night: You that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, and give him no rest, until he establish, and until he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth Isaiah 62:6-7." If we conscientiously combine our personal exertions with fervent prayer, there is not anything which we may not hope for. Wonderful is the efficacy of fervent and believing prayer: and, if we employ it diligently in behalf of the Jews, desperate as their condition to all appearance is, it shall prevail, to the bringing forth of their souls from the prison in which they are immured, and for the introducing of them into the light and liberty of God's dear children.
True it is, we may without any saving influences of the Spirit effect a previous work, like that of bringing together the kindred bones, and causing the flesh and skin to come upon them: but God alone can breathe life into them. We may bring them possibly to "a form of godliness; but God alone can give the power:" and it is only when our "word comes to men in demonstration of the Spirit," that it ever proves "the power of God to the salvation" of their souls.
Such is our duty towards them: and that we may not draw back from it through despondency, let us consider,
III. Our encouragement to perform it—
We have the express promise of God to render it effectual. What can we want more? The promise is repeated again and again; "You shall live;" "You shall live;" "I will bring you up out of your graves, and you shall live ver 5, 6, 12, 14." And is not God able to do it? Look at the heavens and the earth: Has he created all these out of nothing? has he spoken them into existence by the word of his mouth, and is he not able to effect the conversion of the Jews? Has he declared that he will raise the dead at the last day, and bring into judgment every child of man; and cannot he, who shall accomplish that in its season, effect this also at the appointed time? True, the bones are, as he has said, "dry, very dry" but they are not beyond the reach of his power. What if the resuscitation of them be "marvelous in our eyes, must it therefore be marvelous in God's eyes?" (Zechariah 8:6.) His word in the mouth of Jews has been effectual for the conversion of the Gentiles; and that same word in the mouth of Gentiles shall be effectual for the conversion of the Jews: for "his hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither is his ear heavy, that it cannot hear." "Has he said, and shall he not do it? has he spoken, and shall he not make it good? Tell me, Did he not bring out his people from Egypt at the appointed time? Yes, "at the self-same hour did he bring them forth, with a mighty hand, and a stretched-out arm." In like manner he delivered them also in due season from Babylon, according to his word: and these are sure pledges, that he will in due season fulfill all his promises towards them, and not suffer one jot or tittle of his word to fail.
In dependence on his promise, then, we should address ourselves to the work assigned us. We should go forth feeling the utter hopelessness of our task, and say, "O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!" The greater the difficulty appears, the more should we hold fast our confidence in God, with whom nothing is impossible. We should go, as it were, into the midst of that vast theater, and lift up our voice with-out either distrust or fear. If the means already used have proved ineffectual, we should, like Elisha, exert ourselves with the more earnestness, and labor more fervently in prayer with God for his blessing on our endeavors. In order to raise the son of the Shunamite, he cried mightily to the Lord, and went in and stretched himself upon the child, applying his mouth, his eyes, his hands, to the mouth, the eyes, the hands of the child 2 Kings 4:33-35; and thus should we go in to our Jewish Brethren: we should address ourselves to the work in the length and breadth of all our powers, accommodating ourselves to the measure and capacity of every individual among them, and laboring in every possible way to inspire them with love to Christ: and, if we see as yet but little effect, (as was at first the case with that holy prophet,) let us "not despise the day of small things," but let us look upon the smallest success as a pledge of greater things, as the first-fruits before the harvest, and as the drop before the shower. Two things in particular I wish you to notice in the text: the one is that God wrought nothing until the prophet used the appointed means; and the other is, that he wrought effectually as soon as the means were used. This is twice noticed by the prophet in the verses following my text: "So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, the bones came together:" and again, "So I prophesied as he commanded me; and the breath carne into them, and they lived verse 7, 10." Let this, I pray you, sink down into your ears: only let this be understood and felt, and acted upon; and I shall have gained a point of the utmost importance to the Jewish cause: for, however inadequate to the end our efforts be, God requires us to put them forth; and when they are put forth in humility and faith, he will bless them to the desired end. To expect the blessing without using the means, or to despair of success in the use of them, is equally wrong. What he has commanded, we must do: and what he has promised, we must expect. Be the difficulties ever so great, we must not stagger at the promises through unbelief, but be strong in faith, giving glory to God. Our blessed Lord, when Mary imagined that her brother was gone beyond a possibility of recovery, said to her, "Said I not unto you, that, if you would believe, you should see the glory of God?" so to you I say, Be not discouraged by thinking how long our brother has been dead, or how corrupt he is; but expect assuredly, that at the sound of Jesus' voice he shall rise out of his grave and come forth to life.
