Behold, every soul belongs to Me; both father and son are Mine. The soul who sins is the one who will die.
I. THE INFLUENCE OF HEREDITY UPON CHARACTER. Physically, the power of heredity is vast. Every individual, we are told by men of science, is the product of parents, with the addition of such peculiarity as they attribute to the other principle, viz. variation. A man's birth, breeding, and training count for very much; they determine the locality of his early days, the climate, the political and social circumstances, the religions education, the associations, of childhood and of youth. The bodily constitution, including the nervous organization, the temperament and the inclinations springing from it, are to a very large extent hereditary. The environment is largely the effect of birth, and the early influences involved in it. Those who adopt the "naturalistic" system of morals, to whom man appears the effect of definite causes - the "determinists," as they are cabled in philosophy - consider that circumstances, and such character as is itself the product of circumstances, determine what the man will be and must be. Whilst even those who advocate spiritual ethics, and who believe in human liberty, are quite willing to admit that all men owe to hereditary causes and influences very much which makes them what they are.
II. THE LIMITS TO THIS INFLUENCE.
1. Heredity does not interfere with man's moral nature. The will, the freedom, of man are as real as the motives upon which he acts, with which he identifies himself. There is a distinction absolute and ineffaceable between the material and animal on the one side, and the spiritual upon the other.
2. Nor with man's responsibility. If man were not free, he would not be responsible. We do not speak of the sun as responsible for shining, or a bird as responsible for flying. But we cannot avoid speaking and thinking of men as responsible for all their purposes, endeavours, and habits. The wicked are blamable because, when good and evil were before them, and they were free to choose the good, they chose the evil.
3. Nor with God's justice and grace. Ezekiel makes a great point of vindicating the ways of God with men, of showing that every individual will certainly be dealt with, not upon capricious or unjust principles, but with omniscient wisdom, inflexible righteousness, and considerate mercy. Thus, in the sight of God, all circumstances are apparent, and in the judgment of God all circumstances are taken into account, which justly affect an individual's guilt. Heredity may be among such circumstances, and allowance is doubtless made for tendencies inherited, for early neglect, for unfavourable influences of whatever kind. Where little is given, little is required. but all this does not affect the great fact that every individual is held responsible for his own moral position and conduct. None can escape judgment and censure by pleading the iniquities of his progenitors, as if those iniquities were an excuse for yielding to temptation. Every one shall bear his own burden. All souls are God's, to rule, to weigh, to recompense. From whomsoever sprung, the just shall live, and the soul that sinneth, it shall die. - T.
if —" There is always an "if — if a certain experience has been gone through; if a certain ceremony has been performed; if a certain belief has been acknowledged; if a certain life has been lived, then they are God's, not otherwise!" You will not suppose for a moment that I would undervalue an experience, nor an ordinance, nor a faith, nor a life. But surely we must never confuse the manifestation of a principle with the original principle itself. When the soul wakens up to the consciousness of God, it is the awakening of the soul to the thought that God had claimed it before. When the child is taken and admitted into the Christian Church, you had not baptized it unless you had believed beforehand that the redeeming hand of Christ had been stretched athwart the world. The faith that you teach the humblest of your disciples will give him the first thought that he belongs to God, for you will teach him, "I believe in God my Father." And the life that he has to live can only be the outcome of this, that he is possessed by the power of a spirit which is declaring, to him that he is not his own, but he is bought with a price. Nay, does not the apostle round his argument precisely in that order? All the experiences, the joyous experiences of Christian life, are the outcome of the realisation of that which was true beforehand, that the soul belongs to any lesser or any lower, but simply to God. Because ye are His, God has sent forth the spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying Abba, Father. Such is the range of the principle as an expression of Divine love, which is also the charter of human rights. Yes, it stands forever written here, that the world may remember "All souls are Mine." We know what the history of the past was — contempt for this or that race. Can there be contempt any longer, seeing that the Divine fiat has gone forth, "All souls are Mine"? It stands as the perpetual witness against the selfish contempt of race against race. It is the declaration then, so far, of rights. It is an individual one, for, believe me, no philosophy can ever take the place of religion. It is absolutely impossible that altruism can be a fitting substitute for self-sacrificing Christian love. The best intentions in the world will not secure the objects of those good intentions. As long as you and I live we shall find that the charter of human rights lies not in any declaration from earth, but in a declaration from heaven. Just as the city, the ideal city when it comes, will not spring from the earth, but will come down from heaven, so, also, that which is the declaration of the citizenship of that great city must descend from heaven, and the rights of men be conceived there and not upon earth. For, unfortunately, it is only too true that civilisation weaves within her bosom many strange passions and prejudices and opinions which become an organised cruelty against the rights and the pities of men. There are cruelties of philosophy, and cruelties of science, and cruelties of commerce, and cruelties of diplomacy. Cruelties of philosophy — one man teaches us that it is impossible to raise out of their savage and sad condition certain races of the world. Cruelties of science, when we are told that it is a pity to disturb the picturesque surroundings of some of the lower African tribes, because the scientific man loses the opportunity of a museum-like study when these races become Christianised. Cruelties of commerce, when men are ready to condone the wicked, and cruelly slaughter thousands, if they may secure a half per cent. more dividend upon their capital. Your answer is, "Here is a Divine principle; have faith in this principle. and behold the cruelty shall disappear." It has been so. The answer which has been given out of the exercise of faith in this principle is an unanswerable reply to the objectors of all kinds. Everywhere where there has been energy, everywhere where there has been this faith, it has been faith in the one living principle that God's hand is over the whole race, and that all souls belong to Him. That is the answer to those who would seek to make the charter of men less, and Jesus Christ coming to us says, "Behold, it is even truer," for over the whole world His love goes forth, and the armies of His Cross spread East and West, and all are brought within His embrace, seeing that He tasted death for every man. And as we contemplate, behold what happens! We see immediately all these various races with their several conditions, with their degraded state, or what we are pleased to call their uncivilised state, all of them are united in one thing: they have a common origin; they have a common call; there is a common hope for them; there is a common hand of love stretched out to them, and as you contemplate this fundamental bond of union all the other idiosyncrasies and differences sink into insignificance compared with this, that they are made of the same blood as ourselves, that their souls are called by the same God as ourselves, and all these souls are His, and the less we speak of these minor differences the better is the realisation of the profound love of God which has become the charter of human rights. It is a statute, finally of obligation, of service — "All souls are Mine." If all souls are God's, then, humbly be it spoken, we too are His, and His claim over us is the very same as the claim which we are seeking to extend the whole wide world over, and His claim over us is the claim that we, being His, shall, in some sort, resemble Him. In the constancy of His service who works ceaselessly, in the self-sacrifice of that love which loved us and gave itself for us, the obligation which springs out of that conception "All souls are Mine "is the obligation that your whole life, your whole soul, all that you are, shall be consecrated and dedicated to His service. And that is the rationale of Christian missions.
