Ezekiel Chapter Two
The prophet is directed what he is to do. (1-5) And encouraged to be resolute, faithful, and devoted. (6-10)
Commentary on Ezekiel 2:1-5
(Read Ezekiel 2:1-5)
Lest Ezekiel should be lifted up with the abundance of the revelations, he is put in mind that still he is a son of man, a weak, mortal creature. As Christ usually called himself the Son of man, it was also an honourable distinction. Ezekiel's posture showed reverence, but his standing up would be a posture of greater readiness and fitness for business. God will speak to us, when we stand ready to do what he commands us. As Ezekiel had not strength of his own, the Spirit entered into him. God is graciously pleased to work in us whatever he requires of us. The Holy Spirit sets us upon our feet, by inclining our wills to our duty. Thus, when the Lord calls upon the sinner to awake, and attend to the concerns of his soul, the Spirit of life and grace comes with the call. Ezekiel is sent with a message to the children of Israel. Many might treat his message with contempt, yet they should know by the event that a prophet had been sent to them. God will be glorified, and his word made honourable, whether it be a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death.
Commentary on Ezekiel 2:6-10
(Read Ezekiel 2:6-10)
Those who will do any thing to purpose in the service of God, must not fear men. Wicked men are as briers and thorns; but they are nigh unto cursing, and their end is to be burned. The prophet must be faithful to the souls of those to whom he was sent. All who speak from God to others, must obey his voice. The discoveries of sin, and the warnings of wrath, should be matter of lamentation. And those acquainted with the word of God, will clearly perceive it is filled with woe to impenitent sinners; and that all the precious promises of the gospel are for the repenting, believing servants of the Lord.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on Ezekiel》
 And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee.
And — He that sat upon the throne, Jesus Christ.
Son of man — A phrase which is ninety-five times, at least, used in this prophecy to keep him humble who had such great revelations.
Stand — Arise, fear not. And with this command God sent forth a power enabling him to rise and stand.
 And the spirit entered into me when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet, that I heard him that spake unto me.
The spirit — The same spirit which actuated the living creatures.
 And they, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, (for they are a rebellious house,) yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them.
Shall know — They that obey shall know by the good I will do them, those that will not, by the evil which I will bring upon them.
 And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns be with thee, and thou dost dwell among scorpions: be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house.
Words — Accusations, threats, or whatever else a malicious heart can suggest to the tongue.
Briars — Which usually run up among thorns, are a very fit emblem of the frowardness and keenness of sinners against God and his prophet.
Scorpious — Malicious, revengeful men. They that will do any thing to purpose in the service of God, must not fear the faces of men.
 But thou, son of man, hear what I say unto thee; Be not thou rebellious like that rebellious house: open thy mouth, and eat that I give thee.
Hear — Obey.
Open — This was done only in a vision.
 And when I looked, behold, an hand was sent unto me; and, lo, a roll of a book was therein;
Roll — Their books were not like ours, but written in parchment and in the length of it, and so one piece fastened to another, 'till the whole would contain what was to be written, and then it was wrapped or rolled about a round piece of wood, fashioned for that purpose.
 And he spread it before me; and it was written within and without: and there was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe.
And — The person, who held out his hand.
Spread — Unrolled it.
Within … — On both sides, on that side which was inward when rolled, and on that side also that was outward.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on Ezekiel》
Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee.
The full stature of a man
Men often speak, and more frequently act, as if the religion of Christ paralysed manhood and cut the sinews of life. This is the reason, I believe, why so many give a reluctant ear to the religion of Christ. Now I concede the premise that determines this attitude to Christ; the premise that a man is entitled to the rounded fulfilment and the highest reach of the nature which God has given him. Our nature is a parchment on which God has written His will concerning us. The difficulty is that the original writing of God is so blotted and interlined with the writing of the devil that men misread their nature, and take it at the devil’s interpretation instead of God’s interpretation. In the measurement of ourself, any value below the highest is a mistake. It defeats God’s intention regarding us. It flings us at once on an inferior plane of life. It produces a manhood mutilated at the top, impoverished in its deepest centres of power and joy. Now let us glance at the religion of Christ. It is to feed these centres of power and joy in our nature, to enlarge them, to quicken them to their keenest energy, that that religion comes to us with its claim and appeal. So far from paralysing manhood and cutting the sinews of life, it is something which God has put on this earth to nourish the essential traits of manhood and thrust life upward to its highest levels of force and happiness. Christ Himself is the only true measure of His religion. We must take it in its original features and accents, with the large, grand truths which He revealed as its lines of structure, and the institutions which He founded to shelter those truths and bring them into living touch with men. What did He tell us of His religion? Nay, what did He tell us of Himself?--for Christ is Christianity. He said: “The Son of Man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” “I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” “I am the Light of the world. He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” These are crucial words. They sweep the whole horizon of Christ’s truth and work. The purpose of His religion is not to impoverish and mutilate life, but to show us the values of life as they stand in the light of God; and, in the downward pull of our nature and the sharp stress of the world, to help us to realise the highest values. Thus it comes to us. Thus it addresses us. It says, as God said to the prophet: “Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee.” You must meet it, as a man meets a friend, standing on your feet, looking into his eyes, grasping his hand. And more than this; as its spirit enters into you, it will set you upon your feet. It comes to uplift your nature, enrich your life, to give it reach and vision, to keep you on your feet in your fight with sin. But it makes demands, you say. Yes, but all its demands are needful for the training of our manhood to its highest fruition; and it helps us to meet its demands. For instance, it demands faith. But do you expect to go through life without faith? Then you will miss the best and richest things of life. It is like a man drawing the curtains of his windows when the sunshine is making holiday on the earth. Again, it demands worship. But surely no thoughtful man would give much for a life that had not the element of worship in it. It is when faith in unseen things is faint, and worship dies out of life, that men ask, “Is life worth living?” An empty heaven overarches an empty heart. Lastly, it demands the curbing of the lower forces of our nature. This, after all, is the demand that excites the most angry and determined revolt. But life itself, outside of Christ, if it be carried to any high issue, makes the same demand. Even to be the shadow of a man, even to be respectable and keep our place in the world, we must chain the brute within us. It is a difficult task, and men who essay it without the aid of God ofttimes find that the wild beast has escaped his cage, and is devouring the beauty and dignify of their life. Christ, it is true, goes beyond the demands of the world. He asks us to sacrifice, if the need come, natural appetite and innocent joy in the behoof of our soul. Life itself finds its meaning only by the soul working out with pain and battle its supremacy. To accomplish this, the world has its methods; but Christ’s method, after all, is the easiest method, the only effective method. Starve the evil in your nature by feeding the good that is in it. Conquer the strong man that has taken possession of your house by bringing in a stronger than he. The Church of Christ, with its revealed truth, its sacraments and its worships, is the Divine porch which God has built in the world, through which we may come to Him, and draw into our life, for help in our struggle and the healing of our wounds, the forces of His Divine life. (W. W. Battershall, D. D.)
The man who is great by gift, office, or opportunity, and at the same time of unfeigned goodness, will shrink back from the idea of incapacitating by oblique terrorism those who come within the field of his influence. He will wish them to employ their powers for the common weal to the best possible advantage, and will therefore seek to put them at their case, to encourage them to intellectual self-command, to build them up and not to cast them down. God’s dealings with His servants of all ages correspond to our conception of His gentle and gracious character. The vision of His presence and power is not meant to permanently depress, overawe, and incapacitate. His glory is overwhelming, but it is not His will to annihilate reason and all that constitutes personality by the manifestations of His majesty.
I. Self-possession is necessary for the highest forms of intercourse with God. A man cannot be a recipient of the Divine revelations till he has made some little progress in the art of collecting and commanding his own faculties. Now and again God makes Himself known in vivid and stupendous ways which smite mortals with fear and trembling. For the time being, He strips them of their manliness. The characteristic attributes of the human personality are numbed, stifled, half-destroyed, and the man who is the subject of these manifestations might well think himself in the throes of a process intended to dissolve the elements which make up the unity of his being, and merge him irrecoverably into the terrible Infinite. Now this paralysing sense of the supernatural, which appears to threaten the obliteration of the individual, is only temporary. God does not wish to subtract anything from the personality, or to make us less than that which He created us to be. But, after all, the only thing God wants to drive out of the personality is the taint of selfishness, affinity for wrong, soft complaisance towards transgression. Indeed, it is the sin latent in us which produces collapse before His presence, and when that is gone serene self-possession is recovered. He does not wish to blight, or repress and destroy a single element in the constituent sum of a man’s identity.
1. This lack of quiet self-possession is sometimes the reason why stricken, conquered, storm-tossed souls cannot enter into the quiet of saving faith. A temptation to keep back the obedient response to God’s solicitation of human confidence may come in two opposite ways. Many a man persuades himself that his heart is not so profoundly stirred that he can exercise the faith that will save him. The psychological atmosphere, he is tempted to think, is far too normal and commonplace. And, on the other hand, those most profoundly wrought upon by a sense of their guilt, and the vision of the Divine holiness, exercised to the point of distraction by some force which has seized upon their emotions, find it difficult to collect their minds into an intelligent and purposeful act of faith. Their natures are almost stupefied by the mighty supernatural arrest that has come to them. The power of thought and emotion is for the moment frozen up or has almost passed away. They cannot collect themselves for the transaction which is required at their hands. Saul, the blinded persecutor, must have been in some such condition, as he lay prone at the gate of Damascus, for he could not there and then put forth the faith by which he was healed, built up, sanctified. The nature prostrate and helpless through a cataclysm of overwhelming conviction must be brought out of its paralysing amazement. Faith is an act which demands collectedness of mind, a rational and reflective attitude, modest self-possession. True it is that faith is God’s gift, but the hand that receives is not the hand clutched with terror or folded in sleep, but the hand which is heedfully and unfalteringly held out.