Permit me now to address myself to you in a more particular manner: and,
1. To those whose exertions are paralyzed by despondency.
I object not to a full consideration of all the difficulties that obstruct the conversion of the Jews. I wish them to be viewed in their utmost extent: but then they should be viewed, not as grounds for relaxing our efforts, but as motives to the most strenuous exertion. With the generality, these desponding fears are only excuses for their own supineness: they have no compassion for their perishing fellow-creatures, no zeal for the honor of their God, and therefore they cry, "A lion is in the way." But this is a very unworthy recompense for all the exertions which the Jews of former ages made for us. What if they had said respecting the Gentiles, "They are bowing down to stocks and stones, and it is in vain to attempt their conversion?" we should have continued in our ignorance and guilt to the present hour. It was by their unremitting labors that the Gospel was spread; and to them we owe all the light and peace that we at this moment enjoy. Let us then imitate them: let us employ our talents and our influence in their service: let us combine together for the purpose of promoting their welfare more extensively than we could do by individual exertion: and while we go forward in dependence on the promises of our God, let us remember, that "what he has promised, he is able also to perform."
As for the idea that the Lord's time is not come, who is authorized to declare that? The great events that are going forward in the world give us reason to think that the time is come, or at least is very near at hand. The prophecies themselves, in the judgment of many wise and sober interpreters, appear to point to the present times, as the season for their approaching accomplishment. And certainly the attention now paid to the subject by the Christian world, and the success that has hitherto attended their efforts, are encouraging circumstances to confirm our hopes, and stimulate our exertions. We may add too, that the zeal that has been manifested of late for the universal diffusion of the Holy Scriptures, and for the conversion of the heathen, is a call from God to the Christian world, to consider the wants of his ancient people: and the general expectation of the Jews at this time, that their Messiah will soon appear, is a still further call to us to point out the Savior to them. Nor can I pass by without notice two most astonishing events; one of which has lately occurred in a foreign country, and the other is at this moment arising in our own. In Russia, God has raised up a friend for his people, another Cyrus, in the head of that vast empire; who has assigned one, if not more places in his dominions, where the Jews who shall embrace Christianity may find a safe asylum, and enjoy all necessary means of providing for themselves, agreeably to their former habits. In our own land, an unprecedented concern begins to manifest itself in behalf of all the nations of the earth who are lying in darkness and the shadow of death. The duty of sending forth missionaries to instruct them, is now publicly acknowledged by all our governors in Church and State; and in a short time will the whole community, from the highest to the lowest, be invited to unite in this blessed work In the Prince Regent's Letter, read in all the Churches through the kingdom, in 1815. And in this ebullition of religious zeal, can we suppose that the Jew shall be forgotten? Shall those to whom we ourselves are indebted for all the light that we enjoy, be overlooked? Will it not be remembered, that our blessed Lord and Savior was a Jew; and that it is a Jew who is at this moment interceding for us at the right hand of God? Shall not our obligations to him and his Apostles be requited by a due attention to those who were the first in his estimation, and are yet "beloved by him for their fathers' sakes?" We must on no account overlook them: we must consider them as comprehended in the general commission: and let us hope that there will be a simultaneous effort through the land, to carry into effect the pious and benevolent designs of our governors.