Behold, all souls are Mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is Mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.Ezekiel 36:25, 26; Ezekiel 37:14): — Every living "word" must be made flesh, and dwell among us; live in a human and personal life, breathe our warm breath, grasp us with sympathetic and friendly hands, carry our sins and bear our sorrows, if it is to gain admission at "lowly doors"; stir the "spirit's inner deeps"; compel and inspire to an ampler life the reluctant souls of men. The maximum of power is never gained by ideas till they possess and sway the "body prepared for them," and clothe themselves with the subtle and mysterious influences of a vital and impressive personality. The notion of rescuing the waifs and strays of town and village life was in the air of the last century for a long time, and occasionally passed out of its formlessness into print and speech; but it did not grapple with evil, and become the power of God unto the salvation of young England, until it was incarnate in Robert Raikes, of Gloucester, and through him became, as the Sunday School, "the pillar of a people's hope, the centre of a world's desire." The brutal hardness and ferocious cruelty of the prisons of Europe had arrested the fickle attention again and again, but no blow was struck to abate the prodigious mischiefs of criminal life, and elevate punishment into a minister of justice, till John Howard was fired and possessed with the passion of prison reform, and dedicated his will to its advancement with the glorious abandon and success-compelling energy of the prophet. The same is true of the war for personal liberty, of the battles against superstition, and so on ad infinitum. Now, our Bible is a book of ideas — ideas the most simple and sublime, central and essential to all human welfare; but these ideas do not appear as ghosts of a strange and distant world, but clothed in our own humanity, our veritable flesh and blood, speaking "our own tongue wherein we were born," and moving in the midst of the experiences of sin and sorrow, temptation and suffering, and painful progress common to us all. The biblical evangels are all in men. Each one comes with the momentum of a human personality. The Gospel of all the Gospels, the pearl of greatest price, is in the Man Christ Jesus; and in accordance with this Divine principle, the Gospel of the Exile was incarnate in the prophets, and notably in Ezekiel. His very name was a Divine promise, "God shall strengthen"; and his life an enforcement of the beautiful saying, "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength," etc. The signs and proofs of imperfection notwithstanding, it is palpable that Ezekiel, moved by the Holy Ghost, is a man of invincible newness of spirit, works by methods of evangelical thoroughness, and inspires and impels by motives of a decisively Christian quality.
I. Ezekiel breathes THE SPIRIT OF THE NEW EVANGEL from the beginning to the close of his ministry, the spirit of unbending courage, iron consistency, uncompromising faithfulness, heroic self-abnegation, and living faith in God. The breath of Jehovah lifts him on to his feet. The ineffable thrill of the Divine life fills him with a manly daring, makes his "forehead as an adamant, harder than flint," so that he faces and accepts in his inmost being the unspeakable bitterness of the communications he has to deliver, and bears without repining the pressure of an overwhelmingly sorrowful work for the disobedient and obdurate house of Israel. The conscious possession of a gospel for men is the true inspiration to fearlessness, defiance of wrong and falsehood and hypocrisy, calm and inflexible zeal in work. The real prophet of his age reckons with calumny, misrepresentation, neglect, and poverty. Livingstone carries in his New Testament the food on which martyrs are nourished. Savonarola is fortified for death by the vision of the future of Florence which grows out of the good tidings he preaches. Paul and Barnabas can readily hazard their lives as missionaries because they know they are conveying the unsearchable riches of Christ.
II. THE GOSPEL OF THE EXILE IS INCARNATE IN EZEKIEL AS TO ITS METHOD, as well as in its new and conquering spirit. There is a penetrating thoroughness characteristic of the life. of the time, and of the particular experience through which Israel is passing; a going to the root of individual and national mischief; a searching of heart, an arousal of conscience, an insistence on the doctrine of individual responsibility; a forcing of men face to face with eternal and irresistible Divine laws — all essential to the successful proclamation of a true evangel for sinning men.
1. The prophet's first word anticipates that of John the Baptist and of our Lord, "Repent ye, repent ye. God is at hand. His rule is real, though invisible. His kingdom is coming, though you do not see it. Repent, and repent at once." With an energy of language, and a vigour of epithet, and a vehemence of spirit, that could neither be mistaken nor resisted, he rebuked the sins of this house of disobedience, exposed its hollow sophistries and self-delusions, and bade it cast away its transgressions, and make itself a new heart and a new spirit.
2. Nor does he rest till he has dug up the very roots of their false and fatal wrong-doing, and laid bare to the glare of the light of day the real cause of all their sin. They are fatalists. Ezekiel met this fixed iron fatalism of the people with the all-encompassing and indefeasible doctrine of the personal responsibility of each man for his own sin; as distinct from the distorted notion of inherited and transmitted guilt and suffering, they were proclaiming. "God says," he told him, "behold, all souls are Mine"; each is of equal and independent value; as the soul of the father, so is the soul of the son; the soul that sinneth, it shall die — it, and not another for it; it alone, and only for its own conscious and inward wrong. God's ways are all equal, and righteousness is the glory of His administration. Heredity is a fact; but it neither accounts for the sum of human suffering, nor for the presence of individual sin. The grape theory may fill a proverb, but it will not explain the Exile.
III. EZEKIEL COULD NOT HAVE ADOPTED SO RIGOROUS AND SEARCHING A METHOD UNLESS HE HAD BEEN BATHED AND INSPIRED BY THE GREAT EVANGELICAL MOTIVE. The motive to Ezekiel's ministry is the loving, omnipotent, and regenerating God.
1. As the idea of sin bulges more and more in the thought of the Jews, and burns with increased fierceness in their consciences, fed by the sufferings of their nation, so with unprecedented sharpness of outline appears "the wiping out" of guilt by the free, sovereign, and love-prompted grace of God.
2. It is in the inspiration of hope in the almighty power of God that Ezekiel soars to the highest ranges, and beholds his most memorable and gladdening vision. Carried in thought to his "Mount of Transfiguration," Tel-Abib, he sees covering the vast area of the far-stretching plain the wreck as of an immense army, of dry, bleached, and withering bones. He muses, and the fire of thought burns, and the voice of God sounds in the lonely chambers of his soul. The omnipotence of God is the certain resurrection of the soul of man. He cannot be holden of death. This last enemy shall be destroyed. Power belongeth unto God, and He uses it to save prostrate, despondent, and despairing souls, convicted of guilt, oppressed with the consciousness of death! His delight is in renewal as well as in mercy!
3. Nor is this a fitful and passing access of power, standing out in life like a mountain peak in a plain, a sad memorial of a delightful past, and prophecy of an impossible future; a record of privilege never again to be enjoyed. No; for "I will," says God, "take away the hard, insensitive, unsympathetic, and selfish heart of stone, and will give you a heart of flesh, tender, responsive to the touch of all that surrounds it, open to the Divine emotion of reverence and pity, love and aspiration; and I will put My spirit within you, and write My laws on your heart, enrich you with personal communion, and nourish you by a true obedience." O blessed Gospel! O cheering Pentecost of the Exile! How the hearts of the lowly and penitent in Israel leapt to hail thy coming, rejoiced in the fulness of the blessing of faith, hope, and fellowship, with the Eternal! and prepared for the world-saving mission to which God had called them. Who, then, will hesitate to preach God's last, perfect, and universal Gospel to his fellow man? Who will not seek for the strength which comes(1) from a new and full life, a heart quick in sympathy and strong in the Spirit;(2) from the conviction that we are living in a world of persons spiritually related to the Father, and immediately responsible to His judgment; and(3) from the assurance that the love of God is a real gospel for each human soul — so that he may proclaim the faithful saying, that God is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe?
(J. Clifford, D. D.)
(Bp. Boyd Carpenter.)
Homilist.I. THE WEALTH OF GOD. He owns souls — intelligent, free, influential, deathless souls.
1. His wealth is immense. Think of the value of one soul. Think of the inexhaustible powers, of the wonderful things that one soul is capable of producing, of the interminable influence for good or bad that one soul originates; and it may be well said, that one soul is of more value than the whole world.
2. His wealth is righteous. He has the most absolute, the most unquestionable right to them. He made them: He is the only Creator, and He has the only right. They are His, with all their faculties and powers.
