Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. A HOSTILE INVASION SUPPOSED. In the earlier days of human history raids from neighboring tribes were frequent. International rights and usages were things unknown. Such an act as a public declaration of war was never considered a public duty. The more secretly and suddenly a hostile army could make its attack, the more to its credit. Hence a border population was kept in continual suspense. It had to bear the brunt of a thousand alarms and a thousand perils. Such invasions were often the act of God. Even idolatrous and wicked men are sometimes God's instruments, God's hand. As often as the invaders marched on territory to vindicate a right or to punish an offence, they marched at God's command. If the motive for war was mere desire for plunder, or greed of laud, or sheer military ambition, God was not in it. For God cannot sanction any form of iniquity, whether it be public or private. But war is often the scourge which God uses to vindicate his claims or to punish men; and though in outward appearance the invasion may seem only a piece of human real ice, it is, in truth, an act of God's retribution. As God has his methods for chastising individual men, so has he his methods for chastising nations. His forms of penalty are myriad fold.
II. A SENTINEL APPOINTED. In such a time of peril as that of invasion the people knit themselves together for mutual defense. It was wise economy to choose one who should be drafted off from other occupation to fill the watchman's post. One was selected for the office specially suitable. All were not equally apt for this work. Such a man was chosen as had long resided on the border territory, one who knew the distant signs and prognostications of war, one who knew the contour of the country, and could occupy the best points of observation. An expert with eagle eye and cool nerve was selected. This was practical wisdom. By such a precaution war was sometimes averted. If the foe lost the advantage of secrecy, his plans were foiled. Or a resisting force could be gathered. Or possibly the removal of their cattle, or their own flight for a time, would avert the catastrophe. The season or other natural circumstance would come to their aid, and the deadly clash of arms be avoided. Immense gain might be attained by well posting a sentinel.
III. IT WAS A POST INVOLVING TREMENDOUS RESPONSIBILITY, The interests and fortunes and lives of the entire nation were placed in the keeping of one man. He was responsible to ten thousand persons of every rank and station. The safety of the empire hung on him. It was a distinctive honor to be selected for the post, a proof that he possessed remarkable qualities of soul; and this responsible occupation did the man good - it tended to develop all that was gracious and excellent in him. Responsible service is an ennobling and a joyous thing. It nourishes large and generous sympathy.
IV. FAITHFULNESS DEMANDED. The characteristic quality of a watchman is faithfulness. He might be deficient in many bodily and mental qualities, and yet be a good sentinel; but fidelity to duty - fidelity to the momentous trust - there must be, or he had better not be a watchman. Better, far better, appoint no watchman than have a man who is unfaithful. The blood of tea thousand innocent man justice might require at his unfaithful hands. Equally true is this of God's watchman, the prophet. The first and most central requisite is faithfulness. He may be deficient in bodily stature and strength, he may be deficient in learning and culture, he may be deficient in high birth and in social standing, but he must be gifted with trustworthiness. This is an essential. If he be unfaithful, he is of all men most unsuitable. If he accepts the office, and neglects its high duties, his guilt is immeasurable. Better for his own sake, better for others' sake, that he had never been God's messenger to men, than to lack fidelity in his tremendous trust. An unfaithful preacher must be held up to the world's execration.
V. POSSIBLE FAILURE. Yet even faithfulness will not ensure success. The people may not credit his warnings. They may deride his anxieties. They may persuade themselves that the peril is not so near as he avers. It is a matter that can wait. They may put down to official propriety, or to sensitive regard for his own credit, what ought to have been put down to wise solicitude and to approaching disaster. In a thousand cases men persist in deceiving themselves as to the nearness of the peril. Tea thousand men have fallen over the precipice of ruin through self-infatuation, and ten thousand more will follow. They will not learn practical wisdom from the folly and the ruin of others. And it becomes every one of us to lay the lesson upon our own hearts: "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." Oh for a prophet's vision to interpret the signs of the times! - D.
Ephesians 6:12); and it may well be that one here and another there should be chosen as a spiritual "watchman "to observe and to forewarn.
I. THE MINISTERIAL FUNCTION. Those who have accepted the post of the Christian minister today are in a very similar position to the Hebrew prophet. It is their province:
1. To keep well in view the movements of their time; to observe with great care the advances which are made on the one band, and the withdrawals and retreats upon the other hand; to note with constant and sleepless vigilance the temper and spirit, the tendency and current, of the time.
2. To understand and to interpret all that is passing, in the light of revealed truth; to distinguish between a change of form and a decadence of life or a departure from Divine truth; to know what attitude should be taken up toward that which is new, and which approaches the people of God with professions of good will, - whether of welcome or resistance.
3. To utter the voice of truth, which is (or should be) the voice of Christ, with all promptitude, decision, earnestness, unflinching fidelity.
II. THE DUTY OF THE INDIVIDUAL CITIZENS. This is very clear; it is to heed and to act.
1. To give earliest heed to the warning that is uttered, to consider well whether it is not true, to have a mind prepared to receive the message. For as the watchman has been "taken" and been "set" by them (ver. 2), and is their chosen guardian, he is entitled to their respect, while to his solemn monition a serious regard is due.
2. To act immediately on conviction; to place a distinct distance between themselves and the threatened evil; to keep the insidious theory, the subtle falsehood, the dangerous half-truth well out of their mind; to refuse any entrance to the perilous habit or the tainted practice; or, on the other hand, to welcome the old truth in its new form, render the old service in the new method, as the more suitable and the more excellent way.