An erroneous idea has obtained, that because it is said by Paul, "that blindness in part is happened unto Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in Romans 11:25," the great harvest of the Gentiles must be reaped before the sickle is put to the Jewish field. But this is directly contrary to what the same Apostle says in the very same chapter, where he represents "the fullness of the Jews as being the riches of the Gentiles Romans 11:12." It is the commencement, and not the completion, of the in-gathering of the Gentiles, that marks the season for the conversion of the Jews: and therefore the stir which there is at this moment among the Gentile world, is, among other signs of the times, a proof, that the time for the conversion of the Jews is near at hand. Away then with all desponding fears; and to every obstruction that presents itself in your way, say, "Who are you, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain Zechariah 4:6-7."
Let me next address myself,
2. To those who desire to be accomplishing this great work.
You will reasonably ask, What shall we do in order to advance this blessed cause? To this I answer, Be much in prayer to God for them. Were the Christian world more earnest in prayer to God for the restoration and salvation of his people, I feel no doubt but that God would arise and have mercy upon Zion, and that a great work would speedily be wrought among them. When the angel interceded for Jerusalem, saying, "O Lord God, how long will you not have mercy on Jerusalem?" Jehovah, we are told, answered him with good and comfortable words Zechariah 1:12-13. And, if a spirit of intercession for them prevailed among us, God would answer, not by good and comfortable words only, but by great and powerful acts, even by the displays of his pardoning grace, and the manifestations of his long-suspended love. United prayer brought Peter out of his prison: and united prayer would bring the Jews also out of their graves; and they should arise before us "an exceeding great army."
Still however, as human means also are to be used, I would say, Form yourselves into societies and associations for the advancement of this work. Much may be done by united and systematic exertion, which cannot possibly be done without it: funds will be raised; and many will be stirred up to join with you, who would neither have inclination nor ability to do much in a way of solitary effort: and, if God has given to any one a talent of wealth or influence, let him improve it to the uttermost. It is scarcely to be conceived how much a single individual may effect, provided he set himself diligently to the work. God has said he will "bring his people one of a city and two of a family," yes, that "he will bring them to Zion one by one." And if only one be brought from darkness unto light, and from death to life, it is worth all our efforts: for one single soul is of greater value than the whole world. Let us up then, and be doing; for the Lord is with us: and if we see not immediately all the effect we could wish, we have the satisfaction of knowing that God approves of the desire, and that, like David, we are gathering stones which our successors shall erect into a temple of the Lord.
But let it not content us to proselyte the Jews to mere nominal Christianity. It is to no purpose to bring their bones together, and cover them with flesh, unless their souls be made alive to God, and they become living members of Christ's mystical body. In the close of the chapter from whence our text is taken, God informs us what is to characterize the conversion of the Jews to Christ: "David, my servant, (that is, the Lord Jesus Christ,) shall be King over them; and they shall all have one Shepherd: my servant David shall be their Prince forever. Moreover, I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and my tabernacle also shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. verse 24–27." Yes, this is vital Christianity; this is the only true religion that can benefit us; and therefore it is that to which we must endeavor to convert them. I ask of you, my Brethren, What is it that comforts you, but a view of the everlasting covenant, "ordered in all things and sure?" What is it that enables you to live above the things of time and sense, and to look forward with joy to the eternal world; what is it, I say, but a hope, that you stand in this near relation to a reconciled God, and a persuasion, that that Savior, whose you are and whom you serve, will bruise Satan under your feet, and make you more than conquerors over all your enemies? Bear this in mind then, I pray you, in all your conversations with Jews, and in all your efforts for their good. Aim at nothing short of this. To convince them by argument is nothing, unless you bring them to a life of faith upon the Son of God, and to a life of entire devotedness to his service. This you must first experience in your own souls, else you can never hope to effect it in theirs. Let them see in you how truly blessed a life of faith is; and what a sanctifying efficacy it has on your hearts and lives. Let them see, that it is not a merely speculative opinion about the Lord Jesus Christ, to which you would convert them, but to the enjoyment of his love, to a participation of his image, and to a possession of his glory. In a word, be yourselves among them as living epistles of Christ, that in you they may read the excellency of his salvation: then may you hope to prevail with them; and that they will gladly unite themselves to you, when they shall see that God is with you of a truth.