2. Whilst reverence in God’s presence is a duty from which there can be no release, that sacred emotion of the soul is not meant to dumfound and transfix us, however mighty the revelations to which it is a tribute. Indeed, the reverence that is allied to helplessness and maimed perception is manifestly a sentiment of inferior quality. The man who wishes to dazzle the supporters he is rallying to his side brings some kind of reproach upon himself. He who seeks to lull his admirers into dreaminess or to fascinate them into stupor, and so disarm their judgments, confesses thereby the meagreness of his own power to captivate by reason and by love. If, as God comes forth to conquer us, His revelations put the larger part of our mental life to sleep or obscure a single faculty or perception, that would be practically a confession of weakness on His part. It would imply He had not adequate moral and spiritual reserve forces wherewith to subdue our souls into adoration of His attributes and homage to His great behests. When God sees fit to disclose His majesty and abase our pride, He does not intend to permanently weaken, discourage, paralyse. That would be to surround Himself with worshippers of meaner capacity and servants of inferior fitness for His tasks. He desires to call forth, train, and perfect the undivided powers of those whom He seals and sends.
3. The largest and the loftiest service of God is that which is rational in the best sense of the word. Those disclosures of His being, character, and operation which God will make both in this life and in that which is to come, are intended to stimulate and not to depress that group of faculties of which the brain is the symbol. He has created us all that which we find ourselves, so that we may be better able to comprehend Him than beings less richly endowed, and we cannot think that this special capacity will be overborne and destroyed as soon as the goal comes into view. Every mental power must be healthy, well-mastered, on the alert, so that we lose nothing from His many-sided revelations. We cannot apprehend God and assimilate His truth and life in states of feeling which are not far removed from trance conditions. The highest intercourse with God attainable by a human soul is that in which the soul is perfectly at ease, competent to command its own powers and apply its own discernments.
4. Men may pass into mental states in which we describe them as possessed--possessed either by the Spirit of God for good, or by an unclean spirit for evil. But possession represents only a half-way stage towards a final goat of holiness or sin. In possession, both for evil and good, the personality becomes more or less veiled, overborne, suppressed. Manifestations of the Divine glory that confound and disable through their momentary intenseness, unfit for the truest and most comprehensive communion with God. In our own, as well as in earlier times, Christianity has fallen under the spell of Oriental philosophies which assume that the basis of human personality is evil, and its duration therefore fleeting; and that reabsorption into the infinite and universal life is the goal of all aspiration and progress. The unexpressed idea seems to be that the infinite cannot tolerate the finite, that it is always thirsting to draw every attribute of manhood out of us, and that it will leave at last the mere husk and shell of an effete personality behind, bleaching into final invisibility, or perhaps not even so much as that. Such a view credits God with predatory instincts rather than pays Him the glory due to His absolute and eternal love. God wishes to take out of our personalities nothing but what is hateful--selfishness, folly, moral blemish and defect. In Christ’s high-priestly prayer we find the charter which pledges the permanence of all those elements which constitute personality. His own relation to the Father, which presupposed the essentials of personality, was to be the standard looked to in the perfecting of the disciples. “As Thou, Father, art in Me and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us.” The branch which is grafted into the stock of a tree still produces its own specific flowers, in spite of its union with the tree, and produces them more nobly because of the reinforcement of life it receives from the tree. Our Lord’s union with the Father accentuated rather than obscured the properties of His personality. The Father was ever dwelling in the Son, but the personality of the Father was not lost in the mystery of intercommunion; and the Son was ever dwelling in the Father, but He remained a perfectly conscious and clearly defined Son, and His personality was neither volatilised nor swallowed up by the mystic relation. The union which entirely abstracts and absorbs makes communion a fixed impossibility. And His own age-long fellowship with the Father, Jesus Christ presents as the type and consummation of all human excellence and blessedness. Ages await, us in which the revelations of God will transcend the grandest disclosures of the past; but even then these, revelations will be attempered to our capacity to receive and assimilate, Man’s intellectual grasp, far from being overtaxed and palsied by the strange secrets of the future, will only be stimulated and enlarged. We are not children of the mist, freaks of cloudscape, broken shadows, iridescent vat, ours, whose destiny it is to confront the sunlight and be irretrievably dissolved. In the maturity of an all-round, unshrinking, indefectible personality, we shall be summoned into the presence of His glory to receive, without error or distraction, the nobler teaching of the hereafter. He will ask us then to be self-possessed, and He is teaching us the alphabet of that duty now. “Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee.”
II. A serene and undisturbed temper is necessary not only for the man who is an elect recipient of Divine revelations, but for the man also who is to be a messenger of these revelations to others. Courage before men is a characteristic of the genuine prophet; a timid, blushing, disconcerted herald from God’s throne is an incongruous compound. The first apostles did much to prove their place in the holy succession by the firmness with which they spake under circumstances which would have abashed men with a less convincing religious history behind them. In the chapters to which the vision of Ezekiel is a prelude, the prophetic office is illustrated by the duty laid upon the sentinel or watchman. For such work the power of calm, unerring discernment is indispensable. He must be master of himself, able to see with his own eyes, to trust the correctness of his own judgments, to hold his own in the world. Unless a man has self-command, or can at least acquire it by discipline, he is unfit to be God’s watchman. The nervous prophet, the self-deprecating herald, the apostle who allows himself to be overborne by the clamour of the world, stultifies his own mission and does not a little to discredit his message.
1. Self-possession is often a secret of success in common things. In not a few pursuits the cool head and uniform self-command are essential to life itself. A man must have confidence in the art he has assumed, and in his own aptitude for applying the principles of his art, and above all in the truths to the promulgation of which his art is contributory. He who has a modest faith in his own resources, be they natural or spiritual, will inspire some degree of that same faith into others. The man who cannot command his own faculties at the moment, never inspires confidence, however vast the stores of knowledge and power with which popular rumour may credit him. It is the working capital in actual view which assures the onlookers rather than the unrealisable assets. We cannot persuade others till we are so absorbed by the subject matter of that persuasion that all the powers of the mind rise up to emphasise it. The duty of self-command implies very much more than subjecting our bad passions to the control of the will; and if we do not learn self-command in the widest possible sense of the term, we inevitably weaken our effectiveness for good. By fluttered moods and weak, indeterminate accents, the wisest man is just as much disqualified from swaying others as the ignorant or the imbecile. Nervous embarrassment, inability to bring our best gifts into use at the call of a providential opportunity, palpitations, strikings of spirit, hesitancies, seem to turn our message into farce and dumb show. One faculty which we can quietly use at will for practical ends is better than a brilliant host of faculties which are not under perfect control.
2. Self-possession is a sign of the quietness of faith. When attained by spiritual processes it becomes a Voucher for that trust in God which, once learned in His immediate presence, extends to the daily fulfilment of the tasks He has fixed. Without this tranquillity which grows from faith we can have no power. There can be no confusion or embarrassment where this fixed persuasion exists. The man who is bold at God’s command is bold because authority is behind him, and authority means the mighty grace which will not suffer its obedient instruments to be confounded or brought to shame. A true faith should enable us to wield our finest powers for God and His service. Respect for the opinions of others should never lead us to cancel ourselves and the contents of our own consciences. The strength and boldness we need in speaking for God must, in many cases, be built up from their very foundations on religious principles and experiences. The man whom nature does not help, and who through superhuman influence alone grows bold and at ease, will far surpass the other in effectual service for God. It may sometimes happen that in the physical life there is a barrier to their self-possession which is a prime condition of usefulness, and in one case out of a hundred the barrier may be insurmountable. Excellent and high-principled men and women assume too readily that they are the victims of nervous disorder, weak circulation, faintness. Let God’s imperative “Stand upon thy feet” help us. It is a Divine voice which calls us to mental collectedness, to the quiet use and control of all our hidden gifts. He would fain rescue us from our frailties, from proneness to mental confusion, from undue awe of the face of our fellows, from that nervous paralysis which so often has its roots in a morbid or a defective religious life. It is not His will to have servants who lack the note of courage, competence, effectuality. By contact with God we shall gain steadiness, confidence of touch, impressive self-mastery for our work. “Now when they beheld the boldness of Peter and John . . . they took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus.” If we learn presence of mind before God we shall find little difficulty in maintaining it before men. “Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart; wait, I say, on the Lord.” (T. G. Selby.)
The prophet’s commission
I. The attitude of the prophet in the presence of God. Jonathan Edwards, who has been called the Isaiah of the Christian Dispensation; was often carried in the chariot of his imagination into the very highest heaven of ecstasy to behold the greatness and the glory of the Lord. And during those seasons of seraphic communion he realised his utter weakness, and his very body seemed to faint and fail. Pascal, too, had no less exalted experience when he was visited with the presence and power of God, and saw visions so unutterable that he could only fall on his face and weep tears of joy. But God does not mean that His servants should be overmastered with the majesty of its glory. God is not like an Eastern sovereign who wishes his subjects to be impressed with his distant greatness, and would extinguish the sense of noble manhood within their breast. The relation which God sustains to His people is that of a father to his children, who would impress them with the conviction of his absolute authority, and yet, at the same time, would endeavour to awaken within them the sense of their nobility and dignity as his children.
II. The attitude of the prophet in the presence of man. We may bend our knees in the presence of God, but we must stand upon our feet in the presence of man. It is in this attitude that we receive strength. Bunyan’s picture of the prophet is the ideal for all time. “He had eyes lifted up to heaven, the best of books was in his hand, the law of truth was written upon his lips, the world was behind his back. He stood as if he pleaded with men; and a crown of glory did hang over his head.”
