Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE SOURCE OF THE HOLY WATERS. AS the rain comes down from heaven, filters in the soil, and wells up a living spring, so the blessings of the gospel have their fountain in the very mind and heart of God himself. But, as conveyed to men, they have a well-spring human and earthly. The student of human history, who looks beneath the surface of things, and seeks to understand the growth of thought and of morals, turns his attention to the Hebrew people, wondering that from them, as from a well-head of ethical and religious life, should flow blessings so priceless for the enrichment of humanity. Yet so it is; the temple at Jerusalem is the symbol of a Divine revelation. The justest and noblest ideas which have entered into the intellectual and spiritual life of man have very largely issued from Moses and the Hebrew prophets. How far Ezekiel entered into this truth may not be certain; yet since he was a cosmopolite, in relation with Babylon, Egypt, and Tyre, and knew well the mental and moral state of the nations of antiquity, it seems reasonable to believe that he had enough of the critical spirit to compare the debt of the world to the Hebrews as compared with the people that figure so vastly in secular history. He was certainly right in tracing to Israelitish sources the waters of life, fruitfulness, and healing which were to bring blessing to mankind.
II. THE WIDENING AND DEEPENING OF THE HOLY WATERS. It is here that Ezekiel passes from history to prophecy. Possessed by the Spirit of God, he was able to look into the future and behold the wonder yet to be. It is, indeed, marvelous that, in a period of national depression, when national extinction seemed to human foresight to be imminent, the prophet of the exile should have had so clear a perception of the reality of things, and so clear a foresight of the spiritual future of the world, which must in his apprehension have appeared bound up with the continuity of the history and religious life of Israel. The river, like the temple from which it proceeded, was the emblem of what was greater than itself. Christian commentators have taken pleasure in tracing Correspondences between the gradual increase of the stream and the growth of true and spiritual religion. Beginning with Judaism, the stream of truth and blessing widened and deepened into Christianity; and Christianity itself, commencing its course in the besom of Israel, soon came to include in its ever-widening flood, its ever-deepening volume of blessing, all the nations comprehended in the dominion of Rome. And following centuries have witnessed the constant broadening of the life-giving and beneficent stream, so that none can place a limit to the area which shall be fertilized and refreshed by the waters that first flowed from the courts of the temple at Jerusalem.
III. THE BENEFICENCE OF THE HOLY WATERS. Among the results of the presence of the waters of life may be observed the following.
1. Healing. The salt and bituminous waters of the Dead Sea are represented as being healed and restored to sweetness by this inflow of the sweet and wholesome waters issuing from the sanctuary. By this may be understood the power of pure and supernatural religion to heal the corruptions of sinful society. Certainly, as a matter of fact, not a little has been done in this direction in the course of the centuries, as the Church has taken possession, first of the Roman empire, and then of the nations of the North, and as, in these latter days, it has, with missionary zeal, penetrated the foulness of the remotest heathenism.
2. Life. And this in two several directions. The prophet saw very many trees on the banks of the river, and a very great multitude of fish in its translucent waters. Life, both vegetable and animal, life of every kind and order, is the result of the stream's full and beneficent flow. Corresponding with this is the spiritual life which results from the benign and wholesome influence of true Christianity. The Lord Jesus came that men might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. Life of the spirit, the very life of God himself - such is the issue of the Divine interposition and provision.
3. Fruitfulness and abundance. The fishers spread their nets and draw up from the waters a great supply of fish; the husbandmen go forth into the gardens and vineyards by the river-side and gather great crops of fruit. The river of the water of life, like the streams of Damascus creating a green oasis in the Syrian desert, brings fertility, a wealth of blossom and of fruit, wherever it flows. Righteousness and holiness, patience and peace, devotion and hope, - such are the harvest for which the world is indebted to the sweet waters of the Divine sanctuary. - T.