SOULS QUICKENED BY THE GOSPEL
Ezekiel 37:11-13. Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost; we are cut off for our parts. Therefore. prophesy, and say unto them, Thus says the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves.
THE writings both of the Old and New Testament abound with allegories; but the interpretation of them is generally given by the writers themselves. Many of our Lord's discourses were of this nature: they are admirably calculated to convey instruction. We have a very remarkable allegory in this chapter. The prophet sees in a vision a valley of dry bones; he is interrogated with respect to the possibility of their living; he is commanded to bid them live in the name of the Lord. On issuing the proclamation he perceived a noise among the bones; the bones shook, and carne, each to its kindred bone; the sinews, flesh, and skin, then came upon them: lastly, in answer to his prayer, life was communicated to them. This allegory is then interpreted by God himself. It describes the state of the Jews in Babylon, and their unexpected deliverance from it. But it may be properly considered as relating to the deliverance of God's people from the sorer bondage of sin.
We shall take occasion from the text to consider,
I. The state of unregenerate men—
The Jews in Babylon were as unlikely to return to a state of political existence, as dry bones are to the functions of animal life. They themselves despaired of such an event (verse 11). Their condition fitly represents that of the unregenerate—
The unregenerate are dead, even as dry bones—
In this light they are represented by the Apostle Ephesians 2:1;. They are destitute of all inclination or ability to serve God Philippians 2:13; they have not a sufficiency even for the smallest good 2 Corinthians 3:5."
They not unfrequently despair of ever obtaining deliverance—
Despondency is far more common than is generally supposed. Many imagine, like Job, that they are given over by God Compare Lamentations 3:18 and Job 19:10; hence they express themselves like the desponding Jews Jeremiah 2:25.
They are not, however, beyond the reach of mercy—
This will appear by considering,
II. The means by which God delivers them from it—
God can work by the meanest and most contemptible means—
By the sound of rams' horns he overthrew Jericho: by the stroke of Elijah's mantle he parted the waters of Jordan: so, by the preaching of his Gospel he quickens the dead.
He commands his power and grace to be proclaimed—
He is an almighty, all-sufficient God. He promises pardon to all who seek it in his appointed way. He offers his Spirit to renew all who call upon him. He assures the believing soul that it shall never perish Isaiah 41:10. Thus he encourages the weakest and the vilest to look unto him Isaiah 45:22.
In this way he accomplishes the deliverance of his people—
A gradual change is made in the most obdurate sinners. There is a "great army," of whom it may be said as of the prodigal Luke 15:24; they go forth immediately to "the promised land."
Nor does any one remain ignorant of his benefactor—
This leads us to consider,
III. The effects which this deliverance produces—
While dead in sin we imagine we must quicken ourselves—
We know not the depth of misery into which we are fallen. We little think how great a change must take place upon us; nor are we aware how entirely destitute we are of strength.
But when once we are quickened, we see whence our deliverance came—
We feel by experience the truth of Jeremiah's assertion Jeremiah 13:23. We see that the Apostles themselves were only God's instruments 1 Corinthians 3:6-7. Then we know God to be the Lord, the source of every good. We learn also to commit all our ways to him.
1. How valuable are the ordinances of religion!
God makes use of his ordinances for the most glorious purposes. He works principally in and by them Romans 10:17. They who neglect them are generally left in darkness; but sincere worshipers reap the greatest benefit from them. Let us never then grow weary of attending them: let us use them with a dependence on God for his blessing.