III. THE LARGE ELEMENT OF MINISTERIAL RESPONSIBILITY. The watchman who sleeps at his post or who fails to arouse his fellow-citizens when the enemy is in sight, is severely condemned (see vers. 6, 8). The spokesman for God who does not "watch for souls as one that must give account," who has no deep feeling of the seriousness of his position, and no abiding sense of the urgency and imperativeness of his duty, is gravely at fault; so also is that watchman (minister) who perceives but who does not speak, or who does not speak quickly, plainly, forcibly in the ears of the people, - he will have an account to give, and a judgment to bear, from which he may well shrink. But there is also -
IV. A LARGE REMAINDER OF INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY. "Every man must bear his own burden" here. No man can devolve it upon his religious teacher. He is only responsible for speaking the truth faithfully; that done, his soul is delivered (see vers. 5, 9). Whether we, as individual men and women, are assimilating Divine truth or are appropriating deadly error; whether we are forming healthy and life-preserving habits, or poisonous and pernicious ones; whether we are moving up the incline of heavenly wisdom and Christian purity, or descending the decline of folly and of wrong; whether we are exerting an elevating and redeeming influence, or a depressing and degrading one, upon our contemporaries and upon those who will succeed us - this must depend very largely indeed on whom we hear, and how we hear. Therefore let the Master say to us, "Take heed how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he seemeth to have [thinketh that he hath]" (Luke 8:18). - C.
I. HIS DIVINE APPOINTMENT. Upon this the mind of the prophet was clear. He had heard his God, the God of his fathers, addressing his inmost nature: "I have set thee a watchman." He did not assume the office and the work at the instigation of his own heart. It was not through vanity or ambition that he took upon him to speak authoritatively to his countrymen. He was not invited or summoned by the house of Israel to be their counselor. The voice that called him was Divine; it was a voice which he had no moral option but to obey.
II. HIS SPECIAL CHARGE. Ezekiel did indeed receive messages for others than his countrymen; he communicated the mind and will of God to Edom and to Moab, to Tyre and to Egypt. But it was the house of Israel to whom he was sent, who were placed, in a measure, under his care. They were his own people and kindred, sharing his inherited advantages and privileges. And he seems to have felt towards them very much, as centuries afterwards, Paul felt towards his kindred according to the flesh. He had a burning zeal and solicitude for their welfare. He counted it an honorable and sacred, although a very painful, office to watch for their souls.
III. HIS PERSONAL QUALIFICATIONS. It is not fanciful to lay great stress upon the appellation by which he is constantly addressed by the Lord himself: "Son of man." In order to mediate between God and man, a prophet needs not only a nature reverent and receptive towards God, but a nature sympathetic towards man. A true man, understanding human strength and weakness, entering into the trials and temptations of human life, appreciating human motives, hopes, fears, and aims, the minister of religion is qualified to deal with the souls of his fellow-creatures. No one can read the book of his prophecies without feeling that Ezekiel was just such a man.
IV. HIS RECEPTIVE ATTITUDE. Ezekiel's first business was to place himself in communication with the Being in whom is all truth, in whom is all authority. "Hear the word at my mouth!" was God's command. A mind confident in its own wisdom, self-sufficient and arrogant, could not fulfill the prophetic office aright. The prophet speaks for God; but he must first be with God. He must see the vision he is to relate, and hear the message he is to repeat. There is ever danger lest religious teachers should teach upon their own account; but reverence and modesty should lead them to regard themselves as vehicles of truth and warning, promise and encouragement, to their fellow-men.
V. HIS ACTIVE DUTY. "Warn them from me!" was the Divine command; which implies that the house of Israel was in danger, and needed stirring and authoritative admonition. And this was indeed the ease, as is apparent from the facts of their history. It is an unthankful office to discharge, and Ezekiel met, as every faithful Teacher must do, with hostility and unbelief, with resentment and ingratitude. But the duty was plain, and the prophet fulfilled it, whether men gave heed or forbore. And his ministry was not wholly in vain. - T.
I. THE DUTY. The special duty of the watchman or guardian, as here explained, concerns the treatment of the wicked. More particularly it is for him
(1) to warn the wicked;
(2) to assure the inattentive and impenitent that the punishment of death awaits him;
(3) to admonish him to repent.
II. THE POSSIBILITY OF FAILURE. Enthusiasm sometimes loses sight of this. Many a young minister of religion commences his work with the conviction that God's message has only to be delivered in order to its acceptance; that the moral Law is so beautiful that it has but to be exhibited in order to be revered and honored; that the gospel is so precious and glorious that no one who hears it can fail to embrace it. Experience dispels many of our illusions; and it is soon found that there are men capable of listening to the threats of the Law and to the promises of the gospel with utter indifference and unconcern. Ezekiel was reminded that some of the wicked might not turn, might die in their iniquity. Doubtless he found that this was actually the case. It is no discredit either to the message or to the messenger that men do not accept the Word and act upon it. Our Lord Jesus had occasion to marvel at the unbelief of those to whom he ministered; and when St. Paul preached, "some believed, and some believed not."
III. THE UNFAITHFUL WATCHCASE. This is the appointed guardian who "does not speak to warn the wicked of his way." This unfaithfulness may be accounted for by indolence, or by undue fear, or by a desire to conciliate and please his hearers. But all such motives should be consumed by a burning desire on the part of the spiritual guardian to commend himself to his Master. The watchman is assured that if, through his unfaithfulness, the wicked dies unwarned and impenitent in his iniquity, the blood of the perishing shall be required at the watchman's hand.
IV. THE FAITHFUL WATCHMAN. Faithfulness does not involve uniform or even usual success. The earnestly and frequently warned may nevertheless die in his iniquity, The fervent prophet, the zealous preacher, the diligent pastor, may have the inexpressible sorrow of seeing little fruit of their labor. It may be necessary that the testimony should be borne, even though rejected and despised. But the servant of the Lord is assured, for his encouragement, that, if he does his duty, he delivers his soul His workmanship may perish in the flames; yet he himself may be saved, though through the fire. - T.