I. MARK THE SOURCE OF THIS LIFE - GIVING STREAM. "Behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward... the waters came down from under from the fight side of the house, at the south side of the altar." Here we have an early unfolding of God's great plan of salvation - an anticipation of the closing vision in John's Apocalypse. There is vital instruction in every line. The stream had its rise under the altar, which altar is the emblem of the Saviors cross. Hence we learn that the stream of Divine mercy, the river of life to men, has its source in suffering rod sacrifice and death. Atoning death, the outburst of pent-up love, is the spring of life to the world. Such was the spectacle to the prophet's eye; this was revelation enough for the moment; yet there was a gracious fact further back. The real, invisible source of this salvation is in the heart of infinite love; but for wisest reasons the stream flows through the channel of the cross. Therefore, to the eye of man the most fitting spot whence this stream should seem to rise is the altar in the temple, where for ages God had been sought and his mercy had been found. The plural word "waters" signifies "abundance." They gushed forth in copious plentifulness. The impression made upon the mind was the very opposite to stint or reluctance. It was a generous overflow, a glad relief from previous restraint. Such is the quality of God's mercy to men. It leaps forth in generous abundance. There is no limit to his kindness. His love is equal to men's largest needs - equal to the salvation of the race. If God is the purveyor, there can be no lack. He gives with the heart of a Father and with the freeness of a King.
II. MARK THE RAPID GROWTH OF THE STREAM. At the distance of a thousand cubits from its source the waters reached only to a man's ankles. Another like distance was measured, now they reached the knees; and soon the stream was a river to swim in - a fiver that could not be forded. Impressive picture this of the development of God's plan of redemption! In Eden there was only an obscure promise. Down to the days of Abraham the rill of experienced mercy reached only to the ankles. But it steadily grew in depth and fullness. It would be a waste of blessing if God should disclose his grace faster than man has capacity to receive. In Paul's day the stream had swelled in volume, so that, having tried his sounding-line, he stood confounded, and could only exclaim, "Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!" Still the stream rolls on and increases in magnitude. At its banks every thirsty soul may drink and live. For six thousand years it has been flowing, and, instead of giving any sign of diminution, the volume still increases and shall increase. For this saving knowledge shall cover the earth as the natural water fills the caverns of ocean. So important did God conceive it to be that Ezekiel should know of this steady increase, that he caused him to test it by personal experiment. It did not suffice that Ezekiel looked upon this increasing volume with his eye; he must go into it, and have deepest knowledge of the fact. They who preach to others must have personal experience of the truth. Theory and tradition and speculation will not suffice for the instruction of men. The preacher sent from God must declare what he has "tasted and handled and felt of the good word of life." Attention is summoned: "Son of man, hast thou seen this?"
III. MARK THE SALUTARY EFFECTS OF THIS STREAM. "Everything shall live whither the river cometh." The prophet soon left the region of natural fact. There then a stream flowing out from under the temple; but its waters were not sweet; it did not grow in bulk as it proceeded; it did not bring fertility and life to the district. The country through which the Kedron flows is the most rocky and desolate to be found in Palestine. Although this little stream has been flowing for ages into the Dead Sea, it has not perceptibly alleviated its bitterness. Nauseous and pungent to the taste as ever is that water. Though beautiful to the eye as the Sea of Galilee, no animated life is on its shores; all verdure is wanting; and not the tiniest animalcula can live in its depths. It is the scene of silence and desolation. Pathetic emblem this of man's moral barrenness!
1. Food is provided. To this natural spectacle what a contrast does Ezekiel's picture present! This copious stream brings life and beauty to both its banks. Here grows every tree that can yield fruit. Here no scarcity can be found, for the trees bear in constant succession. As soon as one sort of fruit is exhausted another is purple with ripeness. No winter is here; it is perpetual summer. Such fruits may be enumerated:
(7) Divine communion;
Already the deserts of earth have blossomed; already these fruits of Paradise have been tasted. For long years the prophecy has ripened into fact.