2. What care has God taken to encourage desponding sinners!
No state can be worse than this represented in the text verse 2. "very dry."; yet God has shown how he could overrule the heart of Cyrus to proclaim liberty, and of his own people to accept it. He displayed also his mighty power in re-establishing his people; what then can he not do for those who are dead in sin? Let none say, "My hope is lost, I am cut off." Let it he remembered that the power and grace of Christ are sufficient John 11:25. Let every one hear in faith the Apostle's exhortation Ephesians 5:14.
THE STICKS OF JUDAH AND OF EPHRAIM JOINED
Ezekiel 37:15-22. The word of the Lord carne again unto me, saying, Moreover, you son of man, take you one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions: and join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in your hand. And when the children of your people shall speak unto you, saying, Will you not show us what you meanest by these? say unto them, Thus says the Lord God; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick; and they shall be one in mine hand. And the sticks whereon you write shall be in your hand before their eyes. And say unto them, Thus says the Lord God; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, where they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land: and I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountain of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all.
THE restoration of the whole Jewish people, to their own land, and to the favor of their God, is a subject on which all the prophets dwell with great delight; and not with delight only, but with the strongest confidence and assurance. There were indeed then, and there are still, in that nation, circumstances which, if viewed only after the manner of men, render the accomplishment of these predictions highly improbable. For instance; the whole people of Israel, of the ten tribes which were carried captive to Assyria, and of the two tribes in their present dispersion, are scattered, like dry bones, over the face of the whole earth: and we might as well expect a restoration of such scattered bones to life, as the return of that people to their own land. Moreover, from the period of their separation in the time of Rehoboam, to the latest hour of their existence as different states, there existed between them such inveterate hatred, as precludes a hope that they can ever be united into one people again. But the Prophet Ezekiel was inspired to declare, that both these difficulties should be overcome. The resuscitation of the dry bones he has foretold in the preceding part of the chapter; and the reunion of the two nations he foretells in the words which we have just read. He was commanded to represent this to his hearers by a very appropriate sign. He was to take two sticks; and, writing on each of them the nation which it was intended to represent, he was to cause them to become one stick in his hand; and then to explain to them the figure, by a full declaration of God's purpose relative to their reunion in the latter-day.
His words will lead us to contemplate,
I. The event predicted—
The sign itself, just like the blossoming of Aaron's rod, while all the others retained their own proper form without any such alteration, was a convincing proof, that the prophet both spoke and acted under a divine commission. The causing of two sticks, without any previous process, in an instant to become one in his hand, was a pledge to the spectators that the prediction, however improbable, should certainly be fulfilled. Accustomed to be taught by signs, the spectators desired an explanation of that which was now before their eyes. And the prophet informed them, that it imported and prefigured,
1. The restoration of all the tribes to their own land—
The names inscribed upon the two different sticks clearly showed that the ten tribes which had been carried captive to Assyria, no less than the two who were then in Babylon, should at a future period be restored; and that all of them together should form one nation, as they had done in the days of David and of Solomon: and that they should never be divided into two nations again ver 22, 25. This has never yet been fulfilled; and therefore we know it shall receive its accomplishment at a period yet future. To confirm this from many passages of Scripture would be quite superfluous: for if the return of all the tribes to their own land at a future period be questioned, there is not any prediction of a future event that can be depended on. It is not necessary that the whole mass of the Jewish people should return: for there were but forty thousand that returned from Babylon; yet was that deemed a sufficient accomplishment of the prophecies relating to that event. So, if there be only a few millions that return to their own land in the latter-day, it will amply suffice to verify the predictions respecting it. But return they shall, as surely as ever the two sticks became one in the prophet's hand. And to this effect speaks the Prophet Isaiah, whose words I record as illustrating and confirming, beyond a possibility of doubt, the declarations in my text: "It shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. And he shall set up his ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. The envy also of Ephraim shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off: Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim. But they shall fly, upon the shoulders of the Philistines, toward the west: they shall spoil them of the east together: they shall lay their hand upon Edom and Moab; and the children of Ammon shall obey them. And the Lord shall utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian Sea; and with his mighty wind shall he shake his hand over the river, and shall smite it in the seven streams, and make men go over dry-shod. And there shall be an highway for the remnant of his people which shall be left from Assyria; like as it was to Israel, in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt Isaiah 11:11-16."