I. SUFFERING OFTEN BLINDS MEN'S EYES TO GOD'S EQUITABLENESS. It is natural to suppose that luxurious prosperity is due to our merits; and, if adversity visits us, we judge ourselves to be hardly dealt with. Scarcely one man in a thousand realizes the fact that he deserves nothing, and that the common benefits of air and food are the unpurchased gifts of God. As soon as the suspension of Divine favors is felt we are disposed to complain. We cannot conceive that we have deserved such hardship. We see others, no more replete with virtue than ourselves, enveloped in silk and purple, riding abroad in gilded chariots. Does God really rule over the interests and fortunes of men? We have abandoned some evil courses: is not God going to reward us for this? Still, we can only think of our losses and our afflictions; we cannot see the higher benefits God is bringing to us. Through our blinding tears we can only see oppression and injustice. Through selfish tears we see only what we have lost, not what we have gained. We would rather discover injustice in God than iniquity within ourselves. Truly has it been said, "There's none so blind as those who will not see."
II. NATIONAL CALAMITY IS A SYMBOL OF PERSONAL PERDITION. The overthrow of a nation is something visible, impressive, startling. Yet it is not the worse thing that can happen to a man. He may have to transfer his political allegiance to another. He may have to live under a different set of laws and institutions. He may have to quit scenes in nature, with which he has been long familiar, for other scenes in a distant land. This loss, dishonor, banishment, are intended to remind him that there is a worse exile - an exile from his spirit's home, an exile from the kingdom of God, of which Canaan was but a symbol. To be compelled to dwell among idolaters was a gracious chastisement, to make his spirit recoil from the fear of dwelling forever among the foes of God. And if the Hebrew exile took to heart the lesson, that banishment to Babylon might become to him salvation.
III. NATIONAL CALAMITY IS CONSONANT WITH PERSONAL WELL-BEING. The typical Jew was murmuring in Babylon that this destruction of the nation was incompatible with God's promise of life - a promise founded on personal repentance. "If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live?" Their idea of life was free life in Judea. God's idea of life was their return to allegiance and piety. "In his favor," and in this alone, they could find life. Consequently, a penitent Jew could have found the highest life, even while an exile in Babylon. If he personally felt and confessed his sin, if he reposed his soul on God's great mercy, if he bowed his spirit to God's will, and walked humbly with his God, this was life of the noblest kind. And, like a saint of later date, he could "rejoice even in tribulation." Better to dwell on Chebar's banks in the society of Jehovah than to dwell in the palaces of Jerusalem without God as a Friend. If God be my God, exile has no terror for me. Where God is, there is my heaven.
IV. RIGHTEOUSNESS MUST BE PERSONAL, NOT HEREDITARY NOR TRADITIONAL. The foolish and hurtful idea dwelt in the minds of the Jews that God's former favor to them as a nation was a guarantee for all future security. It was a species of anti-nomianism. Their maxim was, "Once righteous, always righteous, notwithstanding our deeds.;' They imagined that they could not fall from their exalted position. It is marvelous how deep-rooted in some minds this prejudice respecting traditional piety becomes. But the fervid piety of former days will avail us nothing if faith and love are now dead. It is only a living faith, a present submission, that God accepts. And if our former faith and love have evaporated, there is clear evidence that it was only a pretence, and not the reality. To be accepted of God, and to be accounted worthy of heaven, I personally must be righteous. The righteousness of the nation is nothing else than the righteousness of the component parts. And unless I individually am righteous in God's esteem, I shall be rejected and condemned in the great assize.
V. PERSONAL RIGHTEOUSNESS HAS ITS BOOT IN SINCERE REPENTANCE. Repentance is the birth of right and honest feeling towards God. Whether our past feelings and actions have been wrong by way of omission or by way of guilty commission, the whole sin, greater or less, will be candidly confessed. Repentance does not consist in excessive grief, but in genuine turning - a complete change of mind. The repentant man opens his mind to the light. He allows the light of truth to enter every part of his nature. He yields to the light. He follows the light. He submits his thought, his choice, his will, his life, to God his King. He welcomes the indwelling and the inworking of the Holy Spirit. Righteousness is gradually wrought into the warp and woof of his nature, and so he becomes the righteousness of God through his Spirit.
VI. GOD'S COUNSELS ADVOCATING REPENTANCE ARE PROOFS OF HIS COMPASSION. Full well God knows that the possession of perfect righteousness is the noblest possession any man can acquire, and that this righteousness must begin in sincere and thorough repentance. We have a thousand proofs of God's compassion towards the erring children of men. We have them especially in the gift of his only Son, and in the gift of his Divine Spirit. But the crowning proof of his compassion is in stooping to plead with men's prejudices and pride. He remonstrates and entreats as if he were the party about to be benefited. Such self-forgetful love was never seen before on earth. It is distinctive of our redeeming God. And when he succeeds, and the human heart relents, then a new wave of joy rolls through the realm of heaven. "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God." - D.
I. HUMAN HOPELESSNESS. "Our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we pine away in them." The men into whose lips these words are put are very far from being the only ones to whom they apply. All men everywhere may say the same - all who live on in conscious departure from the will of God.
1. Sin bears its penalty with it; it enfeebles the body, it injures the mind, it lowers the life, it degrades the soul, - it robs of Divine favor, of spiritual worth, of abiding peace.
2. It may become an increasing burden. It may indeed lead down to a most dangerous and deplorable insensibility, so that the sinful man no more knows how serious and fatal is his condition than does the man who lies down to sleep in the snow, or he who talks freely and happily in a delirium; but often the conscious burden of sin rests with a heavy and growing weight upon the soul, and despondency leads down to despair.