2. Medicine. "The leaf thereof shall be for medicine." The provision which God makes is always complete. Man is not only the subject of hunger, he is a victim of disease. He is racked with pain, torn with sorrows, tormented with a thousand cares. And as in nature the leaves and cells of plants contain medicine for every bodily disease; so in his kingdom of grace God has furnished remedies for all care and sorrow. "The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations." And what else can these leaves be except the truths and promises of the gospel of Christ? Is it not a fact well attested that these words and pledges of Jehovah have alleviated the distress of many an anguished soul? acted as cooling balm to many a fevered heart? How many men, fettered with chains of despair, have broken them by virtue of the promise, "Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out!" How many no tongue can tell. And like healing medicine to a thousand afflicted souls has bee,, the whispered assurance, I will never leave thee; and this, My grace is sufficient for thee." "He has sent forth his word and healed them."
3. There is perpetual virtue. Of these trees "the leaf shall not fade." As a willow planted by the riverside is well-nigh always verdant, so the trees of righteousness were beauteous in immortal verdure because their roots were nourished by the river of God. Human nature (unvisited by God's grace)is a desert more bald and sterile than the hill-country of Judaea. But wherever this crystal stream of mercy comes, life - luxuriant, joyous life appears. The plants of holiness flourish - "trees of the Lord, full of sap." A thousand such deserts have already blossomed, and the prophecy is undergoing fulfillment before our eyes.
4. Abundant life is yet another effect. "There shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither." It is in keeping with the allegory that the prophet should speak only of fish as the kind of life generated by this stream. Yet as the result of this human life was sustained. Population increased, for men found useful occupation. The whole circumference of the Dead Sea became a scene of activity - the home of industry and plenty. Again we have a graphic sketch of the life-giving grace of our God. Wherever it has penetrated it has been life from the dead. Bodily life has been valued and prolonged. The curative art has developed. Domestic life has been enriched. All forms of intellectual life have unfolded. National life has been purified and organized. Population has grown. Best of all, the spiritual life in man has been awakened, and practical love to the human race has flourished. A moral revolution among mankind is in progress. The regeneration of society is proceeding.
5. Exceptional barrenness is incurable. "But the miry places thereof, and the marshes thereof, shall not be healed; they shall be given to salt." There is a certain physical condition of barren land which no abundance of water will fertilize. So in the kingdom of grace resistance of Divine influence is possible. Among the chosen twelve there was a Judas. In the first Church avarice and hypocrisy wrought havoc of death. Some always "resist the Holy Ghost." Some "count themselves unworthy of everlasting life." To some in his day Jesus spake with pathetic sorrow, "Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life." - D.
I. ITS DIVINE SOURCE. The river flowed "from under the threshold of the house" - from the very dwelling-place of Jehovah. The river of life has its source in the Divine, in God himself, in his fatherly yearning, in his boundless pity, in his redeeming purpose. The heavens themselves pour down the rains, which feed the springs, which make the rivers of earth; but from above the clouds, from one whom "the heaven of heavens cannot contain," comes that river of life which a wasted and despoiled world is waiting to receive. It is a Divine mind alone that could conceive, a Divine heart alone that-could produce, such a benevolent force as this.
II. ITS SPIRITUAL CHARACTER. The river of the gospel of Christ is the river of Divine truth. The kingdom of God is to be established by purely moral and spiritual agencies. When violence is used to promote it, there is a miserable departure from its essential spirit, and there is a serious injury done to its final triumph. For it wins by other and better means. And as water is itself composed of two elements, so the truth of God in the gospel of Christ is twofold. It includes the truth we most want to know concerning ourselves - our nature, our character, our position before God, our possibilities in the present and in the future; and also the truth we most want to know concerning God - his character and disposition, his purpose of mercy, his supreme act of self-denying love, his overtures of grace, his summons to eternal life.
III. ITS TWO SOVEREIGN VIRTUES.
1. That of renewal. All kinds of fish live in its waters (vers. 9, 10); many trees grow and thrive on its banks, nourished by its streams (ver. 7); "everything lives whither the river cometh" (ver. 9).