2. The union of them all under Christ as their common Head—
Never have they been all under the government of one king since the revolt of the ten tribes from Rehoboam: much less has there been any king of the name of David that could lay claim to this dominion. But, at the period referred to, they shall all, even the whole twelve tribes, become one nation again; and that too under the government of the Messiah, who is frequently foretold under the name of David, and who in the New Testament also is recognized as raised up of David's house, and as sitting upon David's throne Luke 1:31-33; Luke 1:69. They will all form one flock under him, as their "Shepherd," as, both in a preceding chapter and in that before us, is fully declared verse 22, 24, 25 and Ezekiel 34:23-24. They will be deeply sensible of their error, in having so long rejected him; and will then "look on Him whom they, no less than their fathers, have pierced, and mourn, and be in bitterness, even as one that mourns for his first-born son." And no longer will they cast off his light and easy yoke: yes rather, they will delight in him, and glory in him, as "all their salvation and all their desire." To this effect the Prophet Hosea also most plainly speaks: "The children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim. Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord, and his goodness, in the latter-days Hosea 3:4-5."
3. Their enjoyment of God, as their covenant-God and portion—
A new covenant will God make with them in that day, widely different from that which he made with their fathers, when he brought them forth out of Egypt Jeremiah 31:31-34. In the new covenant, provision shall be made for the remission of all their sins, for the mortification of all their lusts, and for their entire restoration both to the favor and to the image of their God verse 23–26. In former days, God dwelt with them visibly, by the bright Shechinah, the symbol of his presence; and in his tabernacle he revealed himself in a way that he never had done to any people from the foundation of the world; pledging himself to be their God, and them to be his peculiar people verse 27 with Revelation 21:2-3. And again, at the latter-day will his manifestations of himself to them be not a whit less bright and glorious, insomuch that all the nations of the world shall be constrained to acknowledge them as the people whom, above all others upon earth, Jehovah has been pleased to bless and honor verse 28. Their holiness and happiness will far transcend anything experienced by their forefathers; "the light of the moon will become as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun seven-fold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the Lord binds up the breach of his people, and heals the stroke of their wound Isaiah 30:26."
Now, from these things will be seen what is the true character of the Millennium. It is not in their external state that the Jews will be changed, more than in the state of their souls before God. In truth, it is the spiritual change which will chiefly mark the glory of their latter-day: it will consist not so much in any political revolution, like that of the restoration of the Jews to their own land, as in the establishment of Christ's kingdom upon earth, and the subjugation of the whole world to the obedience of Christ.
The sign intimated by the prophet having been realized before the eyes of his people, having assured to us the accomplishment of his prophecy, we will proceed to contemplate,
II. The prediction verified—
Let us place ourselves on an eminence, and behold it, as st were, accomplishing before our eyes. Behold in it,
1. What a display of God's power!
The Scriptures speak highly of God's power in raising up such an innumerable seed from Abraham and Sarah, at a time when, according to the course of nature, they could have no hope of any progeny. Greatly also is his power magnified in bringing out that nation from their bondage in Egypt. The deliverance also of the Jews from Babylon is marked, as illustrating in no ordinary degree the boundless power of Jehovah. But all of these together are nothing, in comparison of that power which he will display, when he shall, in every quarter of the globe, convert the souls of his ancient people, and restore them in safety to their former inheritance. We are particularly told, that the redemption from Egypt will then no longer be mentioned, by reason of the more glorious deliverance which will be given unto them.