3. It ends in hopelessness; the man feels that he is "pining away," that there is nothing for him in the future, his heritage is forfeited; there is nothing beyond but the gates of death. But he has not taken into his account -
II. THE DIVINE DISPOSITION. "As I live... I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked," etc. There is much in this statement:
1. Regarded in its negative aspect. "God has no pleasure," etc. That may not seem much to us who have become habituated to think of him as a Divine Father; but it was very much indeed to those who had not thus learnt of Christ, very much indeed to those who lived in an age when the Divine powers were supposed to find a terrible satisfaction in the miseries they inflicted on their enemies. Then the cruelty of man was transferred, in thought, to the beings who were worshipped, and they were believed quite capable of taking pleasure in the sorrows and in the death of their devotees. But God tells us here that that is not his disposition. The reaping by guilty men of the full consequences of their sin against himself would give him no pleasure at all; it would not be to satisfy him that their course would go downward until it ended in death.
2. Regarded in its positive aspect. God would "that the wicked turn from his way and live." If the absence of any desire on the part of the Supreme that sin should go on and down to death gives a gleam of hope to the hopeless, how much light may not be gained from the presence of a distinct and positive desire on his part that the sinner should live? If God wills that it should be so, there can be no occasion to despair; there must be reason, and strong reason, to hope. To know that this is the Divine disposition is a great thing indeed; it is to have left midnight a long way behind; it is to have entered the dawn of the morning. But we have much further to go into the light of day; for the prophet's message includes -
III. THE DIVINE CHALLENGE. "Turn ye... for why will ye die?" This includes:
1. A summons to repentance. Clearly repentance is an act which it is open to any soul to render at once if he will. It is not therefore either
(1) the feeling of a certain amount of emotion, for this is not always at command; or
(2) a certain amount of good works done or sacred services performed, for this can only be the issue of time. Repentance is the turning of the heart and of the will to God and righteousness; it is the act of the soul by which it turns away from its evil course of godlessness and wrong-doing, and turns toward the Divine Father with the full and fixed intention of henceforth serving him in the ways of righteousness. To do that which any and every soul may do and should do without a day's delay, God is summoning his disloyal servants (see Acts 17:30).
2. A gracious and powerful appeal. "Why will ye die?" Why should we die, when:
(1) Death means so sad and so great a sacrifice - the loss of a human soul, capable of such beauty and such blessedness on the one hand, and of such baseness and such misery on the other hand?
(2) God has done such great things to save us; has so loved us as to give his only begotten Son to die for us, and by his death to restore us.
(3) The way of life is so free and so open to us all: "Whosoever believeth...shall not perish, but have everlasting life."
3. The life that is offered us in Christ means all that eternal life is found to be here and will prove to be hereafter. - C.
I. THERE IS A GOODNESS WHICH IS SPECIOUS, BUT SUPERFICIAL. Like the seed growing upon rocky soil, it springs up rapidly, and its show is fair; but the reality has no correspondence to the appearance. Impressible, easily influenced, and fickle natures are the soil upon which this growth is observed.
II. IN TIME OF TRIAL THE BASELESSNESS OF THIS GOODNESS IS MADE APPARENT. The man trusts to his own righteousness, commits iniquity, and transgresses the Divine Law. Temptation assails, persecution terrifies, ridicule overcomes, evil example persuades; and then the weak character yields, unable to endure the probation. Such cases are frequent in the experience of all who work for God and have to deal with a variety of human character and disposition.
III. GOODNESS WHICH DOES NOT ENDURE PROBATION IS NOT REMEMBERED, AND AVAILS NOTHING IN GOD'S SIGHT. The character of a man is regarded as a whole, and is not judged by any partial aspects or manifestations. Because a man has had good feelings or has performed good acts, it does not follow that he is a good man. It is life, and not any one day of life, which is the true period of probation. A virtue that cannot endure temptation is no true virtue. "He that endureth to the end shall be saved."
APPLICATION. The minister of religion must not be misled by the mere appearance of piety. He must wait and look for the proof of that deep-seated principle, which alone can govern the conduct and transfigure the life. At the same time, he must make use of every means to fortify men against inevitable temptation, and especially must he admonish the young and inexperienced to watch and to pray, and to take unto them the whole armor of God. - T.
I. THE OPPORTUNITY OF THE STONER. God gives him the opportunity of returning, and of recovering that which was lost (see previous homily). He is "not to fall in the day that he turns from his wickedness."
1. God condemns and warns him; he tells him that his sin is ruining him, leading him to death (ver. 14).
2. He hearkens and repents; has so deep a sense of his folly and his guilt that he turns utterly away, in heart and in life, from all his wrong-doing (vers. 14, 15). And then:
3. God takes him back freely and fully into his Divine favor (ver. 16). His sin is frankly forgiven him, and he "lives" unto God and in his sight. This opportunity is offered to:
1. The ignorant idolater who has been brought up in the dark shadows of superstition.
2. The man who, though brought up in the light of truth, has fallen into flagrant and shameful sin, into vice or crime.
3. The man who, while maintaining the proprieties of behavior, and perhaps the semblance of devotion, keeps his heart closed against the truth and grace of Jesus Christ. To all of these, though they have lived through many years and even whole periods of sin, there is open the gateway of immediate return and of full reconciliation to God.