2. That of cleansing. Such are the virtues of this river that, flowing into the Dead Sea, it sweetens even its salt waters and cleanses them of their bitterness, so that fish once more live therein: "Its waters are healed" (ver. 8). Such is the gracious and beneficent action of the truth of the gospel of Christ.
(1) It is the source of new life; it revives and it sustains. It finds men and communities in spiritual death, and it imparts a new and blessed life; before it comes is a dreary moral waste, after its waters have begun to flow there is beauty and fertility. Peoples that seemed wholly lost to wisdom and to righteousness are regained; homes that appeared hopelessly darkened with sin and shame are made light with its beams of truth and grace; hearts that were desolate and deathful are filled with peace and joy and immortal hope. Everything lives where this blessed river comes.
(2) It is the one great cleansing power. Into the darkest and foulest places it enters, and it brings with it sweetness and purity; corruption cannot live where its waters pass, but disappears before them. This is true, not only of the hearts and the homes of men, but of districts, of cities, of countries.
IV. ITS GLORIOUS ABUNDANCE. (Vers. 3-5.) Once a small stream, it is now a broad, deep river, whose course nothing can check, whose waters are inexhaustibly full, whose beneficence nothing can measure. It has come down these many centuries, it has girdled the whole earth, it will flow on and on until all the nations have been renewed.
1. Have we partaken of its life-giving waters?
2. Are we gaining therefrom the healing and the growth they will yield? - C.
I. THE SOURCE OF SALVATION. The fruitfulness of the trees which border the riverbanks is accounted for by the fresh and flowing waters which keep their roots for ever moist and nourished. The gospel is a Divine provision for human need; its suitableness and sufficiency are only to be explained by its heavenly origin in the infinite wisdom and the infinite love of God himself. Our Savior Christ, "for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven." The Holy Spirit who enlightens, quickens, and blesses, is the Gift of God, "proceeding from the Father and the Son."
II. THE CHARACTER OF SALVATION. As represented in this exquisitely beautiful figure, salvation is twofold.
1. It includes healing for sin. As the leaves of certain trees were and are applied to the body for the healing of wounds and diseases, so the, gospel brings to sinful men the Divine remedy and cure.
2. It includes the supply of spiritual wants. It is an imperfect view of religion which confines it to a provision for pardon. Religion takes possession of the whole nature, and provides truth for the understanding, love for the heart, and power for the life. It is to the spiritual nature what food is to the body - sustenance, stimulus, and strength. As the strong man eats in order that he may be in health and vigorous life, in order that he may do his daily work, so does the good man partake of the fruit of God's Word in order that he may be empowered to render true and effective service to his God.
III. THE ABUNDANCE OF SALVATION. The trees which grew by the river of life are represented as characterized by unwithering leaf and by unfailing fruit.
1. Salvation is afforded as God's gift to innumerable applicants of every variety of character and from every land.
2. Salvation is provided for successive generations. There was a marvelous largeness of view in the Prophet Ezekiel; he contemplated not only the many nations of men, but the successive inhabitants of the earth, as benefited by the provision of Divine mercy. The perennial and inexhaustible trees of life afford to all mankind in every age the healing and the sustenance which they require. There is no limit to God's bounty, as there is no limit to man's need. - T.
I. THE RESTORING VIRTUE OF THE GOSPEL. The leaf of the tree of life is "for medicine," or "for bruises and sores" (marginal reading).
1. How great is the need for such medicine as this in "a bruised and sore" world like ours! On every hand are men and women who are chafed with the worries of life, who are perplexed with its problems, who are smitten and are sore by reason of its varied persecutions, who are worn and wearied with its excessive toils, who are badly wounded by its heavier sorrows, by crushing loss, by darkening disappointment, by saddening bereavement, by disabling sickness, by cruel disloyalty. And beyond these there are those who are stung with shame, who have been awakened to a sense of their guilt before God, and are filled with a holy shame, a compunction which is the first step to true blessedness, but which "for the present" is grievous and distressing to the soul.