3. His wealth is inalienable. They cannot become their own, nor can they become the property of another. They are his, absolutely, righteously, and forever.
4. His wealth is ever-augmenting. The mountains are old, and the sea is old, and the river is old, and even the youngest plants and animals that appear are but old materials entered into new combinations, nothing more. But souls are new in the entireness of their nature. Fresh emanations from the Eternal Father are they all. Thus His wealth of souls increases.
II. THE OBLIGATION OF MAN.
1. We should act according to His will. It is His will that we should not "live to ourselves" — not seek our own. It is His will that we should centre our affections on Him, love Him with all our hearts, etc. It is His will that we should avail ourselves of the provisions of mercy in Christ Jesus.
2. We should confide implicitly in His protection. We are His, and if we use ourselves according to His direction, He will take care of us, be our shield in the battle, and our refuge in the storm.
3. We should be jealous for His rights.(1) We should zealously maintain His rights in ourselves. We should allow no one to extort service or homage from us that belongs to God.(2) We should practically recognise His right in our fellow men. We should battle against priestcraft, oppression, and slavery, on the ground of loyalty to heaven.
1. All souls belong to God and to goodness by creation. Compared with the capacities and powers which are common to all, how small are the differences of genius or talent between man and man! Now, suppose that we should see in the midst of our city a building just erected with care and cost. Its foundations are deeply laid; its walls are of solid stone; its various apartments are arranged with skill for domestic and social objects; but it is unoccupied and unused. We do not believe that its owner intends it to remain so: we believe that the day will come in which these rooms shall become a home; in which these vacant chambers shall resound with the glad shouts of children and the happy laughter of youth; where one room shall be devoted to earnest study, another to serious conversation, another to safe repose, and the whole be sanctified by prayer. Such a building has God erected in every human soul. One chamber of the mind is fitted for thought, another for affection, another for earnest work, another for imagination, and the whole to be the temple of God. It stands now vacant; its rooms unswept, unfurnished, wakened by no happy echoes: but shall it be so always? Will God allow this soul, which belongs to Him, so carefully provided with infinite faculties, to go wholly to waste?
2. No; God, having made the soul for goodness, is also educating it for goodness. The soul, which belongs to God by creation, will also belong to Him by education and culture. The earth is God's school, where men are sent for seventy years, more or less, to be educated for the world beyond. All souls are sent to this school; all enjoy its opportunities. The poor, who cannot go to our schools; the wretched and the forlorn, who, we think, are without means of culture, — are perhaps better taught than we are in God's great university. The principal teachers in this school are three, — nature, events, and labour. Nature receives the newborn child, shows him her picture book, and teaches him his alphabet with simple sights and sounds. Happy are the children who can go the most to Mother Nature, and learn the most in her dame school. The little prince was wise who threw aside his fine playthings, and wished to go out and play in the beautiful mud. The next teacher in God's school is labour. That which men call the primal curse is, in fact, one of our greatest blessings. Those who are called the fortunate classes, because they are exempt from the necessity of toil, are, for that very reason, the most unfortunate. Work gives health of body and health of mind, and is the great means of developing character. Nature is the teacher of the intellect, but labour forms the character. Nature makes us acquainted with facts and laws; but labour teaches tenacity of purpose, perseverance in action, decision, resolution, and self-respect. Then comes the third teacher, — these events of life which come to all, — joy and sorrow, success and disappointment, happy love, disappointed affection, bereavement, poverty, sickness and recovery, youth, manhood, and old age. Through this series of events all are taken by the great teacher, — life: these diversify the most monotonous career with a wonderful interest. They are sent to deepen the nature, to educate the sensibilities. Thus nature teaches the intellect, labour strengthens the will, and the experiences of life teach the heart, For all souls God has provided this costly education. What shall we infer from it? If we see a man providing an elaborate education for his child, hardening his body by exercise and exposure, strengthening his mind by severe study, what do we infer from this? We naturally infer that he intends him for a grand career.
3. Again, all souls belong to God by redemption. The work of Christ is for all: He died for all, the just and the unjust, that He might bring them to God. The value of a single soul in the eyes of God has been illustrated by the coming of Jesus as in no other way. The recognition of this value is a feature peculiar to Christianity. To be the means of converting a single soul, to put a single soul in the right way, has been considered a sufficient reward for the labours of the most devoted genius and the ripest culture; to rescue those who have sunk the lowest in sin and shame has been the especial work of the Christian philanthropist; to preach the loftiest truths of the Gospel to the most debased and savage tribes in the far Pacific has been the chosen work of the Christian missionary. In this they have caught the spirit of the Gospel. God said, "I will send My Son." He chose the loftiest being for the lowliest work, and thus taught us how He values the redemption of that soul which is the heritage of all. Now, if a man, apparently very humble and far gone in disease, should be picked up in the street, and sent to the almshouse to die, and then, if immediately there should arrive some eminent person — say, the governor or president — to visit him, bringing from a distance the first medical assistance, regardless of cost, we should say, "This man's life must be very precious: something very important must depend upon it." But now, this is what God has done, only infinitely more for all souls. He must therefore see in them something of priceless value.
4. Lastly, in the future life all souls will belong to God. The differences of life disappear at the grave, and all become equal again there. Then the outward clothing of rank, of earthly position, high or low, is laid aside, and each enters the presence of God, alone, as an immortal soul. Then we go to judgment and to retribution. But the judgments and retributions of eternity are for the same object as the education of time: they are to complete the work left unfinished here. In God's house above are many mansions, suited to everyone's condition. Each will find the place where he belongs; each will find the discipline which he needs. Judas went to his place, the place which he needed, where it was best for him to go; and the apostle Paul went to his place, the place best suited for him. When we pass into the other world, those who are ready, and have on the wedding garment, will go in to the supper. They will find themselves in a more exalted state of being, where the faculties of the body are exalted and spiritualised, and the powers of the soul are heightened; where a higher truth, a nobler beauty, a larger love, feed the immortal faculties with a Divine nourishment; where our imperfect knowledge will be swallowed up in larger insight; and communion with great souls, in an atmosphere of love, shall quicken us for endless progress. Then faith, hope, and love will abide — faith leading to sight, hope urging to progress, and love enabling us to work with Christ for the redemption of the race.
(James Freeman Clarke.)
(N. L. Frothingham.)I. EVERY LIVING SOUL IS, IN A SENSE, THE SUBJECT, THE SHARER, OF THE PRIVILEGES, THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD.
1. There is, without contradiction, the privilege of life. Life! what is life? Ah! who can answer, and yet who can fail to understand? "What am I? says a father of the Church; "what I was has vanished; what tomorrow I shall be is dark." "We do not know ourselves; we do not understand our own nature," echoes the scarcely Christian philosopher: the further we go by natural reason, the deeper the darkness, the greater the difficulty; and yet the corn that waves in the autumn wind, the flower that opens in the spring morning, the bird that sings in the leafy thicket, nay, in a sense, the very wave that ripples on the beach, much more the heaving swell of human multitudes that throng the city streets, all conspire to sing the song, the solemn song of life; and the pulses of the young heart vibrate to the music, — growth, movement, reality; the past is dim, the future inscrutable, but here at least is a great possession, the mystery, the thrilling mystery, of individual life. Better than silent stone, or sounding waves, or moving worlds, is one who holds the eternal spark of life. Whatever comes, we feel, we know it, it is something to have lived. This is what it means. It is to have been single, separate, self-determining. Yes; man feels his own life; he is an object of his own consciousness; he is, and he can never change in such sense as to be another self.