II. THE PERIL OF THE RIGHTEOUS.
1. His God-given hope. He looks for life: "He shall surely live" (ver. 13). The future before him is bright with many a precious promise; the further he goes the more he has to expect at the hands of the faithful and generous Giver. But let him not presume; here is:
2. His serious danger. He may, like the Jew, and like too many an erring Christian, imagine a favoritism on the part of the Supreme which does not exist, and, presuming upon it, may fall. If once the devout man loses his humility; forgets that he is but a weak, endeavoring human spirit; fosters in himself a sense of security; "trusts to his own righteousness; " - then he stands at once within the circumference of spiritual peril. It is "when he is (consciously) weak, then he is strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10). And, conversely, when he is confidently strong, then is he weak, then is he most exposed to the darts of the enemy: pride precedes a fall.
3. His condemnation and his doom. His former "righteousness will not deliver him;" for his iniquity and in his iniquity "he will die." No man living in sin may look up to God and say, "I was once pure," with any hope of acceptance; God requires of us that we be pure in heart, loyal in spirit, upright in word and deed, or he cannot grant us his benediction or admit us to his home.
III. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD IN BOTH RESPECTS.
1. God is righteous in forgiving the sinful man and restoring him to fullness of life. The Pharisaic view of this act is that it is unrighteous, inasmuch as a guilty soul is taken back to favor and raised up to life and joy. But there are two things overlooked.
(1) God is ever seeking the best in man; he is working towards purity and goodness. How can this be promoted in the sinful? In no way so well as by the extension of Divine mercy. Unrelieved penalty only crushes and condemns to a hopeless continuance in sin; but mercy implants hope, - it leads to penitence, and it ends in purity, in wisdom, in moral and spiritual well-being.
(2) Though mercifully restored to life, the sinner does not fail to suffer; some penalty for past transgression he must pay. In the nature of things, or rather under the working of the wise and righteous laws of God, sin works immediate mischief in the soul, and it importantly affects the life; so that not even the abounding mercy of God makes it the same thing to a man whether he spends his earlier years in wisdom or in folly.
2. God is merciful even in condemning the backslider. For if he were to act otherwise, if he were to allow a man, because he had once been righteous, to fall into any sinfulness without condemning and punishing him, what license he would be giving to iniquity, and how would he be multiplying transgression on every hand! It is in the true and lasting interest of our race, and of all his intelligent creation, that God affixes his rebuke and some appropriate penalty to all wrong-doing or wrong-being, in whomsoever it may be found. Thus the Divine Ruler and Father of men is righteous when he forgives, and is merciful when he condemns. His ways are equal, and if we fail to see it, it is because we fail to recognize the profound righteousness of mercy, and the equally profound mercy of righteousness. - C.
I. THE SEAT OF REPENTANCE. This must be the spiritual nature. The promptings to a better life come from within, from better feelings and better convictions and purposes. Repentance is a change of mind, of heart.
II. THE MANIFESTATIONS OF REPENTANCE. These will vary with the previous life, with the special circumstances, the opportunities and position of the convert. In Ver. 15 these practical proofs of repentance are mentioned, and these acts may be taken as examples of the modes in which true repentance will undoubtedly display itself.
III. THE REWARD OF REPENTANCE.
1. The evil deeds of the former life shall not be remembered or imputed.
2. The sentence of death shall be cancelled.
3. The penitent and reformed shall live, i.e. in the life of God himself. - T.
I. THE DIVINE EQUITY CHALLENGED. There were those who, when they listened to the intentions of the Supreme Ruler, as declared by his minister, criticized the principles of God's administration, affirming, "The way of the Lord is not equal."
1. There is a presumption against this criticism, arising from human ignorance and the limitation of human faculties.
2. And there is a presumption against it, arising from all that we certainly know of the character of the supreme Eternal Judge.
3. Another objection in many cases arises from the character of those who censure the ways of God: they have much to fear from judgment by a righteous and impartial tribunal.
II. THE DIVINE EQUITY VINDICATED. It is very remarkable that the method of vindication is not by a labored argument, but by a direct statement of fact and a direct appeal to men's reason and conscience. "O house of Israel, I will judge every one of you after his ways." That is to say:
1. God's judgment and the consequent retribution are facts which no objection or skepticism can destroy.
2. The principles of God's judicial action are such as it is hard for any reasonable man to blame or dispute. Every man is to be judged individually, and every man is to be judged upon his own conduct and his own character. These considerations have only to be amplified and to be pondered, and they afford a convincing and satisfactory reply to the objections of the captions and critical. - T.
I. THESE TIDINGS AFFECTED EZEKIEL AS A MAN, AROUSING HIS SYMPATHY.
II. THESE TIDINGS AFFECTED HIM AS A PATRIOT, AFFLICTING HIM WITH HUMILIATION. Jerusalem was the metropolis of his country, of his race, - it was the scene of events famous in national story. It had been won by the prowess of David; it had been adorned by the opulence and splendor of Solomon; it had been the emporium of commerce, and the home of the learned and the great. It had been the chosen seat of the sanctuary of Jehovah. How could a true-hearted Hebrew like Ezekiel hear of the capture and fall of the city of David, without feeling his heart sore and anguished because of his country's bitter humiliation?
III. THESE TIDINGS AFFECTED HIM, AS A DEVOUT ISRAELITE, WITH SINCERE DISTRESS. Ezekiel looked upon this event as a chastisement from God inflicted because of the unfaithfulness of the people, and their neglect to use their privileges and opportunities as they should have done. When the blow fell, his fears were realized and his sorrow was stirred within him, because of this consequence of Judah's sins, and because of the evidence afforded of the displeasure of the righteous God.
IV. THESE TIDINGS AFFECTED HIM AS A PROPHET WHO RECOGNIZED HEREIN THE FULFILMENT OF THE INSPIRED PREDICTION. What befell Jerusalem was what Ezekiel had, in the name of the Lord, repeatedly and plainly foretold. He could not but be confirmed in the veracity of his God and in the authenticity of his own commission, when the word which he had spoken was fulfilled, and when the disaster of which he had faithfully warned his fellow-countrymen fell upon them in all its destructiveness and desolation. - T.