2. How invaluable is the remedy which this tree of life provides! To such wounded hearts comes the healing Savior; he comes
(1) with tender sympathy, offering himself as the Divine Friend, who is "touched with the feeling of our infirmities;"
(2) with the comfort of his own example, as our Leader, "whose way was much rougher and darker than ours," and who asks us whether "it is not enough for the disciple to be as his Lord;
(3) with his Divine aid, ready, at our appeal, to revive us by his indwelling Spirit and grant us such sustaining grace that, instead of groaning under the blow, we can even glory in bearing it for him (2 Corinthians 12:9);
(4) with his gracious promises, offering pardon, peace, eternal life, to every penitent and believing heart; thus is he the Divine Healer of the bruised and bleeding hearts of men.
II. THE NOURISHING POWER WHICH IT POSSESSES. "The fruit thereof shall be for meat [or, 'food']." When health has been restored, when the medicine of the leaf has done its work, then there needs to be sustenance in order that the recovered strength may be maintained. Shall we not find the nourishment where we found the healing? The gospel of Christ meets this our need by providing:
1. Divine truth. All that truth concerning the nature, character, will, purpose, of God our Father and our Savior which we have revealed to us in the Word of God, and more particularly in the teaching of his Son, who came forth from him and was one with him. All that truth also which relates to our spiritual nature, to our duty, to our privilege, to our prospects.
2. Christian fellowship. For the society of the holy is a sustaining power that builds up and makes strong in faith and purity.
3. The action of the Spirit of God. We are "strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man." Such ample and such fitting food as this makes strong for testimony, for endurance, for energetic action, for growth unto the full stature of Christian manhood, for readiness for the heavenly kingdom. - C.
I. A DIVINELY APPOINTED INHERITANCE. Whatever are the possessions and privileges of God's people, this is certain, that they are the gift of God's goodness. What have we that we did not receive? All things are of God. If we as Christians have entered upon a heritage of knowledge, of liberty, of purity, of peace, this is because the Lord has dealt bountifully with us.
II. AN ESPECIAL INHERITANCE FOR EACH. In the settlement of the tribes in the Holy Land nothing was left to accident or to ambition; the lot of each tribe was marked out by Divine appointment. All Christians may appropriate the language of the psalmist, "The lines have fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage." To one the great Head of the Church assigns an inheritance of conflict; to another, an inheritance of peace. One section of the Church is distinguished for its thinkers; another, for its workers. But each has his own ministry and responsibility, and it becomes each to be content and to refrain from envying the lot of another.
III. A SUFFICIENT INHERITANCE FOR ALL. Palestine, though comparatively a small country, was large enough to contain all the tribes. In the Church of Christ there is abundant accommodation and provision for all the members of that Church. "All things are yours, and ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's." There is no limitation to the Divine resources or to the Divine liberality.
IV. A PERPETUAL INHERITANCE. Israel retained possession of the laud of promise for generations, for centuries; but that possession, nevertheless, came to an end. In this respect, there is a contrast between the temporal and the spiritual inheritance. None of God's people can ever be dispossessed from God's favor, or deprived of the privileges which are secured to them by the faithful promises of God. Those promises have respect, not to time only, but to eternity. Theirs is an "inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away." - T.
I. HEAVEN IS ASSIGNED AS THE INHERITANCE OF THE TRUE ISRAEL. It is an undoubted fact that the natural Israel is the type of the faithful in every land. It is a fact that the earthly Canaan is described in the New Testament as the type of the heavenly. "If we are Christ's, then are we Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." "We are come," says St. Paul, "to the heavenly Jerusalem." To the eye of the exiled John the architecture of the heavenly city was formed of materials borrowed from the earthly Jerusalem. Hence we still "seek a country, that is, a heavenly." It is provided for us by God; it is in course of preparation for our use. His house must be furnished with guests, and the guests are being prepared for the place. "The redeemed shall dwell there." "The tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell among them." "He is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has provided for them a city."
II. THIS INHERITANCE GOD HAS SECURED BY OATH UNTO ALL THE HEIRS. The title-deed is signed and sealed. It is writ in lines of blood - the blood of Christ.