1. The first quality or attribute of the true prophet is that of conviction. The prophets of science have emerged out of their caves of prejudice, of tradition, of authority, and have gazed at nature with the clear eye of truth, and under the open canopy of heaven. And so it must be with the prophets of Scripture; they must be prepared to dismiss all the idols of prejudice and passion, and study the Bible in the light of open day, and thus arrive at a firm, immovable conviction of its truth. We have no business to preach our doubts; it is the grand realities that we are to proclaim in the presence of an unbelieving world. A lady once, examining Turner’s pictures, said, “But, Mr. Turner, I don’t see these things in nature.” “Madam,” replied the artist, with pardonable pride, “don’t you wish you could?” Thus the true prophet must be a seer, and being a seer, the whole breadth of nature and Scripture will be open to him, and he will see things that others wot not of.
2. The second quality which distinguishes the true prophet is that of courage. The apostles after the day of Pentecost were full of courage. The fear of man was completely taken away, so that they testified with boldness the truths of the Gospel concerning the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. So it was with Luther, with Knox, with Savonarola, and all the great prophets of old; they were bold and uncompromising in their utterance of the truth.
3. The third quality of the faithful prophet is character. The staff of the prophet must be in the hands of a pure and upright man. Gehazi was a bad man; and hence, although he had the wand of Elisha in his hand, it failed to work enchantment. He passed the staff over the face of the dead child, the son of the Shunamite woman, but there was no voice, nor any that answered. But when Elisha took the staff in his hand, then the boy was raised to life again. Thus will it always be. (J. C. Shanks.)
Human progress a preparation for the fuller knowledge of God
I. The will of God is the uplifting of man. Ezekiel thought that he honoured God by falling prostrate on the ground. Be learnt that God was rather honoured by his standing on his feet. Salvation is the uplifting of man. It must be so because God is love. His aim is to lift the objects of His love into free fellowship with Himself. His glory and their exaltation are one. And the liker to Himself they are, the greater His joy. And this is true with reference to all man’s powers. To stand upright is the outward sign of self-possession and of power in full development and exercise--first of all, the highest powers of faith and aspiration and conscience, but then all the powers which go together to make the man. Every human faculty has its place in the kingdom of God, and is sought out by the redemption of Christ Jesus.
II. The text makes this uplifting not only compatible with, but necessary to, the reception of Divine truth. “Stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee.” Character can only be understood by corresponding character. If the lesser is to have fellowship with the greater, it must always be because the lesser grows until an answering faculty apprehends the greater. Take away the faculty in the receiver, and you destroy the power of the revealer to reveal himself. If the musician is to utter his soul, his instrument must sufficiently combine melodiousness, harmony, and delicacy to express his conception and to call forth all his skill. Had Mendelssohn known only the tom-tom of an African savage, we could never have had the Elijah and the Songs without Words. So we could never have had the dialogues of Plato had the philosopher had in view no audience more intellectual than a Sunday school class. And this is no mere human limitation. God can only reveal Himself to man and in man as human nature becomes lofty and deep and broad enough to apprehend and to express His mind. Further, each new power developed in man is a new point of contact with God. The world is so full of God that it is impossible to establish any new connection with it without its becoming a way of approach to some part of the mind of God, which is waiting to be revealed, when the means of receiving it are found.
III. We have in the text a special message from God to the men of our times. From every side the call is being heard--“Stand upon thy feet.” Orders have been called to political and economical influence, which never exerted it before. Men are pressing forward to claim their share in the higher life of science, literature, and art, who but a generation ago were not sufficiently awakened even mournfully to say, “Such joys are not for us.” What is the true prophet to say to this many-sided movement? Is he to ban it as secular and worldly? Nay, rather, he must proclaim that so long as moral earnestness is behind it, it is the inspiration of God bidding men stand upon their feet, that He may speak to them. (J. S. Lidgett, M. A.)
Optimism and pessimism; or, the true dignity of man
(with Psalms 8:4-5):--It is most important that man should recognise his high origin, the nobility of his powers, and the glorious destiny that is possible to him, and that invites his noblest efforts and ambition. The first attitude of the soul toward God must always be that of profound reverence and deep humility. Still God will not allow His chosen ones to crouch at His feet. First, the lowly penitent pleading for mercy; after that, the servant, obeying the commandments of God because he must obey or lose his place; but then, the son and friend, standing up beside his God, listening with rapturous delight to the voice of the loving Father. God is ever ready to draw near to those who love Him, and to speak with them as friend speaketh with friend. “Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak to thee.” I think we may learn from these words that it is possible for us to miss the voice of God, and to lose much of the comfort of His presence, by failing to claim the privilege of coming to God at all times, in the fullest confidence of love and friendship. Man must recognise his true dignity, and maintain his self-respect, before he can receive the highest revelation of God. It is worthy of note that God put dignity and honour upon man by creating him in His own image. He also showed His great regard for man by giving His Son to redeem him, and lift him up from the low condition into which he had been brought by sin and transgression. And especially does He assert the dignity and worth of man, regenerated and purified, by making his body the temple of His Holy Spirit, and by providing for him a glorious, happy home, where no sin, nor sorrow, nor suffering can ever enter. There are pessimists in our day who boldly proclaim that human life is a failure--that the world is going from bad to Worse--that there is nothing in human life to be thankful for, but much to be deplored. The explanation of pessimism is found in the fact that men are living Without God and without hope in the world. There are, I think, three different views of human life. First, the superficial view of life, indulged in by the young and inexperienced. Life is not looked at in all its sober reality. Its responsibilities and trials are not duly weighed. The brightness on the surface is all that is seen. This is the optimist view. Then comes the second view of life, held, perhaps, by disappointed, unsuccessful men. Life is a burden and a toil; and yet the desire to live is strong in them; and they are puzzled and perplexed beyond measure. This is the view of the pessimist. Then there is the third view of life, deeper, truer, and more hopeful--bright with a more sober and abiding light than that of the optimist--and happy with a calm confidence in God, that cannot be shaken. This is the Christian view of life. The pessimist and the optimist are both in error. The pessimist opens the windows of the soul outward, and lets out upon the world the darkness of his own morbid, melancholy, and darkens the brightness of the world with his own darkness. That is bad--an evil that ought to be carefully avoided. The optimist opens the windows of the soul inward, letting in the world’s bright sunlight, so that he sees only the brightness, and thinks nothing of the misery and wretchedness that are around; and hence he puts forth no effort to make the world brighter and better. But the true Christian philosopher opens the windows of the soul upward, and lets the light of heaven stream in. He sees everything in the light of God’s providence and God’s purposes, and has his mind enlightened by God’s Spirit. (S. Macnaughton, M. A.)
The assertion of manhood
Ezekiel was overwhelmed by the vastness of the universe and the great range of God’s sovereignty. He could no longer--like the earlier prophets--limit his thoughts of Divine providence to the fatherly care and protection of a handful of Jews. It was something much vaster. In the government of the world there was wheel within wheel, there were forces at work that seemed to take little heed of individual or even national interests; there was the terrible impartiality of a universal Power dispensing equal laws to all peoples of the earth. To himself he suddenly appeared of no account in this universe of law and force, and in utter abasement he grovelled on the ground. But he was not permitted long to abase himself. God had a work for him to do, a message to deliver. And before the work could be done or the message revealed, the prophet must rise from his grovelling attitude, and reassert his manhood and recover his self-respect. He must recover his belief in the true position of man; he must assert his liberty of action; he must believe in the possibility of leading a holy, a Divine life, and when he had thus shown his sense of the true dignity of man and his respect of self, he could be made a prophet and servant of the Most High.
1. The first element in the self-abasement and prostration, the sense of insignificance in presence of the great forces of nature, and of the vastness of the universe, is finely described in the 8th Psalm: “When I consider Thy heavens,” etc. However we explain it, there is a failure to realise the true dignity of man, to value aright the purpose of life, to understand the issues that depend upon our thoughts, and words, and actions. We get into the way of looking on ourselves simply as atoms, inconsiderable parts of a world which contains much that is more worthy of securing God and man’s attention than a human soul; and we are content, with the lowest level for our character and conduct. But if we are tempted to feel in this way, the voice of God says to us: “Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee.” It tells us how the Creator, after He had framed the earth and designed the heavens, made man in His own image, endowed him with reason, that he might know and judge himself; with conscience, that he might discern between right and wrong; and imagination, that he might purify his affections; with a principle of life, that he might live forever. It commands us to measure the superiority thus conferred upon us as children of the living God.
2. The second element in Ezekiel’s abasement was a sense of helplessness. If his vision were a first glimpse of the reign of law, his fear may have contained the first shadow of a feeling that has shed its deepest gloom, on the paths of so many in these later days. The question, What is man? is answered by a large number of the thoughtful and the unthinking alike in the language of sheer fatalism. In effect, they say: “I am what I am, and need not be expected to change; God and man must take me as they find me. Another, with different parentage, and brought up in different circumstances from mine, may be a better, a more amiable man than I am. But he need not plume himself upon that. Had our places been reversed, so would our characters, and I for my part must be content to remain as I am.” The same feeling is shown in reference to our mission in the world. The same man who blames fate for what he is, denies, in practice, if not in words, the possibility of his doing any work for good. He reasons for ethers as he reasons for himself--they are, and will be, what the struggle for existence, the advantages or disadvantages of their lot have made them; and as circumstances have neither fitted him to do anything for them, nor brought him into contact with them, he must leave them alone. He and they are fixed alike in this great wheel of fate, and although they all move, it is by no conscious effort on their part. All alike are poor, helpless creatures, whirled round in the great machine. I cannot doubt that this feeling was in the mind of Ezekiel as it was in the mind of his contemporary Jeremiah. Nor can I doubt that it was to rouse him out of his helplessness that God told him to stand upon his feet. And neither can I doubt that God calls upon us all to assert our dignity as men by claiming our liberty.