2. Another privilege of this lofty place in the scale of being is immortality. Man's ordinary moods may suit a finite life. But these — this lofty aspiration, keen remorse, unsatisfied desire, these infinite unspoken yearnings, these passionate affections — whence come they? There is one answer, only one. From the depth of a conscious being, whose life, whose personality, is not bounded by the grave. Man is immortal. So dimly dreamed the ancients. Alas, too often it was but a dream. Cicero was busied in "Platonic disquisitions," as it has been said, "on the immortality of the soul"; but when his darling Tullia died, he and his friend could only fancy that "if" she were conscious she would desire comfort for her agonised father. Still, there was the dream of immortality. Seneca spoke of it as a dream. "I was pleasantly engaged," he wrote to his friend, "inquiring about immortality; I was surrendering myself to the great hope; I was despising the fragments of a broken life. Your letter came, the dream vanished." Was it only a dream? At least it was "a great hope." A dream, but destined to become a waking vision! A hope, one day to be a clear reality! Christ came — came in His sweet simplicity, came in His deep humility, came with His great revelation. Christ came; came and placed it in evidence, by His Divine teaching, by the indisputable need of a future life for the fulfilment of His lofty principles, and last by that stupendous fact of which the apostles, testing it by their senses, testing it by all varieties of available evidence, knew and affirmed the truth — the miracle, the unique, the crowning miracle, of the resurrection.
3. I instance one further privilege of the soul — The intuition of moral truth, and with this the sense of moral obligation. An image emerges in the Gospel, unique, beautiful; a picture suited for all situations, unchangingly powerful amid all changes of inner and outer life. The German rationalist is perplexed by His perfection; the French infidel is startled by His beauty; the modern Arian is constrained to admire, while he inconsistently denies the assertion of Godhead, which, if falsely made, would shatter that image of perfect beauty. Yes, the old saying — s saying — is true, "O soul, thou art by nature Christian"; as He only sanctions thy yearnings for immortality, so Jesus only satisfies thy sense of moral beauty. He does more. The soul, approving, desires to love; but love requires an object — what object like Thee, O uncreated beauty!
II. If the soul is so endowed by God, it follows necessarily that GOD HAS A CLAIM UPON THE SOUL. It is on success in realising, remembering, acting upon this truth of our relationship to God, that so much of our true happiness and, I may add, our true dignity depends. Of what character is this claim?
1. God has a rightful claim upon our conscious dependence. And you must render Him this service, oh! you must carefully render it, for many reasons — Clearly, because to do so is to do that which all sensible men should strive to do, to recognise and reverence facts. You do depend on God. Never imagine that, like an intrusive caller, you can bow God politely and contemptuously out of His creation; in spite of your puny insolence He is there.
2. Such recognition is only a just outcome of gratitude. Count up your blessings; perhaps they are so familiar to you, so strongly secured to your possession by what seem, from habit, indissoluble bonds, that you have forgotten that they are blessings. Better at once awake from that dream. The keeping alive the sense of conscious dependence upon God exercises upon our character a great moral influence. We never rise to the dignity of nature but by being natural. This dependence is one of those pure facts of nature which has imbibed none of the poison of the fall. Two powers accrue to the soul from cultivating the sense of it — resignation and strength. The Christian learns that the hand that gives, and gives so lavishly, may rightly be trusted to take away. All of us, — we may settle it in our minds, with no morbid fearfulness, but with quiet certainty, — all of us most sooner or later suffer — ay, and sharply. Let us pray so to know Him who made us, so to depend upon Him now, that when it pleases Him to try our constancy, we may, with a real resignation, "suffer and be strong." Seek your strength where alone it will be found available in a moment of crisis; cherish and stand upon the great thought of God.
III. GOD'S PRESERVING AND SO RICHLY ENDOWING THE SOUL GIVES HIM A CLAIM THAT IN ITS PLANS AND ACTIVITIES HE SHOULD HAVE THE FIRST PLACE. "Religion is that strong passion, that powerful virtue, which gives the true colour to all else." Give Him you first thoughts in the morning; try to act as in His presence, for His glory; let the thought of Him restrain a sinful pleasure, gladden an innocent delight; love Him through all He gives you, and all He gives love in Him. Young men, young women, remember it — "Them that honour Me I will honour." He depends on you for a portion of His glory. Angels do their part in song, in work, in worship; yours they cannot do. One work He called you to do. You entered the world, at a fixed time, to do just that work. When death comes, will it find you working in that spirit?
IV. GOD MAKES THIS CLAIM UPON YOU, THAT YOU DESPISE NO SOUL. This is difficult. We live in an age when, more than ever, judgment goes by appearances — an age of rush, of competition. The lad whom the schoolmaster ignored as stupid may turn out a Newton. The little newspaper boy you pass as so much lumber in the street may prove a Faraday; even intellectually, we may be mistaken. But a soul, as a soul, demands respect. Despise no soul, however debased and grimed and soiled. These souls are God's. The corruption of the morals of the poor pains you? It is true — lamentable how imposture dries the springs of charity and makes a cynic of the Christian. Never mind, life is full of sadness; but keep the heart fresh. In spite of all, there are beautiful souls about the world; and for all souls Jesus died. Despise no soul. At least, O Christian, pray for them.
V. SOME SERIOUS LESSONS.
1. The first is individual responsibility. Philosophers have fancied that each movement of thought displaces some molecule of the brain, so that every airy fancy registers itself in material fact. Anyhow, this is true: every free choice of the creature between good and evil has an eternal import, and it may be, it will be if you will have it so, a splendid destiny. "What shall I do, my father?" asked the barbarian conqueror, as he stood awe-stricken before the aged Benedict. Calmly the saint replied in this fashion, "My son, thou shalt enter Rome." "And then?" "Then thou shalt cross the sea, shalt sweep and conquer Sicily." "And then? Then thou shalt reign nine years; and then," said the father, "then thou shalt die, and then thou shalt be judged." We may hope, in part at least we may believe, the lesson was not lost on Totila. My brothers, have we learnt that lesson? The grave prerogative of the soul is this: life's struggle over, then it "shall be judged."
2. The soul's true beatitude is to know God. "Acquaint thyself with God, and be at peace." Duty and communion make up life, the life that is worthy of a soul. Is it yours? Remember, O soul, thy princely rank; aspire to God by a true, a loving life.
(Canon Knox Little.)
1. The first inference is, That man holds his soul in trust from God for the use of God. He has, indeed, implanted in you a will; but with that will He has also given two laws, — the law of conscience, and the moral law of Sinai; and that will must guide all its volitions according to these laws, and any breach of either is known to, and punishable, by God. The terms of trusteeship inscribed on each soul are — "Occupy till I come." Occupy the powers, the affections, the sensibilities, the will of this soul for Me. Occupy as My steward, for My glory; and whenever these souls are used for any purposes contrary to God's will, then is there in you great breach of moral trust, and that is sin. But not only is there a breach of trust in thus misusing the soul with which you are placed in trust, there is also involved in such conduct absolute treason and rebellion. God says your soul is His, consequently He has a right to rule over it, and. receive, its fealty as its governor and, king; but you cast aside His rule, and give your fealty and obedience to God's enemy. Is not this treason, rebellion? But we have not yet done with this inference that you hold your souls in trust for God; for your conduct in withholding your souls from Him is not only a breach of trust, not only treason, not only rebellion, but it is absolute robbery of God. I speak to you who are men of probity and honour, who would eat the crust of poverty sooner than betray a human trust — feel you no sense of shame in betraying the Divine trust which God has placed in your charge? I speak to you men of patriotism, who would shed your blood sooner than join the enemies of your country or foment rebellion against the government which protects you-feel you no compunctious smiting of conscience, no goadings of remorse, at your treason in adhering to the enemy of all righteousness, in being a child and follower and servant of him who plotted rebellion in heaven, who plotted rebellion on earth, and who is ever waging war with God?