"Signed when our Redeemer died, Sealed when he was glorified." To all other guarantees God has added this, viz. his solemn oath. "Concerning the which I lifted up mine hand to give it." As men will accept transference of property and testimony in general, done under the sanction of an oath, when they would not accept it as final and unalterable without the oath, so God has condescended to our infirmities - condescends to act according to human customs. A single promise from him suffices; a single word is enough. When he created, a word was ample: "He spake, and it was done." He said, "Let light be and light was!" So, in securing to us the inheritance of heaven, a word from him is full security. His promise is as good as his performance. Yet he stoops to employ human methods and human expedients in order to quell our doubts and satisfy our faith. Not a loophole for doubt is left. As firmly established as Jehovah's throne is the gift: "Ye shall inherit it, one as well as another." 'Tis not a matter of purchase; it is his spontaneous gift. "I am Jehovah; therefore I change not." III. THIS INHERITANCE COMPRISES DISTINCT REWARDS FOR FAITHFUL SERVICE. "Joseph shall have two portions." It would be a serious mistake to suppose that heaven contained equal measures of honor and of joy for all. In all likelihood there is greater diversity in eminence and in joy than on earth. From the lips of the unerring Judge the verdicts fall, "Be thou ruler over ten cities Be thou ruler over five cities." The place of honor on Christ's right hand shall be given to him "for whom it is prepared." In proportion to fidelity here shall be reward there. Even Jesus Christ himself tastes a richer joy as the result of his suffering. "For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross;" "Therefore cloth my Father love me, because I lay down my life for the sheep." For some there is in store "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." IV. THE HEAVENLY INHERITANCE HAS A PLACE FOR SPIRITUAL AFFINITIES. The favored occupants still dwell according to their tribes. In St. John's enumeration of the redeemed he reads the muster-roll of the tribes. Each tribe had its tale complete - it numbered twelve thousand. To the same effect Jesus affirmed, "In my Father's house are many mansions." The demarcations made by family and social lines on earth will be obliterated; but instead, new associations, new affinities, will appear. The denizens will be drawn closer together, or less close, according to spiritual tastes and proclivities. "He that doeth the will of my Father in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother." There will be emulation, and a measure of seemly rivalry, while envy and jealousy will be unknown. V. THE HEAVENLY INHERITANCE WILL BE COMPREHENSIVE IN CITIZENSHIP. "Ye shall divide it by lot for an inheritance unto you, and to the strangers that sojourn among you... they shall be unto you as born in the country." The old spirit of exclusiveness shall cease. Earthly nationality is an accident, which possesses in itself no excellence. Concerning Greek, or Barbarian, or Hebrew, "God is no respecter of persons." In Christ Jesus "neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but simply a new creature." The distinction in God's kingdom is character. Demarcation is between the excellent and the vile. He who has in his breast the faith of Abraham will receive a welcome, while he who inherits only Abraham's blood will be excluded. No matter in what clime a man is born, no matter what the color of his skin, if he chooses God to be his God and Sovereign and Friend, he shall find a place among the citizens; he shall obtain a lot among one of the tribes. "Wherefore," saith God, "separate yourselves from the evil, and be ye clean, and I will receive you:! will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." The simple term of citizenship is a "new birth." "Except ye be converted, and become as a little child " - such is the condition to Jew and Gentile alike - "ye cannot enter the kingdom of God." "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." There is world-wide comprehensiveness, coupled with self-imposed exclusiveness. - D.
III. THIS INHERITANCE COMPRISES DISTINCT REWARDS FOR FAITHFUL SERVICE. "Joseph shall have two portions." It would be a serious mistake to suppose that heaven contained equal measures of honor and of joy for all. In all likelihood there is greater diversity in eminence and in joy than on earth. From the lips of the unerring Judge the verdicts fall, "Be thou ruler over ten cities Be thou ruler over five cities." The place of honor on Christ's right hand shall be given to him "for whom it is prepared." In proportion to fidelity here shall be reward there. Even Jesus Christ himself tastes a richer joy as the result of his suffering. "For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross;" "Therefore cloth my Father love me, because I lay down my life for the sheep." For some there is in store "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."