I. WE HAVE AN INSTANCE OF DIVINE CHASTISEMENT UNHEEDED. "The city is smitten." The city of which they had been so proud, the city which had seemed an impregnable stronghold, was captured by the invader. Their honored sanctuary was leveled to the ground. Precious lives were sacrificed. Their honor was trampled in the dust. Judah's scepter was broken. It had been long time announced that this would be the outcome of Jehovah's anger, and now the warning had been completely verified. If this painful event did not afflict their souls as an unmistakable chastisement for sin, then nothing would. The tree that remains fruitless, after skilful and severe pruning, is hopelessly barren. Affliction not Converted into blessing becomes a great disaster. Black clouds that dissolve not in rain become magazines of thunderbolts.
II. AN INSTANCE OF FALLACIOUS REASONING. Although their numbers were decimated by war, they discovered that they were yet more in number than when Abraham dwelt in the land. He was in a minority of one, yet his posterity attained possession. These, his degenerate progeny, were still a strong body compared with solitary Abraham. Therefore their case was not utterly forlorn. True, they had been defeated, driven back, pressed into the barren hills and wastes of the laud, yet they could still muster a thousand or two. This was enough to regain a conquest. Their confidence was in numbers - in themselves. "We are many; the land is given us."
III. THE IMPORTANT ELEMENT OMITTED. The vital omission was this, that Abraham had God at his back, and all the resources of heaven for his defense; they had set God against them as their foe, and all the forces of righteousness were leagued for their overthrow. Their banners were stained with vice and crime. They had forsaken God, and had sought unto idols. No marvel, then, that God had forsaken them. Violence; adultery, sensuality, and murder cried to Heaven for vengeance, and did not cry m vain. The pleasures of sin had blinded their eyes to the real facts of the case. They had forgotten that God had declared himself the Arbiter in the field of war, and a moment's reflection would have convinced them that God was with their adversary. The white escutcheon of their father Abraham had been by them basely defiled; and the worst feature was this - they perceived it not.
IV. AN INSTANCE OF JUDICIAL VISITATION. The great Judge of men had pronounced his verdict, and all their boastful expectations were reversed. Over against their boast, "The land is given us for inheritance," God placed his edict, "The mountains of Israel shall be desolate, that none shall pass through." The ministers of Divine vengeance had received their commission, and the time for revoking it had passed. Wild beasts, the pestilence, and the sword had heard the fiat of God, and proceeded to do their deadly work. No fortress could protect them against such insidious enemies. Into every secret cave of the mountains wild beasts and miasma would force their way. The army of God is a hundredfold more difficult to oppose or to elude than any host of human king. Sane men will promptly yield.
V. THE GREAT LESSON LEARNT TOO LATE. "Then shall they know that I am the Lord." The light which they had sullenly barred out of their minds all their lifetime shall find its way within in the hour of death. Some men will listen to no warning voice except the warning voice of death. They learn at last what, had they learnt before, would have been their salvation. But now to them the lesson is useless; it serves only to admonish others. Crowds of men are practical infidels all through life, although they profess to believe in a reigning God; but death scatters the clouds of unbelief, and is a startling revelation of the invisible world. Amid the excitements and the turmoil of life they would not reflect, nor ponder, nor decide. They preferred to remain in the haze of doubt. At no point would they brace up their moral energy to say, "I know." Yet there comes an hour when faith, and righteousness, and God, and judgment will be real. "Then shall they know." - D.
I. ISRAEL'S PRIVELEGES. These were many, but Ezekiel makes especial reference to two.
1. The descent of the nation from Abraham, the father of the faithful and the friend of God.
2. The promise of inheriting the land. This Jehovah had given to the progenitors of the nation, and he had fulfilled his gracious assurance. No people were so highly favored; they possessed the memory of their glorious ancestors; the laws and promises given by Moses, their great leader, deliverer, and legislator; the institutions of priesthood, sacrifice, and worship, by which God revealed himself to his people and secured to them his mercy and favor; and all the associations and advantages connected with the occupation of the land of promise.
II. ISRAEL'S UNFAITHFULNESS. The people had Abraham to their father, but they did not the works of Abraham, and they had not Abraham's faith. The people did possess the land, but they did not use their national privileges as they might have done, they did not make the land a land of righteousness and true piety. The prophet, in this passage, refers to faults and sins of two orders, with which the people are especially upbraided.
(1) Idolatrous apostacy; and
(2) moral delinquency, - both of which are charged upon the people with that outspoken plainness by which Ezekiel's writings are so strikingly and honorably marked.
III. ISRAEL'S PUNISHMENT. There is a certain monotony about these threats and denunciations. Because of the abominations which these highly favored people have committed, it is foretold:
1. That multitudes shall be slain by the sword of the enemy, by the wild beasts that shall multiply because of the desolation of the land, and by the pestilence.
2. That the country, in consequence of the calamities befalling its inhabitants, shall be wasted. The pride and pomp of her power shall cease, and her mountains shall be desolate, that done shall pass through.
IV. ISRAEL'S WITNESS TO GOD. This is an unintentional and unconscious witness, but nonetheless a valuable and effective testimony for all who receive it. Those who see and hear of the fulfillment of the Divine warnings and predictions cannot but have their faith confirmed in the truth and power of the Most High, and in the righteousness of his dealings with the sons of men. He is shown to be a Judge, from whose observation and cognizance no misdemeanor can be screened, and from whose righteous sentence no criminal can escape. - T.