2. What a proof of his veracity!
God promised to Abraham and his descendants the full and entire possession of the land of Canaan: yet it was four hundred and thirty years, before either he or his posterity possessed, with the exception of a burial-place, so much ground as to set his foot upon. Their deliverance from Egypt had been predicted; but their deliverance was delayed so long, that if it had continued one day longer, God's promise to Abraham would have been broken. But behold, on the self-same day he brought them forth; and thereby he showed himself mindful of the promise which he had given above four hundred years before. At the expiration, too, of seventy years, the time fixed for their captivity in Babylon, God brought them forth from thence also. As to the time fixed for their return from their present dispersion, we are unable with certainty to declare precisely when it shall arrive: but, according to every calculation, we have reason to believe it fast approaching; and at the appointed period the event shall assuredly be accomplished. And how wonderfully will it attest the unchangeableness of God, "not one jot or tittle of whose word can ever fail!"
3. What an exhibition of his grace!
The sovereignty of God was clearly shown, in his choice of Abraham from the midst of an idolatrous family and nation: nor less so in limiting his blessings to the lines of Isaac and Jacob, to the exclusion of the eider branches of Ishmael and Esau. Every part of the Divine administration towards the people of Israel gives, in like manner, ample demonstration of the sovereignty of his grace. The preservation, too, of that people, as distinct from all the nations of the earth, proves, that nothing shall, or ever can, defeat the purposes of his grace. Certainly, if anything could prevail on God to annul his covenant, the conduct of that people must have done it. From the very beginning, they were a disobedient and stiff-necked people. In the wilderness itself, yes, and even at the Red Sea, where such a wonderful interposition had appeared in their favor, they rebelled against their God. At all times were they ready to cast off their allegiance to God, and to place their confidence on stocks and stones. And at last they filled up the measure of their iniquities, by rejecting their Messiah, and crucifying the Lord of glory. To all this we may add their long impenitence, during eighteen centuries, notwithstanding they know and acknowledge that they are cast off from God on account of their impieties. How astonishing, then, will the freeness and richness of God's grace appear, when he shall take these persons from their dispersion, revealing himself to them, bringing them forth from every corner of the earth, manifesting the Savior to them, and returning himself to them as their covenant God and portion! If, in the election of them at first, the grace of God was eminently displayed, much more will it be glorified in such mercies given to them after such heinous and manifold transgressions.
4. What a call to the whole world to serve and obey him!
God has spoken in his works; but his voice is not heard. He has also spoken by his word; but that word is known to a very small part of mankind. But in that day he will speak to all the whole world at once; and in such terms, that it will be impossible for any to misapprehend his meaning. In the chapter before us he has said, "The heathen shall know that I the Lord do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore verse 28." The Jews are spread in almost every part of the world. Their conversion to God being simultaneous in every country, it will attract the attention of all, and create a vast sensation through the whole world. The victories, too, which they will gain over all who shall oppose their establishment in their own land will yet further demonstrate, not only that God is with them, but that there is no other God but He. They will be struck, as Baal's worshipers were by the fire which descended from Heaven to consume Elijah's sacrifice; and will exclaim, with wonder and amazement, "The Lord, he is the God! the Lord, he is the God!" Instantly will multitudes, in every place, "lay hold on the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you; for we see that God is with you of a truth Zechariah 8:23." In truth, it will be a signal to all mankind to acknowledge Christ as their Lord and Savior; and it will "be as life from the dead Romans 11:15." to the whole world.
And now, brethren, be all as one stick in my hand: and let every one among you, whatever be the diversity of his age or station, submit to Christ as your King, and live in dependence on him as your Shepherd. Enter now into "God's covenant of peace," that you may be partakers of all its privileges and blessings. Let God himself dwell in you, as in his temple of old: be altogether a people unto him, and let him be your God and portion forever. These blessings will characterize the Millennial age, and be given in a more abundant measure to his people that shall hereafter return unto him: yet are they to be enjoyed at this present hour by all who truly believe in Christ. Why then should so much as one of you remain destitute of these blessings? May God of his infinite mercy make you all like-minded in relation to them! and may the time quickly arrive, when God's ancient people shall experience them in their souls, and "all flesh shall see the salvation of God!"