2. This brings us to the second inference, which is — that all misuse of this trust is sin. God requires us to love Him with all our soul; this, He says, is the first and great commandment. Each want of conformity to this law is sin, for the apostle distinctly states, "Sin is a transgression of (or want of conformity to) the law." Each soul, then, which withholds itself from God does, by that act, break the first and great commandment, and consequently commits sin. And now, what does God in the text say of such sinning soul? "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." What a fearful doom is this! The two great elements of this death of the soul are — lst, The absence of all that constitutes everlasting life; 2nd, The presence of every thing that constitutes everlasting despair. There is forever present to the soul the consciousness of this its two-fold misery.
(Bp. Stevens.)I. GOD'S CLAIM TO OUR SERVICE. "All souls are Mine."
1. Being itself, notwithstanding its characteristic individuality, is of Divine origin. Need we go back to the remote ages of antiquity to search the register of creation for our pedigree? Are there not records nearer home that will answer that purpose? Look into that world of consciousness. There, in the depths of your being, you will find the record. The intellect which grasps knowledge, the moral sense which fights for the right, the affection which rises above every creature to a Divine level, and the will which arbitrarily determines our course of action, these are the entries in creation's register which prove that God is our Father.
2. The properties of life teach us the same truth. An unseen hand makes ample provision for our wants. We are sheltered by the mantle of His power: and the presence of the Almighty is our dwelling place. That presence is a wall of fire around us, to ward off destruction and death. Although our journey is through a waste-howling wilderness, the cloud by day and fiery pillar by night lead the way. His way is in the sea; His path in the great waters; and His footsteps are not known. A thousand voices herald His coming every morning; a thousand mercies witness to His goodness during the day. Out of the fruit of the earth, the light and the darkness, the sustenance and preservation of life; out of every part of nature, and every turn of providence, the voice calls, "All souls are Mine."
3. We will further take the more emphatic testimony of redemption. The hand of inspiration on the human mind, from the earliest ages, was a Divine claim on our thoughts. But we will pass by the long series of testimony under the patriarchal and Mosaic dispensations, in order to come to the mission of the Son of God. The substance of that mission is contained in the statement, "Our Father which art in heaven." By discourses and actions, the declaration was made to the world with an emphasis which impressed the truth indelibly on the mind of the race.
II. THIS HIGH AND HOLY RELATIONSHIP IMPOSES ITS OWN CONDITIONS.
1. Love to the being of God. Reconciliation by Jesus Christ leads to the conception that "God is love." "Pardon him," said the sergeant to the colonel of the regiment. The offending soldier had been punished many times, fill he hated every one of his comrades, and even virtue. He was pardoned. The effect was striking — he became a loving man. Jesus said of the sinner, "Pardon him," and for the first time he saw that "God is love."
2. Trustfulness in God's dealings. We are under an administration of law and order which we do not quite understand. The inclination of the child is often opposed to the father's wish. These two, ignorance on the one hand and perverseness on the other, must be subordinated to the will of God. This is the hard lesson of life.
3. Usefulness in God's vineyard. Life in earnest is the highest condition of life. The life of the tree touches its highest point when it throws off fruit in abundance. In conclusion, let us take a glance at the profitable life which blossoms for immortality. Its activities are sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Of the holy thoughts which revolve in the breast, the heavenly aspirations which rise in the heart, the gracious words which are uttered by the lips, and the kind deeds which are wrought in faith, of these God says, "They are Mine."
(T. Davies, M. A.)
(Dean Vaughan.)1. The immediate occasion of this word of the Lord by the prophet was a powerful objection made against the moral government of God. Punishment was not dealt out to the transgressor, and to him only; but his children were made to suffer too.
2. This misbelief of the people was very alarming; all the more so that an element of truth was at the base of it. Doubt is never more serious than when it questions the righteousness of God; and it is often easy to offer some show of reason for such a suggestion. Ezekiel had to do with a kind of misbelief which is not so very uncommon in our own time.
3. He met it, as such belief must always, I think, be met, not by denying the half-truth on which the objection rests; but by affirming the complementary truths of man's individual responsibility and God's absolute fairness. We do belong to the race, and we do inherit the consequences of other men's actions; but, none the less, each of us is a unit, dwelling in "the awful solitude of his own personality"; each of us is responsible for his own conduct, and must give his own account to God.
4. This rests on the fundamental truth that "all souls are God's." Men have a relation to God as well as to one another; and this is true not only of some men, but of all. We all live in God. What we inherit from our ancestors is not more important than what we receive, and may receive, from God, — it is vastly less important. The supreme fact in every human life is, not heredity, but God.
5. "All souls are God's." Every man lives in God, is sustained and preserved by God, is dealt with by God in his own individual personality; and that, not only in reference to material things, but in reference to the moral and spiritual aspects of life. As the all-embracing air is around each, so is the presence of God, and that is the guarantee for the government of each with perfect fair play, in mercy and righteousness and love.
6. The truth before us, then, is that every human soul is an object of God's care. In every man God has a personal interest. He deals with us, not in the mass, but one by one; not simply through the operation of unbending, universal law, or as a blind, impersonal force, but by a direct and vital contact.
7. I know that many among us find it almost impossible to share this belief, and it may be confessed freely that many things which we see around us are hard to reconcile with a strong faith in the truth which I am seeking to establish — the truth that God has a personal and individual care for every man — dealing with "all souls" in perfect wisdom, righteousness, and love. We find life full of glaring inequalities — surfeit and starvation side by side; Dives feasting luxuriously, and Lazarus longing for the wasted crumbs; bounding health that counts mere life a joy, and lingering sickness that prays for death as gain; happiness that scarcely knows an unsatisfied desire, and exquisite misery that hardly remembers a day's unbroken peace. We find the same inequality extending to spiritual privileges. Here men live in the full light of the Christian revelation, in a land of churches and Bibles, where helps to holy living are abundant. Yonder men dwell in pagan darkness, ignorant of Christian truth, destitute of Christian influence, surrounded by all that tends to degrade and deprave.
8. What, then, is our proper course in the presence of these difficulties? What can it be but to follow the example of Ezekiel in strongly affirming the fact? Let the fact of God's personal, individual, universal care be firmly grasped, and the difficulties will fall into their right place of comparative unimportance.
9. If you have any momentary difficulty in accepting this as true, reflect, I beseech you, what a horrible theory would be involved in its denial — the theory that for some of His children God has no kind thought, no tender feeling, no purpose of mercy and love; that for some men He does not care at all. He gave them life, and preserves them in being; but He does not love them. They have the same powers and capacities as ourselves, are made capable of trusting, loving, obeying, rejoicing in Him; but He has no merciful regard for them, He withholds the enlightening truth, the saving grace, the redeeming message; He shuts up His heart of compassions, and leaves them, as orphans in the wild, to perish miserably for lack of ministers of love. But this is infidelity of the very worst kind, the grossest and most mischievous.