3. The third element in the abasement of Ezekiel must have been a sense of sinfulness. We need not try to analyse this feeling or show how it acted upon him. The emotions that flooded the soul of the prophet can hardly be dissected and tabulated. The knowledge that he had himself sinned, had been guilty of transgressing, or, at least, of failing to carry out with anything like perfection those laws whose power had just been revealed to him, was the last drop in his cup of humiliation. It would have been strange if it had been otherwise. If we ever obtain a glimpse of the majesty of the law and of the Lawgiver, we can hardly fail to be humiliated by the recollection of our own past lives. We have known the right and the good, and we have not chosen them; we have seen the path of safety for health of body, health of mind, health of soul; and we have wilfully forsaken it. We are not the men we might have been, we have not done the good we ought to have done; our prospects for time and eternity are overclouded, and the splendour which ought to have shone around them has become dim. And when we see the appearance in the likeness of a man on the sapphire throne--should I not say on the cross?--we will not fail to fall prone and abase ourselves if we have retained any of the better feelings God gave us at our birth. But our text reminds us that it is not good to remain too long in this abject state. We are not forever to be confessing that we are miserable sinners. The voice calls to us even when we are abased under a sense of sin: “Son of man, stand upon thy feet.” Escape at once from the humiliation and the sin that has caused it. Look up to the bright heaven of a new ideal. Set your affection on things that are above. Prepare to move in the service that hitherto has been neglected, and God will teach you by higher training for a nobler life. (J. Millar, B. D.)
The importance of self-respect
Ezekiel was to be the bearer of a Divine message for the correction and moral rousing of his countrymen, and in order that Heaven may impart to him its secret, and inspire and instruct him for the work to which he has been chosen, he is called to rise and stand upon his feet. Here, then, in the very Book in which we are always meeting with injunctions to bend and bow, if we would be Divinely visited, are instances of men summoned to get up from the dust of conscious littleness and unworthiness, that they might be Divinely spoken with--of men, prone upon their faces in the presence of God, who were required to place themselves upon their feet before He could say anything to them, or make any use of them. Yet we may be quite sure, at the same time, that their prior prostration was equally indispensable. When Jehovah would charge Moses with the task of delivering Israel, the word to him was not, “Stand upon thy feet, that thou mayest hear and be invested from above,” but, “Fall upon thy face.” When, however, he had been deeply awed and humbled, to begin with, then he was bidden to uplift his head and believe in himself. It was needful, that as Saul and Daniel and Ezekiel were, he should first be deeply awed and humbled; but like them also, he needed to become erect after depression for the Heavens to be intimate with him, and to make him their mouthpiece and organ. And for healthy living, for beautiful action and endurance in our place, whatever it may be, we all require to have these two united in us--awe and assurance--prostration and erectness--the recognition of our insignificance--our dependence--and the recognition of our worth and dignity. We need to be both lying down in felt emptiness and helplessness, and rising up in brave self-sufficiency; and while it may be the fact that Heaven will reveal nothing to those who are not humble and lowly, it is equally the fact that Heaven never has anything to reveal to those who are not duly reverencing, and manfully leaning upon themselves. Coming to the New Testament, we meet continually in its pages with the same recognition of the importance of self-respect. Jesus Christ was always saying something in aid of it--something to encourage and support it. When He would strengthen His apostles for cleaving to their convictions against the opposition of the world, for brave and fearless prosecution of the work to which they were called, He talked to them of their worth in the eyes of the Almighty Father, telling them that the hairs of their head were all numbered, and that they were of more value than many sparrows. When Simon Peter, overwhelmed for a moment with the feeling of his manifold imperfections, fell down at the Master’s feet, crying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord,” how was he treated? The Master dropped at once a hint of the great capacity which He saw latent in him, and waiting to be developed, of the great use which he was destined to be in the service of the kingdom--“Fear not, Simon; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” When, again, Christ mingled with the degraded outcasts of Judea, of what did He speak to them? of their worth, of how Heaven missed them and wanted them. They heard from His blessed lips of the shepherd’s concern for the lost sheep, of the housewife’s eager search for the lost piece of silver. There is nothing more conducive to healthy self-reverence against the influence of felt poor quality and low desert, than the assurance that we are dear to someone who is superior--that someone who is superior cares for us, and clings to us, and considers us capable of much better and greater things. And this was the strength which Christ brought to the weak--the Gospel with which He raised the self-despairing. You are the child of a God who thinks on you, and yearns over you, and to whom, in your worst vileness, you are a prince in bondage, worthy of being sought after and redeemed. Then look at the Epistles--the Pauline epistles especially: in them, how constantly are the readers reminded of their high estate, or of the great things that were imputed to them, of the great things that were assumed with regard to them; of the lofty idea of their condition and character, which His perfect manhood involved, whose members and brethren they were. “Ye are bought with a price” - “Ye are all children of the light, and of the day”--“Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost?”--“Reckon ye yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” But you will say, “When are we not self-respecting?” Well, he is not, for one, who craves and courts the approbation of others, and sets himself to gain it--who wants it, wants it to comfort and uphold him--who can be strong and happy enough while others are praising or smiling on him, but when they are not, waxes feeble and melancholy. Again, he is wanting in self-reverence who gives himself at all to imitate another, who, in any work which may be laid upon him, tries to repeat the greatness of another, to copy his distinctions rather than to evoke and cultivate his own, to strain after his dimensions, rather than to be as perfect as he can within his own. Then, again, he is not self-respecting who hesitates at all to go with his convictions, who fears to trust and follow the light within him, when the many are moving in the opposite direction; who, when careful and honest inquiry seems to be carrying him to conclusions that will separate him from the multitude, and perchance from those who are deemed great and wise, becomes afraid--afraid to abide with what commends itself to him as good and true. Beware of losing self-respect through living dramatically--with a daily appearance put on, which is not true to the reality--with the frequent assumption before spectators of that which does not belong to you. Beware of losing it through leading an idle, aimless, useless life, a life without any high or worthy purpose. Beware of losing it, especially, through forever failing to obey your higher promptings, and forever regretting and bemoaning the failure, while never seriously endeavouring to improve. (S. A. Tipple.)
Standing before God
For all true and worthy service of God--which simply means all true and worthy living of the lives God hath here given us--this word reminds us that there is a necessity--a falling and a rising before God. For this man whom God bids to rise and stand upon his feet had been down, down low and in the dust. Ah! there is too little of this prostration before God--too little vision of the glory and majesty of Him with whom we have to do. Yet this must precede and be the source of all powerful rising and service. We must get down before we can get up. And the humiliation that is blessed is the humiliation that comes from realising God. Our Lord Himself spent memorable hours of His life bowed in communion before God. He found there the secret of power and strength to fulfil His Father’s will. Much more must we. There is, then, first of all the lowly abasement. But there follows also, as surely, the rising again. And this is the second condition under which God will speak to us and use us--“Stand upon thy feet.”
I. God calls us to a true dignity when He calls us to His service. It is a very false view of religion which holds that it tends to make a man poor spirited and lachrymose. The true self-respect, the self-respect that springs from humility before God, and not from pride before man, has its roots in religion. And there is no man who will carry himself with truer dignity through the world than the man who believes in God, who has the fear of God before his eyes, and has heard the voice of God in his own soul. And, if we think of it, there are many men who are laid low whom God would rather have to stand up; and many, on the contrary, who stand up whom God would rather see abased. The despairing and the doubting, for example, are often on their faces on the earth. They wander in the grounds of Giant Despair, and he punishes them sorely and without pity. Now, God would rather that they arose, that they made effort to stand upon their feet, and to set them on the rock that is higher than they. On the other hand, there are some who stand whom God would rather see abased. We have many types of them in the Scriptures. The self-reliant is one. Peter points many a moral, but none more surely than this--“Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” Again, the Pharisee of Christ’s parable is another type. The rich fool of the parable, too, was a man who stood up very proudly, planting his foot confidently on his sure income, his fine houses, and stores. “Thou fool!” What an awful irony is here. “Thou fool, this night” thy soul, thy soul shall be required of thee. Very far, then, is the dignity and self-respect of a deeply religious man from such foolish pride and vain self-confidence as this. He stands as Christ stood (and never was there dignity more regal than His), rooted in humility, yet conscious of the Divinest relations, that, like golden chains, bind him to his God.
II. When God says, “Son of man, stand upon thy feet,” it also means that He requires courage in the souls that would serve Him. Ezekiel needed it. “Be not afraid of them,” etc. And it is needed as much by us as by others who have borne witness before us. The temptations that try our courage, though neither briers nor scorpions, are very real and powerful, and many a quaking there is before them. We need courage to do the right thing in spite of looks of enmity and glances of scorn, in spite of the alienation and misunderstanding of men. God knows we may find that our enemies are they of our own house, and much courage and standing on the feet is needed then. I read lately the story of the lives of two brothers. The one was a soldier who had won great distinction abroad. In a moment of crisis, in the heat of battle, at the peril of his own life, he dashed forward and saved a fallen comrade from the death that surrounded him. It was bravely and well done. He was decorated and gazetted, feted and lionised. But at home was a father, a drunkard, an old man whose life was a disgrace to himself and a burden to his friends. It did not suit the gallant soldier to know this father much, or to live in his neighbourhood. He preferred to enjoy his honours at a distance, away where the breath of this loathsome scandal would not reach him or mar his pleasures. But by this father stood the other son. He was a highly educated, sensitive man, whose life was dedicated to noble work, and who was already gaining for himself the first sweet distinctions of his profession. His father’s life was a keen and bitter shame to him. He could easier have borne the knife plunged into his flesh. Yet, at the call of duty--the highest and most sacred duty, in his eyes--he bowed his neck to this shame and sorrow, gave up his bright prospects, lived alone, apart, with this wretched maniac of drink, did the work of a menial, and bore more than a meniars share of cruel blows and insulting words. The one gained the laurels of men, because, under the impulse of the moment, in the heat and excitement of battle, he did a courageous thing; yet in the moral trial, brave soldier as he was, he proved cowardly and ignoble, and left to the shoulders of one, whom he counted a fool for his pains, the cross that should at least have been shared by both. The other got no laurels--was nowhere noticed or spoken of with any distinction; but who can read the story of his self-sacrifice, of his humility, of his patience, without feeling that here, in the sight of God, was the true hero--here the true courage that faced worse than the bullet or the steel, and that endured longer than the swift, exciting hour?