IV. THE HEAVENLY INHERITANCE HAS A PLACE FOR SPIRITUAL AFFINITIES. The favored occupants still dwell according to their tribes. In St. John's enumeration of the redeemed he reads the muster-roll of the tribes. Each tribe had its tale complete - it numbered twelve thousand. To the same effect Jesus affirmed, "In my Father's house are many mansions." The demarcations made by family and social lines on earth will be obliterated; but instead, new associations, new affinities, will appear. The denizens will be drawn closer together, or less close, according to spiritual tastes and proclivities. "He that doeth the will of my Father in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother." There will be emulation, and a measure of seemly rivalry, while envy and jealousy will be unknown.
V. THE HEAVENLY INHERITANCE WILL BE COMPREHENSIVE IN CITIZENSHIP. "Ye shall divide it by lot for an inheritance unto you, and to the strangers that sojourn among you... they shall be unto you as born in the country." The old spirit of exclusiveness shall cease. Earthly nationality is an accident, which possesses in itself no excellence. Concerning Greek, or Barbarian, or Hebrew, "God is no respecter of persons." In Christ Jesus "neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but simply a new creature." The distinction in God's kingdom is character. Demarcation is between the excellent and the vile. He who has in his breast the faith of Abraham will receive a welcome, while he who inherits only Abraham's blood will be excluded. No matter in what clime a man is born, no matter what the color of his skin, if he chooses God to be his God and Sovereign and Friend, he shall find a place among the citizens; he shall obtain a lot among one of the tribes. "Wherefore," saith God, "separate yourselves from the evil, and be ye clean, and I will receive you:! will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." The simple term of citizenship is a "new birth." "Except ye be converted, and become as a little child " - such is the condition to Jew and Gentile alike - "ye cannot enter the kingdom of God." "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." There is world-wide comprehensiveness, coupled with self-imposed exclusiveness. - D.
Ye shall inherit it, one as well as another;" "I am their Inheritance... I am their Possession." These passages speak of two kinds of inheritance, and there is a third which remained to be revealed, and still remains to be possessed.
I. THE MATERIAL INHERITANCE. According to the prophetic vision the land of Israel was to be fairly divided among the different tribes. The prospect here held out is the possession of the soil - that soil which has within it the power of great material enrichment. Land we call "real property," as distinguished from that about which there is a measure of insecurity or fluctuation. Those who own the soil own that which cannot be taken away, and which, though its market value may rise and fall, and though it may be greatly enriched by diligence or impoverished by recklessness, still has the possibility and the promise of produce and provision. Land, therefore, may well stand as the representation and type of all material inheritance. God gives to us here a certain heritage of this order; not, indeed, "one as another" in the sense of equality, for there is very great inequality. The inequality cannot be said to be due to Divine arrangement; it is rather the bitter consequence of all forms of sin and folly. God has given us a large, ample, fruitful, beautiful world for our earthly home. And if we were but actuated by the spirit of justice and of kindness, though there might not be anything like the absolute equality of which some men dream, yet would there be a goodly heritage for every child of man - enough for the comfort of every home, for the training of every mind; enough to satisfy, to beautify, to gladden. But there is a better heritage than this.
II. THE SPIRITUAL INHERITANCE. The Levites were not to have any land for their share; God himself and his service - this was to be their "Inheritance," this their "Possession" (Ezekiel 44:28). What was true in their case is surely far more true in ours. To us to whom God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ a spiritual well-being is offered which does indeed constitute a noble heritage. "God has provided some better thing for us" (Hebrews 11:40). For us there is not the tangible mountain, the visible fire, the audible trumpet, but an inheritance which eye cannot see, nor car hear, nor could the heart of man conceive (see Hebrews 12:18 with 1 Corinthians 2:9); for us there is a redeeming God, an Almighty Savior, a Divine Comforter, a holy and elevating service, a heavenly home. In this last particular we have a third heritage, compared with which any partition of the soil was small indeed.