10. Moreover, we may question if the sure signs of God's gracious care are absent from any life. They do not lie on the surface, and we may miss them at the first glance; but they are there, and larger knowledge would correct the thought that anyone has been neglected. For any right understanding of this matter we must get beyond the superficial reading of life which sees signs of Divine love in what is pleasant, and signs of anger in the unpleasant. The pruning of the tree shows the gardener's care, just as much as the supply of its obvious wants; and we should remember that in the education of life and character, the best results are sometimes secured by the most painful processes. It is with apparently neglected lives as it is with apparently neglected races and nations: a fuller acquaintance with them proves that they also have been objects of the Divine care. When Mungo Park, travelling in Central Africa, was ready to give himself up as lost, his failing courage was revived by a bit of moss on which his eye chanced to fall; and that reminded him that God was there. And if some leaf of grass or tiny flower is a witness to the nearness and active energy of God, is not such witness to be recognised in every devout thought, every idea of right and truth and duty, every effort to attain to a knowledge of God and to render to Him acceptable service?
11. And if, look where we will, in every land and among all people, we may find some witness to God's care of the individual life, it is only in the Gospel of Christ that we find the full measure of His care adequately set forth. As might naturally be expected, since He came to reveal the Father, there is no such witness to the care of God for His children as Jesus Christ. His doctrine, His life, and His death constitute a three-fold testimony, so clear, so ample, so emphatic that one could scarcely wish for more.(1) He taught that God loves the world; is gracious to the wicked, merciful to the undeserving, kind to the unthankful and the evil.(2) His life also gave emphasis to the same great truth — the truth of God's care for the individual soul. Though a mighty Teacher, having the ear of multitudes, He devoted a large part of His time to the instruction of men and women one by one.(3) And since there was no greater thing He could do to show the Father's care — no greater sacrifice that He could make in His unspeakable love that imaged God's great love — He gave Himself to die upon the Cross a ransom for our sins. He died, the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God. He suffered for you and me, for each because for all, for the whole world; therefore, for every soul that is in the world.
(G. Hill, M. A.)
The Thinker.I. THE VALUE OF THE HUMAN SOUL.
1. "All souls are Mine" appears to imply a distinction and dignity as to their origin. Father and son may share together flesh and blood, but the soul is a direct creation from God. It has personality; for it is — each soul is — a separate creation of Almighty God.
2. Creationism appears to protect the soul's spirituality and its solitariness in a way Traducianism certainly does not; though it accentuates the mysteriousness of the doctrine of the Fall. The soul comes from God, not as a part of His substance, which is heresy, but by a creative act of His will. This infusion of the soul puts man, "as distinguished from the brute, in a conscious relation to God" (Aubrey Moore), and this is the very root of religion.
3. Souls, too, belong to God in a way the material creation does not — they are made in His image "and likeness"; they are a created copy of the Divine life. They find in Him not only the beginning, but the end of their being. They hold communion with Him, can be conscious of His presence and touch, and can respond to His love. The soul possesses faculties and moral qualities "which are shadows of the infinite perfections of God" (Pusey).
4. The soul's value may be further estimated by the Infinite Love of the Son of God in dying to save us.
II. THE SOUL'S SEPARATE ACCOUNTABILITY. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die."
1. These words are repeated in verse 20, with the addition, "The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father." But in Lamentations 5:7 it is written, "Our fathers have sinned, and we have borne their iniquities."
2. There are two limits to the declaration, "The son shall not bear," etc. One is that it refers only to personal sin, and not to original sin; for we are conceived and born in sin, because of the disobedience of our first father, Adam. This is a fundamental doctrine of the Christian Faith (Romans 5:12-21). Another is that the words only refer to the temporal penalties of sin, not to the guilt (culpa); even with regard to results of sin, the tenor of the commandment, "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me," or "to those that hate Me," appears to imply that the children are imitators of their parents' sins, and so become themselves accountable. They only share the iniquities of their fathers "if the children imitate the evil example of the parents" ( St. Gregory, Moral., 15:41). But "external" consequences of sin, which do not affect the relation of the soul to God, do descend from father to son, entailing suffering or defect. The destruction of Jerusalem is the turning point of the Book of Ezekiel, and a great number of infants who had no responsibility perished in the siege.
3. But the prophet does not touch upon these exceptions, as he is occupied with emphasising "that aspect of the question" which the proverb ignored, "and which, though not the sole truth, is nevertheless an important part of the truth, viz., that individual responsibility never ceases" (Driver). No actual sin is ever transferred from one soul to another, nor eternal penalty incurred through the misdeeds of ancestors.
4. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." In other words, sin is personal fault, not misfortune; sin is a free act of the soul, not a necessity: "the soul that sinneth." Sin is "the misuse of freedom" (Luthardt). Sin, deadly sin, separates the soul from God, the Source of life, and so brings about spiritual death, as the separation of the soul from the body brings about physical death.
5. Each soul is accountable before God, and cannot attribute justly its misdeeds to some ancestral strain which makes for anything but righteousness, nor to present circumstances.
1. To be careful, amid the seeming perplexities of God's providence, not to impugn the Divine justice or equity (ver. 25).
2. To strive to realise the value of the soul, and how it belongs to God, and to make God the Beginning and End of our being; also to reflect upon the separateness of our existence, whilst outwardly so much mingled with the lives of others.
3. The heinousness of sin, the only real evil, which injures or kills the soul's life, should lead to hatred of sin and watchfulness against it.
4. Whilst the innate responsibility of each soul before God should prevent us from making excuses for sin, and from resorting to the meanness and injustice of charging others with being the cause of our iniquities, for which we alone are personally accountable (Romans 14:12).
(The Thinker.)I. THE UNIVERSAL RESPONSIBILITY OF MAN.
1. Explanation of the terms of this proposition. When we speak of the responsibility of man, we mean that tie or bond or obligation or law necessarily springing from the relations in which he stands, and the circumstances in which he is placed, — by which he is not only bound to demean himself in a manner answerable thereto, and is liable to the penalties of failing therein, in respect of his own welfare and that of others with whom he is surrounded and brought into daily contact; but more especially is this the case in reference to the supreme God, to whom all his allegiance is directly due, and from whose hands he must finally receive a gracious approbation, or a most fearful and eternal condemnation. Again, when we speak of the universality of this responsibility, or obligation, we mean that it applies both to all individual persons and to all relative or social or other orderly circumstances, by which human beings are connected together, and dependent upon each other; and that in all these relations this obligation is more especially to be considered in reference to their accountability to the Lord.(1) If you consider man as a creature, the work of God's hand, the law of his responsibility, as such, binds him to "love the Lord thy God with all thy heart," etc.(2) If you consider man as a sinner, a rebel against the law and the authority of God, his responsibility appears in new and vastly increased proportions.(3) The same equally applies, although in a still stronger point of view, to the state and condition of man as a sinner, placed under a dispensation of mercy. Now, as he values the life of his soul, and the favour of God, he is bound to repent of his sins and believe the Gospel.(4) Again, if you consider man as a happy believer in Christ, pardoned and accepted in the Beloved, you must still consider him as a responsible creature, bound in a new and higher manner to love and adore the God of his salvation; while the very mercy he has received not only lays him under the new claims of gratitude and love, but evinces the equity of his former obligations, and honours and fulfils them all.(5) Or if you advance a step further, and consider him as a glorified saint in heaven, there the obligation rises to the highest pitch, and there it is perfectly rendered, and will be so forever. Every penalty is here paid, and every claim is here fulfilled.(6) Or yet again once more, if you see the devil and his angels, and the wicked, and all the nations that forget God, cast into hell, and suffering together the vengeance of eternal fire, you there behold the creature's responsibility exhibited in the most awful and tremendous manner.