I. MEN MISTAKING THEIR SPIRITUAL POSITION. It was much, in their mind, that they "had Abraham to their father." How little that mere genealogical fact weighed in the estimate of God we know from the language of the great prophet John, and of that One who was so much greater than he (Matthew 3:9; John 8:33-39). While boasting of their descent from Abraham, they were, in character and conduct, everything that Abraham was not - everything from which that "friend of God" would have turned away with holy indignation (see vers. 25, 26). Consequently, they were numbered amongst the most disloyal subjects of Jehovah, and were the objects of his most severe displeasure. Their confidence in themselves was utterly misplaced. They may be said to be the spiritual ancestors of a very numerous seed. How many are they who because
(1) they have been born and brought up in the midst of some Christian community, or because
(2) they have gone through the formal rites of some Christian Church, imagine themselves to be the sons of God, enjoying his Divine favor and subjects of his spiritual kingdom! Yet the state of their heart, and (it may be) even the tenor of their life, effectually disprove it. Their hearts are far from God, and their deeds from uprightness and Christian worth.
II. MEN DELUDING THEMSELVES WITH A FALSE HOPE. This, of course, follows from the other. The remnant of the Jews were hoping to become the possessors of the land, and to rise to the position from which their countrymen had fallen. But their hopes were vain, for they were built upon mistake and error. We may be looking forward to some position of authority and influence in the Church of Christ, or to a home in the heavenly country; but we have no right whatever to expect either of these if our claim is based either on fleshly connections or on the formalities of devotion, and the sooner we awake from our dream the better will it be for us. We must understand the one and only ground for hope in the future is our real, spiritual union with Jesus Christ, and the consequent rectitude of life which is the invariable and happy fruit of it.
III. A FAITHFUL HUMAN TEACHER. It is a very painful thing to extinguish a pleasant but a false hope in the heart. Yet it has sometimes to be done at all costs. And kinder far is it to destroy that hope when it is budding than to let it grow to maturity when it has to suffer a severe and sad extinction. The faithful course is always the kind one as well as the wise one, when all things are counted. - C.
Lord, who commissioned his servant the prophet, assured him that, notwithstanding his authoritative commission, he should meet, from many who heard his voice, with incredulity and practical rejection. Some, who were gratified with his discourse, his poetical illustrations, his sublime flights of imagination, his grand and rhetorical invective, should nevertheless refuse or neglect to put his precepts and admonitions into practice. There is something very picturesque in the account here given of the prophet's reception. Some of its points are these -
I. GENERAL INTEREST. The people talk of him, even if they talk against him; they say one to another, "Come, let us hear the word." Ezekiel had not, therefore, to complain of neglect.
II. OUTWARD AND VERBAL RESPECT. His prophetic vocation is acknowledged. The people come to him and sit before him and listen to his discourse. There is every outward demonstration of honor.
III. ENJOYMENT OF HIS LANGUAGE. "Thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument." The melody of the prophet's speech, the grace of his diction, the grandeur of his style, excite and please the imagination of all who are capable of literary appreciation.
IV. PROFESSIONS OF LOVE. There is something beyond mere admiration. "With their mouth they show much love." A witness within assures the people that the prophet is a man who feels for them and desires their welfare. Love awakens love, and in a superficial way they feel a certain attachment to the prophet personally; they know him to be their true friend.
V. CONSCIOUSNESS OF INCONSISTENCY BETWEEN THE PROPHETIC DOCTRINE AND THEIR OWN LIFE. This arises from their disobedience to the prophetic counsel and requirements. They hear the words of the Lord, but they will not do them; their heart goeth forth into covetousness. A schism is thus created between their innermost convictions - the voice of reason and of conscience on the one hand, and their habitual practice on the other. The Word fails to produce a moral reformation. In such cases the prophet prophesies in vain.
VI. MATTER IS THUS LAID UP FOR FUTURE REPENTANCE. When we see what is best and do it not, we may be assured that our choice is one which we shall surely come to regret. The Hebrews of Ezekiel's time knew that he was a just and faithful man, to whom they listened with interest and pleasure. They were assured that the time-should come when they should know that there had been a prophet among them, and that in neglecting his ministrations they had forfeited blessings then placed within their reach, and had wronged their own souls. Privileges neglected and abused can never be recalled, but their memory will be bitter when they rise up in judgment against the unfaithful. - T.
this pivot, viz. whether we will listen to the voice of God or to the wily voice of the devil. Conscience or inclination - which shall rule us?
I. THE TRUE PROPHET BRINGS A MESSAGE FROM GOD.
1. A prophet possesses a spiritual organ by which he can receive communications from God. He is in touch with God. All his best faculties are enlarged and vitalized, so that the knowledge of God's will can be reached and received. To such a one God conveys special information, and delegates him to convey it to others. He is put in trust with the heavenly wisdom for the well-being of his fellow-men.
2. Such a revelation is known and recognized, partly by the internal character of the message, partly by the character and endowments of the man. Except where prejudice and guilty habits blind the vision, the hearers of the message feel and confess that it comes from a Divine origin.
3. Such a message must always conform to the known character of God. If the message is trivial, unimportant, puerile, baneful, it is clearly not from God. Falsehood is introduced somewhere. If it is a message salutary, elevating, purifying, benevolent, certainly it is Divine. It may run counter to a man's inclinations; it often will; nevertheless, if its tendency is to lead men to faith and holiness, it has the signature of God.
II. THE PROPHET'S MESSAGE EXCITES PUBLIC ATTENTION.
1. There is a craving to know the unknown. Men long to see the unseen - long to scan the future. Especially in times of adversity, in hours of serious illness, men yearn to know what the immediate future will bring. In times of health there is a prurient curiosity to gaze into the distant future, the great eternity. But in times of pressing personal danger a feeling of self-interest is vividly astir. Men naturally want to have clear and accurate knowledge respecting God, and respecting his dispositions manward. They want to know what the womb of the future contains for them.