III. The call to stand upon the feet indicates also the uprightness that God would have in all His servants. It is vain to think we can serve God, or be witnesses to Him in the world, if we are still harbouring the sins that tend to keep us low. Never was there greater need than today for the people of God to stand in uprightness and integrity. Christ has suffered too much and too long in the open unworthiness of many lives. There are things--habits of life, practices of trade, indulgences of temper and passion and lust, both open and secret--that, if we are to serve Him truly, must be over and ended, past and gone forever. Let us examine ourselves, and let each see what are the things he must cast from him, and must struggle to leave behind--those dead, crucified selves, on which alone we can rise to higher things.
IV. When God calls us to stand, He means He would have in us a readiness to act. Ah! God would oftener speak to us, brethren, but He sees we are not very ready to do anything. Why should He speak? We are indolent. We are too comfortable in our chairs of ease, or too much engrossed with other things. Oh, the hesitancy and reluctance of our obedience! How we need to be persuaded and pled with! Oh, shake yourself from this fatal spirit of indifference and indolence, for many are suffering from it, and losing their lives in it. Stand upon your feet. Offer yourself to God, as if you meant it. And “I will speak to you,” saith the Lord. “I will direct your path, and open for you the way of a blessed life.” (R. D. Shaw, B. D.)
02 Chapter 2
And the Spirit entered into me.
God helping His ministers
Mark the course of a river like the Thames; how it winds and twists according to its own sweet will. Yet there is a reason for every bend and curve; the geologist, studying the soil and marking the conformation of the rock, sees a reason why the river’s bed diverges to the right or to the left; and so, though the Spirit of God blesses one preacher more than another, and the reason cannot be such that any man could congratulate himself upon his own goodness, yet there are certain things about Christian ministers which God blesses, and certain other things which hinder success. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The power behind the preacher
The Rev. F.B. Meyer has a firewood factory in connection with his church, where employment is provided for men and boys. A circular saw is used for cutting through beams of solid timber. Until recently, this saw was worked by a crank, turned by twelve or fifteen men. But it was slow, hard, and expensive work. At last, says Mr. Meyer, we were driven to something more expeditious, and bought a gas engine. And now, the saw, driven by this engine, does in two or three hours as much work as it did formerly in a day, and at less than a tenth of the cost. It is the same saw; but the difference lies in the power that drives it. It used to be driven by hand power, now it is driven by an equivalent for steam, and the only thing we need to do is to keep the connecting band tight. “It is not a question,” continues Mr. Meyer, “as to our abilities or qualifications, but of the power behind us. If that is nothing more than human, it is not surprising that the results are miserably poor. But if we link ourselves to the eternal power of God, nothing will be impossible to us. ‘All things are possible to him that believeth.’”
I send thee to the children of Israel.
The commission of Ezekiel
I. The commission. Is it not an act of infinite condescension, that God should take any notice of us? For what are we? Poor finite creatures; of limited capacities, with tendencies to evil, tendencies to the very thing that God Almighty hates, detests, and abhors. Not only with tendencies to these things; but in the actual perpetration of sin; committing crime upon crime. And yet God sends His message to us. Why? Because He knows the original dignity of the soul of man; He knows what it was before he fell; He knows what it was capable of then; and He knows what the soul of man can yet be made through the blood of the Cross and through the power of the Holy Ghost: and, therefore, God sends messages to man. “I do send”; “thou shalt say.” We have no business to go and preach unless God send the outward call of the Church and the inward call of the Spirit. And hence our own Church asks all its candidates for holy orders--the bishop puts the question--“Dost thou believe that thou art inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon thee this office?” Oh, solemn question! But what shall they speak? They shall speak, “Thus saith the Lord.” The authority for the message is “I do send”; the nature of the message is what the Lord hath said.
II. The way in which this message, which the prophet had been commissioned to deliver, is treated. A twofold way: some receive it; others reject it. Concerning the apostolical ministry, concerning the word preached by the apostles, some believed the thing spoken, and some believed not.
III. They who receive this message, and they who reject it, shall both know at last that it came from the Lord. They who receive it, knew it long before. The indwelling Spirit of the living God testifies with your spirits that these things are true. But take the case of those who reject the Gospel. Oh, they find out also that it was all true. I appeal from the present to the future. You know there is a story in history of a poor woman who considered herself aggrieved, and applied to Philip, King of Macedon. She found him in a state of intoxication: I appeal, said she, “from Philip, under the influence of wine, to Philip, sober and able to judge.” And so I say, if the world, with its allurements, enchant and ensnare you now, and intoxicate your spirit. I appeal from that state to the hour when you shall turn your pale face to the waft, when friends and kindred and medical men shall whisper, “It will soon be all over”: then you shall find, as true as that there is a God, that the Bible is a Divine revelation, that the things which we said to you, concerning which you thought us too much in earnest, are all perfectly true. (T. Mortimer, B. D.)
Proximity not identification.
He was a prophet though the house was rebellious. Can the Lord find no better place for His prophets? Can He not make them a second garden? He made one: can He not make two? Can He not cause His prophet to stand in some high tower where he will be untainted by the pollution of place and time, and whence he can thunder out the Divine word? Has the prophet to mingle with the people, to live with them, to touch their corruptness, to feel the contagion of their evil manners? Might he not have a pedestal to himself? No. The Son of Man when He comes will go on eating and drinking, a social reformer, a brother, a fellow guest at tables; He will take the cup after we have partaken of it, and we may cut Him what morsel of bread He may eat, or He will hand them to us; He will be one of His fellowcreatures. And yet Ezekiel was a prophet. So is the Son of Man. Nothing could mingle Ezekiel with the rebellious house, so as to be unable to distinguish between the one and the other. Proximity is not identification. We may sit close to a murderer, and be quite distinct from him as to all our proclivities, and desires, and aspirations. We need not be corrupt because we live in a corrupt age; we need not go down because the neighbourhood is bad. It is poor pleading, it is irreligious and inexcusable defence, which says it could not resist atmospheric pressure, the subtle influence of social custom and habitude. It is the business of a prophet to stand right up from them, apart from them, and yet to be so near as to be able to teach them, exhort them, rebuke them, and comfort them, when they turn their face but a point towards the throne, the Cross, and the promised heaven. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Commission given to ministers
1. To declare God’s will;
2. To assert His authority;
3. To seek, notwithstanding all our discouragements, the salvation of their souls.
1. The importance of the ministry;
2. The duty of those who are ministered unto. (G. Simeon, M. A.)
Sin a treason
How does any man know but the very oath he is swearing, the lewdness he is committing, may be scored up by God as one item for a new rebellion? We may be rebels, and yet neither vote in Parliament, sit in committees, or fight in armies. Every sin is virtually a treason, and we may be guilty of murder by breaking other commandments besides the sixth. (R South.)
Rebellion against God
“There is as much felony in coming pence as shillings and pounds” (Manton). The principle is the same, whatever the value of the coin may be: the prerogative of the Crown is trenched upon by the counterfeiter, even if he only imitates and utters the smallest coin of the realm. He has set the royal sign to his base metal, and the small money value of his coinage is no excuse for his offence. Anyone sin wilfully indulged and persevered in is quite sufficient to prove a man to be a traitor to his God. The spirit of rebellion is the same whatever be the manner of displaying it. A giant may look out through a very small window, and so may great obstinacy of rebellion manifest itself in a little act of wilfulness. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The preacher’s duty
Like as the fountain, though no man draw of it, doth still send forth his springs; or as a river, though no man drink of it, yet doth it keep his course, and flow nevertheless; even so it behoveth him that preacheth the word of God, to do what lieth in his power, though no man give any attentiveness, or have any care to follow the same. (J. Spencer.)
Impudent children and stiff-hearted.
Impudence and stiff-heartedness
1. Progress in sin makes impudent. It is an exceeding evil to be past shame, to be impudent in sinning. If ever God show mercy to such sinners, they must be ashamed.
2. Where there is an impudent face there is a hard, stiff heart. And this is one of the greatest evils.
3. God sends His prophets and ministers about hard services, such as are full of discouragements when looked upon with a carnal eye.
4. Ministers should not so much look at the persons they are sent to, or the event of their ministry, as at their call. God’s will and command must content us, support us. What if we be scoffed at, reviled, made the offscouring and filth of the world; yet here is the comfort of a true prophet, of a true minister, Christ sent him; and He that set him to work will pay him his wages, whether they hear or hear not to whom he is sent.