2. In its expansive nature and particular detail. Consider it in reference —(1) To our individual character. Every person throughout the whole earth, whether high or low, or rich or poor, comes within the sphere of its influence.(2) In its relative extent. The law of responsibility enters into all the various orders and relations of society, and pervades and sways over the whole.(3) In its aggregate amount. But who can calculate this amount, or reckon up the untold liabilities of the creature, as they congregate upon his head in the relative positions in which he stands, or in the social gradations with which he is invested?(4) And can anything be more lovely and beautiful in itself, or more equitable, reasonable, and holy, in its obligations and claims, than the systematic proportions of such an order and constitution of things as this? Here is nothing redundant, nothing unnecessary, nothing unfit, nothing that does not conduce to the mutual benefit and advance the welfare of all!
II. SOME AWAKENING REFLECTIONS NECESSARILY ARISING THEREFROM.
1. How needful it is that every person should seek to be thoroughly grounded in the doctrine of man's universal responsibility.
2. What a clear ground for universal conviction and condemnation! The glittering crown is no screen from this allegation, nor the royal robe any covering from this guilt. Dignity, honour, wealth, fame, talents, abilities, lordly palaces, princely incomes, can neither shield the guilty culprit nor avert the sentence to which he is exposed. Nor can any inferiority of rank or station elude its piercing eye, or escape its widely extended arm. It is the law of our being; and therefore it will find us out, wherever we are and whatever we do.
3. What a vast amount of guilt lies at every man's door! Talents neglected; abilities abused; influence and authority averted from the cause of God and His truth, and dedicated to the service of pleasure and sin.
4. How just will be the righteous judgment of God upon all impenitent sinners at last!
5. Let all who would escape that fearful doom bethink themselves in time, and flee to the appointed refuge while mercy may be had.
(R. Shittler.)1. It would be too much to say that Ezekiel discovered the individual, for no true prophet could ever have lost him. However clear-cut a unity the State may have appeared to earlier prophets, they read life too soberly, too earnestly to imagine it had any guilt or glory that was not contributed to it by its individual members. No preacher preaches to his ideal, but to someone whom he is anxious to direct towards it. It was the dissolution of the Hebrew State that helped Ezekiel to realise and formulate his new message. At first he, like his predecessors, spoke to the people as a chosen whole. He had come to Tel-Abib, to "them of the captivity," he had sat among them for a week "astonished," when the Lord came to him, appointing him to be a watchman, to hear the word of warning at God's mouth, and deliver it unrevised to the wicked and to the righteous, one by one (Ezekiel 3:16-21). Then the individual seems to disappear, and the State stands before him: "For they are a...house (Ezekiel 3:26). His signs and his parables are for the house of Israel. So, again, his Thus saith the Lord God unto the land of Israel" has in it a personification of the State that is peculiarly intense.
2. So the prophet seems, in sign after sign, in parable after parable, to cling to the old phrase of a sacred collectivism. But the new individualism suddenly, and more intensely, reappears (chap. Ezekiel 18). The people tried to make an excuse of heredity: "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge." In our own days, as in those of Ezekiel, no doctrine has been more inconsiderately abused than that of heredity. The prophet attempts, to undo the harm done through the proverb by a profound statement in God's name: "All souls are Mine." God can never be careless of His possessions. To Him their intrinsic value never changes. The prophet does not so much deny the fact of hereditary transmission as deny its relevancy to the consideration of personal guilt. He takes, for illustration, three generations: a good father, a wicked son, a good grandson. Whatever advantages the wicked son inherits, they do not save him from the consequences of his personal wrong-doing; nor does the grandson's legacy of disadvantages rob him of the fruit of his right-doing. The just "shall surely live"; the wicked, between a just father and just son, shall "die in his iniquity" (vers. 5-18). If every soul is equally related to God, that relation overrides the relation of one soul to another. We are judged, not at the circumference, but from the centre. Heredity, at most, is only one of the modes of our mutual relation as created beings; it cannot affect the Creator's mind. To Him the father stands as distinctly apart from the son as if there were no son, and the son as distinctly apart from the father as if he were fatherless. Men may act together, and act one upon another, but each of them will have to God an individual worth. A soul is forever His soul. The accountability of a soul, its guilt or redemption, lies supremely in its relation to God. "All souls are Mine." The prophet proceeds to declare that life's present may be cut clear from life's past. A tradition of righteousness cannot save a soul that has fallen into actual wickedness; a tradition of wickedness cannot undo a soul that strives after righteousness. What the world does impulsively, often blindly, God does with due regard to the moral secret of the "thousand victories" and the "once foiled." He watches for the throb of new beginnings: He sees the "imperfect substance" of our desires and deeds. And yet we must be careful not to force the prophet's teaching. A man may suffer for his father's sins, or for the sins of his own past life; he may suffer, and yet not be deprived of the privileges of the new kingdom. The inviolable relation is not that of a soul to another, or to its own past, but to God. "All souls are Mine."
3. The vision grows upon the prophet, and so he comes to make his still more ample announcement: "Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked? saith the Lord God: and not rather that he should return from his way, and live?" It would seem as if the despair of man won from God His profoundest secret, His most healing revelation. The State was failing to pieces, Israel was scattered and unbrothered; but God met each individual son and daughter of Israel with this great message — repeated later on, and confirmed "with an oath," to use the language of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 6:13, 17) — "As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked" (Ezekiel 33:11). Though our "dim eyes" are unable, after all our endeavours, to comprehend the place of what seem to us finite emotions in the Infinite Mind, we will still cherish the tender, the brave Gospel, that God has "no pleasure" in the death of the wicked.
4. We need Ezekiel's teaching today in many ways. The individual is always tempted to hide from himself, or hide from his brother. He is more and more tempted to rely upon the State, or upon the Church. Man belongs to himself and to God, and to no other, in the final issue. "Bear ye one another's burdens" — in his relation to his fellow creatures, "for each man shall bear his own burden" — in his relation to God. Whatever a man may suffer from one or the other, or both, his hell is not from his parents or from his past, while he has the power, by God's help, any moment — any brief, immeasurable moment — to cut his soul loose from the things that are behind, and set sail for the Paradise of God. "The son shall not bear the iniquity of his father," etc. (vers. 20, 27, 28). A man is master of his fate the moment he lets the mercy of God find him. It was not the discussion, for its own sake, that concerned the prophet. He wanted to come close to the soul of each individual, in order to make his fervent appeal: "Make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" So earnest is he in emphasising man's share in his own renewal, that he seems almost to forget God's share; but the reverse would be true regarding the vision of the Valley of Dry Bones. It is this ineffaceable signature of the Eternal Spirit in man that makes him worthy for God to contend with in holy mercy (Ezekiel 20:35, 36). No soul meets its final fate before somewhere, somehow meeting God face to face. There is no mere accident in the damnation of any soul. It is a deliberate choice, after an ultimate controversy (Isaiah 1:18-20). "As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked."