2. The message will be welcome in proportion as it gratifies inclination, flatters pride, and opens a vista of sunny hope. Fidelity on the part of the prophet often exposes his message and himself to public contempt.
3. Shallow hearers discuss the messenger rather than his message. They "talked about him by the walls and in the doors of the houses." It was a matter of street-gossip rather than of heart-searching and personal profit. Was the preacher eloquent or dull? Was his voice mellifluent or harsh? Was his style plain or ornate? These are the trivial questions men ask, instead of - What word from God did he bring? By what steps can we find reconciliation? What immediate duty presses for fulfillment?
4. Imitation of good men is a confession of their excellence. "They come as my people come, and sit as my people sit." Such conduct is grossly inconsistent is self-condemning.
III. THE PREACHER'S MESSAGE MEETS WITH A SERIOUS HINDRANCE.
1. Obedience is difficult. To lend the ear is easy. Receiving the message is somewhat pleasant. It requires no serious effort. But to undo the past, this brings the ridicule of companions. To create new habits, this is laborious. To confess our past life to be folly, this is painful
2. The heart is preoccupied. Its tendrils of affection have entwined about other things. They can more easily trust to visible wealth than to the invisible God. They know by experience that money brings luxury, ease, human honor, sensuous pleasures; and they have learnt to prize these. The joys of religion are unknown - far away in cloudland. The eagerness for gain chokes the Word, so that it becomes unfruitful. "The love of money is the root of all evil." Covetousness is idolatry.
3. Behind this opposition lies the degrading power of Satan. "He blinds the minds of those that believe not." He gives to gold a blandishment which belongs alone to the surface. By the excessive pursuit of worldly gain he deadens the moral sensibilities and destroys the eye of immortal hope.
IV. THE PROPHET'S MESSAGE, RESISTED, DARKENS HUMAN DESTINY.
1. Men's neglect of the warning in no way hinders the catastrophe. The evil announced by God still "cometh to pass." "Judgment slumbereth not." The wheels of God's chariot are all the while moving on. As the poet says -
"Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small." 2. Comprehension of the truth often comes too late. When overwhelmed with the predicted calamity, men wake up to the fact that "a prophet has been among them." They had thought him only a plain man, who sought to alarm them needlessly and at every inconvenient time. Now how totally different the matter seems! Alas! how often does the sense of eternal things visit the soul too late! 3. Then comes useless self-blame. The lost man naturally reproaches himself. In the new light that has dawned he sees the folly of blaming others. He lashes only himself. He becomes his own tormentor. That Being whose word cannot be broken says, "Lo, it will come!" - D.
2. Comprehension of the truth often comes too late. When overwhelmed with the predicted calamity, men wake up to the fact that "a prophet has been among them." They had thought him only a plain man, who sought to alarm them needlessly and at every inconvenient time. Now how totally different the matter seems! Alas! how often does the sense of eternal things visit the soul too late!
3. Then comes useless self-blame. The lost man naturally reproaches himself. In the new light that has dawned he sees the folly of blaming others. He lashes only himself. He becomes his own tormentor. That Being whose word cannot be broken says, "Lo, it will come!" - D.
I. NOT IN ATTENDANCE ON RELIGIOUS ORDINANCES. These Jews were saying to one another, "Come and hear," etc., and they not merely exhorted one another thus, but they went and heard - they sat and listened to the truth as it was spoken by Ezekiel. But they were far from being right with God for so doing. We may be very attentive upon all "means of grace," may never absent ourselves from the "house of the Lord," may go solemnly and even reverently through all the outward ordinances of the Christian faith, and yet remain outside the kingdom of Christ. None were more constant in their "devotions" than the Pharisees, and none more blameless in their attitude and, demeanor - and none more really ungodly than they.
II. NOT CRITICAL UNDERSTANDING OF THE TRUTH. These captives of Babylon were habitually speaking about Ezekiel, and no doubt discussing his prophetic deliverances; they were probably very keen disputants, very fine analysts of his sentences, very careful hearers of his doctrine. But they were not "the children of wisdom" and heirs of the best inheritance. We, too, may take a very systematic view of the faith we hold, or we may be clever critics of the message to which we listen in the sanctuary, we may be able to discuss with much special learning and a great show of piety the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, but we may be very wide indeed of that knowledge of God which constitutes eternal life.
III. NOT SENSIBILITY. These hearers by the river-side were affected by what they heard. They "liked" Ezekiel well. His discourses charmed them much; they felt moved by his words as he spoke with that directness, fervor, and imaginative force which characterized his utterance, and which, whenever put forth, never do fail to attract and to delight. But it is one thing to be moved by sacred eloquence, and quite another thing to be filled with true conviction and to be governed by Christian principle. They who depend on the exciting impulses that come from the large assembly, the strains of powerful music, or the fervid addresses of the pulpit, for the movements of their soul, are leaning on the reed, are building on the sand. The piety that will be wanted for the long path of duty, for the deep waters of trouble, for the searching fires of temptation, for the hour of heroism, for the day of judgment, must go deeper down into the nature of spiritual reality than the stratum of sensibility.
IV. BUT OBEDIENCE. "They do them not." That was their defect; there was found the fatal omission. They had not the spirit of obedience. We know what the Master said on this subject (see Matthew 7:24-27). And that which Jesus Christ especially and emphatically calls upon us to do, which it is a fatal error to leave undone, is
(2) to follow him in the path of purity, devotion, love. - C.