5. Those who are sent of God must deliver, not their own, but God’s message. (W. Greenhill, M. A.)
A ministry to the unresponsive
“We may preach and preach,” said a great bishop once to his ordinands, “and our words will seem to fall upon a stone, and not upon a man’s heart.” Under any such trials of patience and hopefulness, Ezekiel’s experience will prove helpful. How awful is the reason assigned! They “will not hearken unto thee, for they will not hearken unto Me.” As our Lord said long afterwards (John 15:18), the servant could not expect to be welcomed when the Lord had been in effect rejected, The exiles’ hearts were not right with God; therefore, of course, they could not appreciate God’s envoy. What they said, as he reports it, exhibits human perversity in some very advanced forms, which are by no means obsolete; it is only too easy to translate their objections into language which is anything but dead. Hear some of them complain that the fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. “We are punished because our fathers sinned; is that fair? Can the way of the Lord be called straight: It is not straight, but twisted, contorted, and our sense of justice is shocked”: as many nowadays declare that the inequalities of human condition, or other natural facts which “cannot be smoothed over or explained away,” have made them incapable of believing that the world is governed by a righteous Providence. Or there are these who openly say, “We will be as the heathen”: it is the cry of that wild impatience which would fain get rid of the responsibilities avowedly involved in the profession of religion. Or if the mood is not so distinctly rebellious, it is that of a sullen despair which masks itself under an apparent acknowledgment of sin: “Our hope is lost, we are cut off, we pine away in our transgressions,--how then should we live?” The gloom, we see, is faithless, even if it does not reach the point of revolt. Again, there are others who reject, as we might say, on the grounds of “common sense and common experience,” the supernatural character of prophecy; “every vision faileth” predictions are disproved, or, to quote a modern dictum, “miracles do not happen.” Ezekiel is, in effect, bluntly told that “facts are against him.” Or even, say others, “if there is something in his prophecies, the vision is of times far off”: things will last our time we need not disturb ourselves--as a comfortable selfishness has often persuaded itself before some great “Day of the Son of Man,” e.g., in the years that ushered in the French Revolution. Or others have their own prophets, much better worth hearing than Ezekiel, who tell them what is pleasant to think of, with no austere requirements, no rigid prohibitions, no croaking “bodements” of a dismal, intolerable future; the result of which is, that “the hands of the wicked are strengthened to go on in their evil way” by “visions of a peace that is no peace.” Or the style and contents of Ezekiel’s preaching are cavilled at: the misgivings which it secretly awakens are silenced by critical remarks on its obscurity: “They say of me. Doth he not speak parables?” Practical men, they assume, may web dispense with attending to a voice that cannot put plain meaning into plain words. Or there are others, probably among the younger sort, who at first sight seem more promising; they listen to the prophet with real enjoyment, as they might to one who can sing pleasantly and “play well”; only it is a mere aesthetic pleasure, a gratification of the sense of beauty for its own sake, with no moral movement of the will: “they hear thy words, but they do them not.” Or, lastly, there are men grave and “highly respectable,” who come with all appearance of seriousness to sit before Ezekiel as pupils, and inquire, through him of the Lord; but he is bidden to repel them as self-deceivers who have set up, and retain, “their idols in their hearts”: favourite sins with them prove stumbling blocks to bar all progress upward; therefore on them shall come the doom of being “answered according to their idols.” Ezekiel’s ministry was, as we thus see, preeminently a ministry of penetration into character. Its leading feature is a close, severe, persistent dealing with conscience; he has been truly called “the prophet of personal responsibility.” He shows that if, to some extent, heredity involves very real disadvantage, if children suffer because parents or ancestors have sinned, yet in the last resort no one soul will be spiritually rejected from the mercies and blessings of the Divine covenant simply on account of the sins of other persons, which he has not personally shared in or made his own. So does Ezekiel prepare the way for that Saviour who, while He built up His Church as a spiritual home for all believers, conferred a new dignity, sacredness, preciousness, on each individual soul for whom He died. What a thought it is, the interest that the Most High God takes in each one of us singly! That fact has a twofold bearing: it imposes on us the obligation of walking in the fear of the Lord, of standing in awe and striving not to sin, of recognising that the revelation of a true God, as culminating in the incarnation of a Son of God who gave Himself up for us all, must needs have a stern side. But the other aspect of our personal relation to God is that in which the Gospel mainly presents Him--that which was illuminated by the Cross and summarised in St. John’s assertion that He is Love. (Canon Bright.)
Shall know that there hath been a prophet among them.--
Wicked men left without excuse
God will leave wicked men without excuse. It is God’s intention; they shall never be able to challenge Me, nor to justify themselves. God’s primary intentions, where He sends prophets and means of grace, are the good of His elect, their comfort, sanctification, and salvation; but His secondary intentions are the iuexeusableness of the wicked, and their just damnation. When God sends His word to any place, it shall and must prosper in the thing whereunto He sends it (Isaiah 55:11); be it to win and draw, or to harden and make inexcusable. See Isaiah 6:9-10. (W. Greenhill, M. A.)
Prophets are witnesses for or against their hearers
“They shall know there hath been a prophet amongst them”; his person, his pains, his truths, his life, his sufferings, his death, will all come in for witnesses one day. Every prophet, every preacher that Christ sends, is a witness, as well as an officer or a minister; I have made “thee a minister and a witness” (Acts 26:16). All faithfnl ministers are Christ’s witnesses (Acts 1:8). They bear witness of Christ and His doctrine; and if we receive not Him and His doctrine, they will be Christ’s witnesses against us. As for Me and My prophets, My ministers, you despised, or only gave the hearing, and that was all: and My charge is not false; here are My witnesses. What say you to it? Speak, you ministers of such a city, and such a place. What, did you not preach many a sermon, shed many a tear, sweat many a drop, make many a prayer for them? did ye not early and late watch for the good of their souls? etc. Yea, Lord, but they would not receive us, they would not believe our report we made of Thee, they would not take Thy yoke upon them, etc.; we shook off the dust of our feet against them. This will be dreadful, when such witness of the prophets comes in against hearers. (W. Greenhill, M. A.)
The preacher a correcter of consciences
The verification of the compass is a matter of serious importance in navigation.” The vessel is moored, and by means of warps to certain government buoys, she is placed with her head toward the various points of the compass, one after another. The bearing of her compass on board, influenced as that is by the attraction of the iron she carries, is taken accurately by one observer in the vessel, and the true bearing is signalled to him by another observer on shore, who has a compass out of reach of the local attraction of the ship. The error in each position is thus ascertained, and the necessary corrections are made. Now in the Church your people are like that observer on board ship. Their consciences have been all the week affected by the influence of things immediately around them, so that they are in danger of making serious mistakes even in their reading of the Book of God. But in the pulpit, you are like the observer on shore. You are away from the magnetic agencies--mostly metallic--which so seriously affect them; therefore you can signalise to them their ‘true bearings,’ and thus prepare them for the voyage of the week which is to follow.” (W. M. Taylor.)
Be not afraid of them.
Endurance of the world’s censure
What is here implied, as the trial of the prophet Ezekiel, was fulfilled more or less in the case of all the prophets. They were not teachers merely, but confessors. This world is a scene of conflict between good and evil. The evil not only avoids, but persecutes the good; the good cannot conquer, except by suffering. When was it that this conflict, and this character and issue of it, have not been fulfilled? Cain, for instance, was envious of his brother Abel, and slew him. Ishmael mocked at Isaac; Esau was full of wrath with Jacob, and resolved to kill him. Joseph’s brethren were filled with bitter hatred of him, debated about killing him, cast him into a pit, and at last sold him into Egypt. Saul persecuted David; and Ahab and Jezebel, Elijah; and the priests and the prophets the prophet Jeremiah. Lastly, not to dwell on other instances, the chief priests and the Pharisees, full of envy, rose up against our Lord Jesus Christ, and delivered Him to the heathen governor Pontius Pilate, to be crucified. So the apostles, after Him, and especially St. Paul, were persecuted by their fierce and revengeful countrymen. The case seems to be this:--those who do not serve God with a single heart, know they ought to do so, and they do not like to be reminded that they ought. And when they fall in with anyone who does live to God, he serves to remind them of it, and that is unpleasant to them, and that is the first reason why they are angry with a religious man; the sight of him disturbs them and makes them uneasy. And, in the next place, they feel in their hearts that he is in much better case than they are. They cannot help wishing, though they are hardly conscious of their own wish, they cannot help wishing that they were like him; yet they have no intention of imitating him, and this makes men jealous and envious. Instead of being angry with themselves, they are angry with him. These are their first feelings: what follows? Next they are very much tempted to deny that he is religious. They wish to get the thought of him out of their minds. Nothing would so relieve their minds as to find that there were no religious persons in the world, none better than themselves. Accordingly, they do all they can to believe that he is making a pretence of religion; they do their utmost to find out what looks like inconsistency in him. They call him a hypocrite and other names. And all this, if the truth must be spoken, because they hate the things of God and therefore they hate His servants. Accordingly, as far as they have power to do it, they persecute him, either, as the text implies, with cruel, untrue words, or with cold, or fierce, or jealous looks, or in some worse ways. A good man is an offence to a bad man. The sight of him is a sort of insult; and he is irritated at him, and does him what harm he can. Thus Christians, in former times, were put to death by the heathen. Even now, no one can give his mind to God, and show by his actions that he fears God, but he will incur the dislike and opposition of the world; and it is important he should be aware of this, and be prepared for it. He must not mind it, he must bear it, and in time (if God so will) he will overcome it. There are a number of lesser ways in which careless, ungodly persons may annoy and inconvenience those who desire to do their duty humbly and fully. Such, especially, are those, which seem intended in the text, unkind censure, carping, slander, ridicule, cold looks, rude language, insult, and, in some cases, oppression and tyranny. Whoever, therefore, sets about a religious life, must be prepared for these--must be thankful if they do not befall him; but must not be put out, must not think it a strange thing, if they do. For instance, persons may press you to do something which you know to be wrong--to tell an untruth, or to do what is not quite honest, or to go to companies whither you should not go; and they may show that they are vexed at the notion of your not complying. Still you must not comply. You must not do what you feel to be wrong, though you should thereby displease even those whom you would most wish to please. Again: you must not be surprised, should you find that you are called a hypocrite, and other hard names; you must not mind it. Again: you may be jeered at and mocked by your acquaintance, for being strict and religious, for carefully coming to church, keeping from bad language, and the like: you must not care for it. Again, you may, perhaps, discover, to your great vexation, that untruths are told of you by careless persons behind your backs, that what you do has been misrepresented, and that in consequence a number of evil things are believed about you by the world at large. Hard though it be, you must not care for it; remembering that more untruths were told of our Saviour and His apostles than can possibly be told of you. Again, you may find that not only the common run of men believe what is said against you, but even those with whom you wish to stand well. But if this happens through your conscientiousness, you must not mind it, but must be cheerful, leaving your case in the hand of God, and knowing that He will bring it out into the light one day or another, in His own good time. Again: persons may try to threaten or frighten you into doing something wrong, but you must not mind that; you must be firm. In conclusion, I will call your attention to two points--First, do not be too eager to suppose you are ill-treated for your religion’s sake. Make as light of matters as you can. And beware of being severe on those who lead careless lives, or whom you think or know to be ill-treating you. Be kind and gentle to those who are perverse, and you will very often, please God, gain them over. Pray for those who lead careless lives, and especially if they are unkind to you. Secondly, recollect you cannot do any one thing of all the duties I have been speaking of without God’s help. When brought into temptation of any kind, we Should lift up our hearts to God. We should say to Him, “Good Lord deliver us.” (Plain Sermons by Contributors to the “Tracts for the Times.”)