(H. E. Lewis.)Bible mean that 'to die' in this sentence is to perish utterly and forever, or does it mean that the sinner must be punished for his sin and suffer forever?" Now we will ask Ezekiel. Suppose we had this old Israelitish prophet with us, and that we interrogated him concerning the meaning of his own words. I can assure you that he would be most astonished to hear the questions which I have just repeated. He would say: "I was not speaking of mortality or immortality; I was speaking of the quality of life, and I was thinking for the moment of the immediate future of my beloved Israel." Let us follow him through the experiences that made him say this, and you will see very soon what he means. This prophet is a prisoner. He is in the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. He is one of the Israelitish remnant that have been torn from their home, and by whom the plaintive song is sung, "By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down and wept, we wept when we remembered Zion." But these captives were not all that there was of Israel. There was still an Israel at home, and a very bad Israel it was. And this Ezekiel, who was a contemporary of the Jeremiah who wrote the Lamentations over that wicked Israel, was looking from his land of captivity far away to the Jerusalem from which he had been torn, and was speaking to his fellow captives thus: "Beloved fellow prisoners, our day of deliverance is coming, but it can only come after yonder evil Jerusalem is razed to the ground. Ours it shall be to rebuild the temple, ours it shall be to worship God in a purified sanctuary in the homeland once more. Yonder Israel is preparing her own destruction. As u nation she must perish for her sins." Beware, you selfish, unpatriotic, slave-hearted men, who are living contentedly in the abominations of the Babylonians. We shall go to the homeland, but the soul that sinneth here, unworthy of the high calling, shall die to Israel, shall be outside the covenant. By soul he simply meant man. By die he meant remain a slave, or bear the penalty of exclusion from the glorious return. Since Ezekiel wrote we have learned a great deal more as to what is meant by the word "soul." The principle upon which he laid emphasis here is this, that the man who is doing wrong to his God does wrong to himself. He is not worthy to rebuild the Temple. He is not worthy to return to the Holy Land. And no nation will suffer for him. God's purposes cannot be foiled. The soul that sinneth, and that alone, must perish. Now what are we to say "the soul" means? In the earliest portions of this marvellous Book of Books the word "soul" means little more than the animating principle of all organisms. "The soul" means the breath or the life that distinguishes the things which are organic from the things which are not. Trees and flowers in that sense have and are souls. "Let everything that hath breath — let everything that hath soul — praise the soul." Then it came to mean, as we see, by a narrowing but by an intensification of its meaning, the animating principle of human consciousness. And so the word, delimitated, gradually expanded its meaning at the same time that it narrowed it, until in the New Testament and in the later prophecies of the Old Testament the word soul simply means the man. The soul is man's consciousness of himself, as apart from all the rest of all the world, and even from God. What are we to do with it, this soul of ours, this that marks me as me apart from all mankind? Why, to fill it with God. "This is life eternal, that they may know Thee, the only true God." Death is the absence of that fellowship with God. Now we begin to understand what Christ meant — that it were possible for a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul. In other words, he is destroying the Godlike within himself, he is failing in that for which he was created, he is perishing even where he seems to succeed. This, again, is what Paul means when he says he dies to himself that he may live to God. "Ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God." Nor is this false to what the prophet says: "When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive." The question of questions for any of us is this, "What kind of soul are we building? Is our attitude lifeward or deathward? Are we destroying that beautiful thing that God has given into our keeping?" We will now speak about the same truth in relation to ordinary, average human experience or acquaintance with life. Do any of you know, as I too well know, what it is to have a childhood's companion or a youth's friend of whom much was expected, bug the promise has never been fulfilled? Do you remember that lad who sat beside you in the day school years ago of whom the masters and proud parents said thug one day the world would ring with his name? The boy was endowed with almost every gift that could be thought of for making his way in life. Well, what has come to him? We have lost sight of him for a few years maybe, and yesterday we met him. What was it that gave us a shock and a thrill, a sudden sinking of the heart, as we looked into his countenance? Why, this — something was missing that ought to have been there, and something was there we never thought to see. The thing that was missing was life, and the thing that was present was death. That man has lived to the flesh, and of the flesh has reaped corruption. In doing it he has limited, imprisoned, destroyed his own better nature, until now, all involuntarily as it were, as you look on the beast, that gazes out of his eyes, you shudderingly say: "He is utterly without soul." "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." Amongst my circle of friends there is one whose name you may probably have heard, a man well advanced in years, and better known to an earlier generation than to yours and mine, I mean George Jacob Holyoake. This man is not a Christian, but those who have any acquaintance with his record know that he has done a good many Christian things. I have been reading lately a book in which he has put some recollections of his past. He calls it "Bygones Worth Remembering," and in it he tells the story of some of his moral activities, and of the men with whom he shared enthusiasms in earlier days. Amongst those who called him friend were General Garibaldi and the patriot Mazzini. In this book he tells of an occasion on which Mazzini, who was a God-intoxicated man, and whose motto was "God and the People," reasoned with him and with Garibaldi on their materialism, and gave utterance to a sentence of this kind: "No man without a sense of God can possess a sense of duty." Garibaldi instantly retorted impetuously: "But I am not a believer in God. Have I no sense of duty?" "Ah," said Mazzini, with a smile, "you drew in your sense of duty with your mother's milk." I could not read an incident like that without a feeling akin to reverence for these great souls with a great ideal, Holyoake served his generation well, so did Garibaldi, so did Mazzini. They were men of soul. Would you deny that they possessed moral and spiritual life? These men were all ALIVE. Mazzini's theology gave way in the presence of the splendid fact. It is the quality of the life into which we have to examine. There is no question but the life was there. I quoted this morning from the story of the life of John G. Paton, as told by himself, the veteran missionary. Will you let me read to you this man's account of the daily habits of his father, and the influence it had on his life? "That father was a stocking weaver, a poor man in one of the poor districts of Scotland." "But," says J.G. Paton, "he was a man of prayer." There was one little room in between the "but" and the "ben" of that house, as the Scots call it, into which he retired daily, and often many times a day. The experience of this old Scottish weaver, which cast such a spell on the life of his son, is as much a fact of the universe as the rain that is falling outside, and it needs to be accounted for and given its due place. It is the most precious thing in the whole range of possible human experience that a man might walk with God, that the light eternal might shine in his heart, that the soul might live. Truly this is life, to know God and Jesus Christ whom He hath sent. Contrast again in your mind for a moment this experience with that of the man you will meet tomorrow, of whom you will say, such a one is dead to right feeling, such another is dead to truth and honour, and, saddest of all, perhaps, you may say of some cynical, selfish being, he is dead to love. But what are YOU doing? You are either marching towards the ideal of Paton's father or you are marching away from it. To be as full of moral passion as a Holyoake or a Garibaldi is better than to live for self or the world alone. But how few there are who know what true life is. God knew where it was to be. In my greenhouse sometimes I see a plant, from which I expected something, marring its promise. One tiny speck of rust on a white petal, and I know my plant is doomed. That speck is death; there will be another tomorrow, and yet another to follow. Presently the soul, so to speak, of my little plant will be destroyed. Every time you commit a sinful act you destroy something beautiful which God made to bloom within your nature, you have a speck of death upon your soul. And every time you lift heart and mind and will heavenward, and every time your being aspires to God and truth, and every time the noble and the heroic and the beautiful have dominion over you (for these are God) then you are entering into life.
(R. J. Campbell, M. A.)
Christian Herald.Mr. Thomas, a Baptist missionary, was one day addressing a crowd of natives on the banks of the Ganges, when he was accosted by a Brahmin as follows: "Sir, don't you say that the devil tempts men to sin?" "Yes," answered Mr. Thomas. "Then," said the Brahmin, "certainly the fault is the devil's; the devil, therefore, and not man, ought to suffer punishment." While the countenances of many of the natives discovered how pleased they were with what the Brahmin had said, Mr. Thomas, observing a boat with several men on board descending the river, replied, with that facility of retort with which he was gifted, "Brahmin, do you see yonder boat?" "Yes." "Suppose I were to send some of my friends to destroy every person on board, and bring me all that is valuable in the boat — who ought to suffer punishment? I, for instructing them, or they for doing this wicked act?" "Why," answered the Brahmin, with emotion, "you ought all to be put to death together." "Ay, Brahmin," replied Mr. Thomas, "and if you and the devil sin together, the devil and you will be punished together."
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