III. THE HEAVENLY INHERITANCE. There are those who pass through so great "a fight of afflictions" that even with all the boundless blessings and invaluable treasures which are "in Christ Jesus," life may seem of little worth; for these, as indeed for us all, there is the fair prospect of "an exceeding and eternal weight of glory" - of such glories that the sufferings of time are "not worthy to be compared" with them; the near presence of Christ; a home of perfect love and rest; reunion with the holy and the true; a sphere of untiring, elevating service; a life of growing blessedness. - C.
I. THE EQUAL INHERITANCE OF ALL CHRIST'S PEOPLE IN CHRISTIAN PRIVILEGES IS NOT OWING TO NATURE, BUT IS THE ARRANGEMENT OF THE GRACE OF GOD.
II. THE EQUAL INHERITANCE INVOLVES A SIMILAR SPIRITUAL PREPARATION AND ADAPTATION.
III. THE EQUAL INHERITANCE ENTITLES ALL THE MEMBERS OF CHRIST'S CHURCH TO EQUAL PRIVILEGES.
1. All distinctions of an hereditary, secular, and educational character are of little importance in the Christian community. Boasting is excluded where all is of grace, and where none has any claim of right.
2. Mutual consideration and forbearance should obtain within the boundaries of the Church. Every Christian has some especial office and gift; perhaps every Christian has some special infirmity and imperfection.
3. It is profitable and delightful to look forward to the perfect fulfillment of the Savior's purpose and prayer, to anticipate the time when all shall be one - one flock under one Shepherd. The inheritance of all God's people is known only by the common designation: "the inheritance of the saints in light." - T.
I. THE ATTRACTIVENESS OF THE KINGDOM. As the Gentiles are here imagined as crossing the Jordan to sojourn within the borders of Israel, so we are to expect that men will come from beyond the pale of the Christian Church to find a home within its gates.
1. It ought to be far more attractive than it has been made. The discord, the envy, the strife among its members; the lamentable inconsistencies in the lives of too many of its professors; and the grave unwisdom with which its teachers have propounded their theories as if they were of the essence and substance of its truth; these have been repelling enough.
2. Yet, on the other hand, the gospel of Christ has been a great attractive power.
(1) The repose which it offers to the human mind, presenting to it one Divine and holy Creator and Sustainer of all things and beings;
(2) the rest which it offers to the human heart, tendering to it full and immediate restoration to a Divine Father's love;
(3) the enlargement which it offers to human life, making it a sacred and noble thing even in obscurity and poverty;
(4) the high and glorious hope it holds out to the human soul, speaking of a heavenly future; - all this may well prove, as it does prove, attractive
(a) to those of other faiths which have no such doctrine to preach, no such glad tidings to convey;
(b) to those of no faith at all, and to whom this world proves to be insufficient for lasting joy.
II. THE WELCOME ON WHICH ALL COMERS MAY COUNT.
1. Christ welcomes them to his kingdom. There is no doubt at all as to the certainty or the cordiality of that welcome. Even the son that has gone into the very far country and done sad dishonor to the Father's Name is received back with every manifestation of parental joy (Luke 15.). Jesus Christ is not only the Approachable One, from whom no sincere seeker need shrink; he is the One that seeks, that comes to our own door, that stands and knocks and waits for entrance there (Revelation 3:20).
2. All his true disciples welcome them. There may be found communities bearing the Christian name, whose gates are too narrow to receive many a true follower of Christ; but all those in whom the Spirit of Jesus Christ is dwelling, and who do not misrepresent their Master, will gladly welcome every "stranger" that comes to "sojourn" or to settle in the kingdom; they will encourage him to enter; they will give him the right hand of fellowship, they will find him a post in the vineyard of the Lord; they will make him to know and feel that in entering "Israel" he has come to his true home, that he is "as the home-born." - C.