Reasons against the fear of men
1. Fears are prejudicial: they take away our liberty; they put halters about our necks, and strangle our comforts; they multiply and prolong our miseries; they wound and disable us.
2. They are to be men of courage who are in public place.
3. God is with His, those He calls and employs in public service. This should put life into us.
4. Those who are in public place are in God’s place, and they must be like unto God, fearless of men, but dreadful unto men.
5. They that are godly, true Christians, their godliness, their cause, suffer by their fearfulness.
6. There is not that in wicked men that should make us to fear them, if we consider they are briers, thorns, scorpions, contemptible things, rather to be despised than feared.
7. God will dismay and confound us if we fear men (Jeremiah 1:17). (W. Greenhill, M. A.)
Helps against the fear of men
1. Let your fear be exercised about God; He is an object fit to be feared. When the dictator ruled at Rome, then all other officers ceased; and when this fear of God rules, all other fears will be hushed. And that is not all; if God be sanctified by us, he will be a sanctuary unto us.
2. Set faith to work. Men in public places should have their hands at work on earth, and their faith in heaven. The just live by faith, and will not die by fear.
3. Labour for purity and holiness. The most holy men are the least fearing men.
4. Value not life too much. Be willing to spend and be spent for God. (W. Greenhill, M. A.)
A burdensome ministry
We are not to suppose that a faithful ministry is an easy task. No man can continually rebuke his age, and yet be living a luxurious life, unless indeed he be the victim of hypocrisy, or the tool of some vicious hallucination. The prophets of the Lord have always been opposed to the age in which they lived. Whenever the ministry has fallen into accord with the age, it is not the age that has gone up, it is the ministry that has gone down. A reproachful, corrective, stimulating voice should always be characteristic of a spiritual ministry. No evil shall be able to live in its presence, and no custom, how fashionable or popular soever, should be able to lift up its head without condemnation in the presence of a man who is filled with the burden or doctrine of the Lord. We should have persecution revive were we to revive the highest type of godliness. Sin has not altered, but righteousness may have modified its terms; the earth remains as it was from the beginning, but they who represent the kingdom of heaven may have committed themselves to an unworthy and degrading compromise. Evermore shall the wicked hate the godly, unless the godly take down their banners and are contented to live in dumbness and in traitorous suppression of the truth. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Boldness in preaching
The Rev. Styleman Herring of Clerkenwell, London, could say that there was not a street or court in the whole of his parish in which he had not preached. When he first commenced this work, some of his parishioners threatened what they would do if he came to preach in their streets. But he persevered until he was not only allowed to preach in peace, but was invited to do so by some of the inhabitants of the worst streets.
A fearless preacher
It is said that when a Roundhead in St. Andrew’s, Holborn, levelled a musket at the breast of the venerable prelate Hacker, and bade him desist from preaching, he never hesitated for one moment, but simply said, “Soldier, do your duty; I shall continue to do mine.” (W. Denton.)
During the Chartist agitation many of Kingsley’s friends and relations tried to withdraw him from the people’s cause, fearful lest his prospects in life might be seriously prejudiced; but to all of them he turned a deaf ear, and in writing to his wife on the subject, he says: “I will not be a liar. I will speak in season and out of season. I will not shun to declare the whole counsel of God. My path is clear, and I will follow in it.” (A. Bell, B. A.)
Fearfulness in the preacher
We were sitting under the shade of an oak tree comparing notes and conferring one with another as to the best methods of service, especially in reference to effective preaching. “I always write my sermons,” said my friend, “and then carefully revise them, so that if anything is written calculated to offend any of my hearers, I may at once erase it.” This was said by a young clergyman who was evidently anxious to make his mark as a preacher. Desirous to know that I heard correctly, I replied, “Do you mean that forcible statements, either of your own writing or from Scripture, concerning sin, and the terrors of the judgment to come, are either toned down or avoided?” “Yes,” was the reply; “if I think they will offend anyone, I do so.” I fear this candid testimony, indicates the reason why so many ministers are powerless amongst their fellows. “The fear of man bringeth a snare indeed.” (Henry Varley.)
Thou shalt speak My words unto them.
The ministerial commission
I. The parties concerned in this commission. These are, first, the Eternal God, our King and Creator and Judge, who issued this commission; secondly, the preachers of the Gospel who are appointed to execute it; thirdly, the hearers of the word, or, more generally, all who are within the sound of the Gospel, for whose behoof the commission was issued. We stand before you as the commissioned servant of the God with whom you have to do, invested with the office of conveying instrumentally His proclamation to your ears, telling you what He requires you to be and to do, and pointing out to you, and pressing upon your attention, His general mind and will regarding you. Do not mistake the messenger for a mediator. We stand to speak to you of God, and commissioned by Him, as we trust, but it is simply in the former of these capacities, and not at all in the latter. We stand, as it were, between the living and the dead; but it is as the golden channel through which spiritual life is conveyed from the one to the other.
II. The nature of the commission which is intrusted to us. “Thou shalt speak My words unto them.” What we are to declare unto you is the counsel of God, not of man; but of this whole counsel we are to be careful to keep nothing back. He has given us a written record of His mind and will, and we are to look for no further revelation. Our message is of a twofold character. To a certain extent it is such a message as a natural man, endowed with a conscience, and conscious of guilt, might have expected to issue from the holy sanctuary above. It speaks to him of the holiness and justice and omnipotence of Jehovah, and of his own guilt and depravity, and the fearful doom impending over him, as his own conscience speaks, but in language much more clear and explicit, and a thousandfold more loud and appalling. All this the foreboding and sin-laden spirit of man might have anticipated in a communication from heaven. But could it ever have entered into the heart of man or angel to conceive that this communication should also exhibit the amazing spectacle of a holy and offended God beseeching hell-deserving sinners to be reconciled, offering to the very guiltiest among them a full and free salvation, a salvation purchased by the blood of His own beloved Son?
III. The way in which this message is to be delivered and this commission to be executed. “Thou shalt speak My words unto them, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear.” Is the ambassador of an earthly potentate at liberty to decline the duty which he has deliberately undertaken, and with which he has been intrusted, on account of obloquy or even danger attending the faithful performance of it? or is he at liberty to alter or modify the terms of his instructions in order to shield himself from reproach or from peril? Assuredly not. And shall the ambassadors of the King of kings venture to tamper with and distort the message which they were commissioned to deliver? Shall they presumptuously attempt to amend the terms on which the Lord of heaven and earth declares that He will treat with His rebellious subjects? or shall they leave out of the proclamation whatever it may be unpleasant to these subjects to hear? But then, again, thanks be to God, we are to preach the Gospel, the good news, among you; and the same obligation rests upon us to preach it faithfully and fully. After denouncing, as we are bound to do, every refuge of lies, we are eagerly to point you to the refuge set before you in the Gospel. And we must faithfully tell you, though we can but speak of it faintly, of the glory, and the excellence, and the suitableness of the salvation of the Gospel, of all that it is in itself, and of all that it brings along with it, of the grace here and the glory hereafter which it confers, and of its perfect accommodation to the case of every sinner among you, whether pardoned or unpardoned, whether born again or yet dead in trespasses and sins.
IV. The duty of those for whose behoof this commission has been issued. It will profit you nothing to attend upon a Gospel ministry, even though the word should there be spoken as never man spake it, if you do not receive that word with faith and love, lay it up in your hearts, and practise it in your lives. But oh! when you consider what is the nature of the message which we bear, can you help seeing that it is a glorious and blessed privilege, as well as a bounden duty, to attend to it? Do you not see that God commands nothing but what it will promote your own best interests to perform? and is not this a mighty additional motive for yielding obedience? (P. Hope, B. D.)
A prophet’s Commission
I. The minister of God receives his commission from the Lord.
II. The duty of the minister of God is to speak God’s words to the people.
1. First by study to understand, and then to proclaim the truths of the Bible.
2. This duty is--
1. To honour God’s ministers.
2. To listen to their message as from God.
3. To beware of rebellion. (Homiletic Magazine.)
Be not thou rebellious.
Ministers exposed to corruption by their people
This was the same as to say, “I know the degeneracy of the times. I know the corruption and obstinacy of the people. I know they will stop their ears and harden their hearts against Divine truth. And I know that for this purpose they will use every method, by words and looks, to corrupt your heart, poison your sentiments, and destroy your influence. But I warn you to beware of men; and never suffer yourself to be corrupted by those whom you are sent to reprove and reform.”
I. Ministers are exposed to be corrupted by the people.
1. Ministers have been corrupted by the people. This was the unhappy case of Aaron. The same thing happened to the sons and successors of Aaron; for we find that they were always corrupt, when the people were corrupt. God Himself complains of the people for being always disposed to corrupt their teachers (Amos 2:10-12). They meant to corrupt the friends of virtue, and the ministers of religion, on purpose to destroy the influence of their example, and the force of their instructions and admonitions; and they very rarely failed of accomplishing their malignant purpose.
2. The bare example of the people, in a day of declension, has a natural tendency to corrupt ministers. The prevailing spirit and practice of the times naturally tend to cool their zeal, weaken their virtue, and injure both the matter and manner of their preaching.
3. They are in much greater danger of being corrupted, by the positive endeavours and exertions of the people to draw them into sin. A corrupt people feel themselves obliged to take this course, in order to resist the energy of plain and faithful preaching.
II. It is their indispensable duty to guard against it.
1. God has expressly commanded ministers to guard against the attempts of those who would corrupt their hearts, and draw them aside from the path of duty.
2. They will forfeit the Divine presence and protection, if they suffer themselves to be corrupted.
3. If ministers suffer themselves to be corrupted by the people, it destroys their usefulness. Time-serving ministers generally have but few hearers. All men, whether good or bad, inwardly despise loose and unprincipled ministers, let their talents be what they may. And the same degree of criminality, which would be scarcely observable in other men, is sufficient to destroy the character and usefulness of those who sustain the sacred office of the ministry.
4. If ministers suffer themselves to be carried down the stream of corruption, they become destructive to the people. Corrupt ministers are always corrupters. Though they have lost the power of doing good, yet they retain the power of doing evil. They can do more than other men, to pull down the kingdom of Christ, and build up the kingdom of Satan. And as they are more capable, so they are more disposed, than other men, to stifle the spirit of religion, oppose the doctrines of the Gospel, and strengthen the hearts and hands of the wicked.
1. It is now a very dangerous day to ministers. The people have fallen into a great and general declension, As they have increased, so they have sinned. How many ministers neither preach nor practise according to their own sentiments, through fear of offending, and through desire of pleasing, the people! This conduct weakens the hands of faithful ministers, and strengthens the hands of those who wish to corrupt them.
2. Ministers need, at this day, to be well qualified for their office. Though religion has decayed, yet knowledge has increased. The people in general are much more capable now, than they were formerly, of judging of the talents and qualifications of ministers. And as they are more critical in discerning, so they are more severe in censuring, every ministerial defect or imperfection. But prudence, as well as knowledge, is a necessary qualification for a minister. He needs this to enable him to exhibit Divine truth in the most profitable manner, and to escape those snares which the enemies of truth will always endeavour to lay for him. But ministers of the Gospel, at this day of declension, need large measures of grace, as well as of knowledge and prudence. They need to be crucified to the world, and the world to them, by the Cross of Christ.
3. It is the duty of all good men, at this day especially, to aid and assist the ministers of the Gospel in the discharge of their office. If Christian professors would unite with Christian ministers, in the common cause of Christianity, we might reasonably hope that religion would gain ground, and vice and infidelity would everywhere fall before it. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
The God-made minister
(with Revelation 10:8):--In the case of Ezekiel we for the first time see in a most impressive and instructive symbol that Divine way of choosing, and calling, and inwardly and increasingly preparing and maturing a prophet, that same way which is repeated in the case of the Apostle John; that same way, moreover, which is still taken with every true New Testament preacher. Now, first, we see in that fine symbolical scene God’s own immediate way of making a minister. A book plays a great part in the salvation of man; a book is brought down from heaven to earth. A book written in heaven lies open in the hand of a heavenly minister. And the salvation of many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings lies wrapped up in that heavenly book. “Take the Book and eat it,” said the angel of the Lord. You will observe that the angel did not say, “Take the Book and read it.” Clearly, then, this is not an ordinary Book. Clearly this Book is like no other book. Our ordinary language about books all falls short and breaks down before this Book. “Eat it,” said the angel, holding the Book up to the exhausted mouth--“eat it till it is both sweet in thy mouth and bitter in thy belly.” A most extraordinary thing to say to any man about any book! Yes, about any book but this Book; but this is the usual, nay, the universal, and, indeed, the necessary, thing to say always about God’s Book. Show me the minister to whom, pulpit preparation apart, God’s Word is his first thought every new morning, and he shall be all but God’s absolute prophet to me. He shall always pray for me when God’s wrath is kindled against me; for him, God has said, He will accept, as he will always be accepted, both for himself and for other men, who can, like Job, before God, say: “Neither have I gone back from the commandment of His lips; I have esteemed the word of His mouth more than my necessary food.” Eat, then, the same heavenly meat; and eat it for your first food every morning. It will do for you what no earthly food, the best and most necessary, can do. See that all its strength and all its sweetness fill your heart before you eat any other meat, and before you read any other writing. Read God’s Book, and keep it next your heart to defend you against the evil one. “Enough of that; bring me my Bible!” one of my old elders used to say, as they read to him all morning and down into the forenoon the newspapers. The Word of God was more to that saint of God than his necessary food. But what does this mean? “It was in my mouth sweet as honey; but as soon as I had eaten it my belly was bitter.” The best way, the only way, to find out what all that means is to eat the same roll ourselves, and then to observe what comes to pass within ourselves. Religion is an experimental science. Just you eat the Book now before you as Ezekiel and John ate it, and then tell me what takes place within you. I will tell you what will take place. The Word of God will in your mouth also be sweet as honey. The grace and the mercy of God that are in His blessed Word are always passing sweet to a genuine sinner, as is the truth, and the power, and the holiness, and the heavenly beauty of God’s Word to all His saints. All that is the daily and sweet experience of all those who make the Word of God their earliest and most necessary food. But afterwards, when this sweet Book descends into their “inward parts,” when the holy and the just and the good Word of God enters their guilty consciences and their corrupt hearts--ah, then, what bitterness is that! For a “sense of sin,” as we so lightly speak, is then awakened in the soul, and with that new sense comes a new bitterness, compared with which the waters of Marah are milk and honey, and aloes are a child’s sweetmeat. Yes, angel, clothed with a cloud, you may well say that it will make “our bellies bitter”; for our belly will be bitter, first with our own sin, and then with the sin of all other men. God’s Word taken long enough and deep enough every day, as his necessary food, at last made Job from a sheep farmer into a sacrificing priest. Now, you all know what a priest is, a priest is a sinner who has not only all his own sin on his hands and on his heart, but the sins of all other men in addition. A priest sees sin in everything and everybody. His belly is always bitter with a bitterness such that all the honey and all the spices of Lebanon will not sweeten it. There was written thereon lamentations and mourning and woe. At the same time, the true priest has a secret and compensating sweetness in his office all his own; and every true minister has it deep down within him. Every true minister of God’s Word has a sensibility to sin and to grace; a palate and a heart both for the sweetness of God’s Word, and for its bitterness; a sensibility that makes him who has it the true successor of prophets and psalmists and apostles, like Ezekiel, David, Job, and John. “Son of man, eat that thou findest,” said Jehovah in a vision to Ezekiel. “Take it, and eat it up,” said the angel, in like manner, to John. Observe, that neither the prophet nor the apostle was asked nor allowed to pick and choose, as we say. They were not to be let eat the sweet and spit out the bitter. They were not to keep rolling the sweet morsels under their tongue, and to keep their inward parts a stranger to this bitter share in the Divine Book. Now this Scripture will not be sweet to all that hear it. But, even if it is at first bitter, it must not on that account be spat out. We must submit ourselves to read and to preach and to hear the whole Word of God. The book of the Bible, the preacher, the circle of doctrines that we like best may not be best for us. It is a fine study to take up the Old Testament and to trace all through it how prophet follows prophet, and psalmist psalmist; each several prophet and psalmist taking home to himself all that the prophets and psalmists have said and sung before him. And then, having made the book their own by reading it and praying over it and singing it in their own souls, then when the call came they stood up and prophesied prophecies and sang psalms new and present, as the people’s need was new and present; never contenting themselves with just repeating what any former psalmist had sung, however great and however good that former prophet and psalmist might have been. And then, as providence after providence arises in the history of Israel, inspiration and experience keep pace with providence, the exodus, the wilderness, the conquest, the captivity, the restoration, and so on, so prophet after prophet and psalmist after psalmist--Moses, and Gad, and David, and Solomon, and Isaiah, and Daniel, and Zechariah--arise, till we have in our Old Testament the accumulated faith and repentance, attainment and experience of that whole Church of God. And this same docile reception, personal appropriation and personal possession of God’s Word has always given an unshaking assurance, a masterful authority to all true prophets and preachers--Moses before Pharaoh, Nathan before David, Elijah before Ahab and Jezebel, Daniel before Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, Peter and John before the rulers of Israel, Luther before the Legate, and Knox before Mary. And then with what passion that prophet will preach, and with what pathos that psalmist will sing, who has taken home to his own mind and to his own heart, to his own conscience and to his own imagination, the whole word of Almighty God, both in its awful terrors and in its surpassing mercies! (A. Whyte, D. D.)
There was written therein lamentations.
The Bible: a record of human sorrows
I. Sorrow is mightily present in our world. Here is a book--
1. The product of many lands and ages, expressing in manifold forms the sorrows of those lands and ages.
2. Intended for all lands and times, speaking in the tones of sorrow constantly, and yet expecting to be understood, anticipating that to none will sorrow be a foreign language.
This reflection should--
1. Stir our thought. Sorrow is meant to startle, to arouse, to prompt the questions, “How? Why? What?”
2. Cultivate our soberness, “Rejoice with trembling.”
3. Quicken our sympathies. We cannot, if we rightly know this book, be self-contained.
II. Sorrow is present in the world because of size.
1. Sorrow is here as the result of sin.
2. Sorrow is the penalty for sin. This rises in individual cases, to the clearness of a demonstration.
3. Sorrow is one means of purification from sin. (U. R. Thomas.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》