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‘Then said He unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery? for they say, The Lord seeth us not; the Lord hath forsaken the earth.’
One characteristic of modern religious thought and life is the ineffective impression of the evil of sin. Sin has two spheres—the conduct, the heart. It is often over-valued as act and under-valued as thought. Religious experiences change our estimate of the two forms of sin. At first we make much of acts of sin and fear of judgment. By and by we think so much more of a deceitful heart and of sinfulness. Advanced Christians know so much more of sin, but their confession of sinful acts is less prominent.
The work of the old prophets was to show sin and righteousness as heart things. See connexion of text, and compare David’s penitential psalms. An appeal on this point may be made to our deepest Christian feelings and convictions. When we have mastered our lives, how well we know that still the heart needs watching, cleansing, and sweetening. Who of us would tell all his thoughts to his best friend? We could not bear for any one to know us altogether save our Father God.
The text brings to our thought our secret heart sins.
I. The forms they take.—On this we cannot dwell minutely, but, to sensitive hearts, we may profitably dwell suggestively. (1) Inward infidelities. Mistrustings, scepticisms, neglects of inward monitions, etc. (2) Inward idolatries. As hinted in the words, ‘They feared the Lord, and served other gods.’ Such as heart-clinging to wealth; heart-pride in children; heart-satisfaction in learning; worship of self. (3) Inward sensualities. Relics of old evil left in the thoughts and feelings. In these things ‘each heart knoweth its own bitterness,’ and the servant of God may well say to us all, ‘Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.’
II. The outward circumstances that foster them.—For manifestly the outward is suggestive to thought, (1) Neglect of religious duties gives the heart space for evil. (2) The tone of society is often sceptical and frivolous. (3) Danger of sensational and questionable moral literature. (4) Character of associations in daily life and friendships. (5) The humorous is too often playful with evil, and defiling.
III. The intellectual conceptions which encourage them.—See in text the delusion excusing secret transgressions. Dwell on such ideas as these—(1) Sin is not really sin until expressed in overt acts. Show our Lord’s teaching respecting murder, heart-hatred, coveting, etc. (2) The Lord doth not see. It is said of Christ, ‘He knew what was in man.’ (3) The Lord is merciful. So He is, but see Psalms 62:12. Take the language and teachings of Psalms 139 as representing the intellectual ideas which would have the proper searching and sanctifying influence upon us. Here is the real root of backsliding, and just here the sphere for the full redemptive work. God must cleanse for us the very ‘chambers of imagery.’ While some ask, ‘Can Jesus Christ save me from sin’s penalty?’ others have learned to ask, with even more anxiety, ‘Can Jesus Christ save me from sin’s power? Can He reach even the very mind, and conscience, and heart, with His regenerating power? Can He save even from the bad self?’ And the full glory of His redemptive grace is that He can. Still, we must see the other side of the truth: God works in the line of our striving. We may neglect, starve, crush evil thoughts. When they come, we may turn to God in prayer. We may watch against the circumstances that seem to encourage them, and we may ever remember that ‘as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.’
‘How little were these men suspected of participating in such scenes! What a terrible revelation was this! It reminds us of the judgment seat, when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed, and where God will bring into judgment every secret thing, whether it be good or bad. Modern science has given us the X-ray, which brings to light the secret defect of bone and joint, but here is a ray which unveils the secrets of the soul. How necessary it is to ask the Holy Ghost to cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by His inspiration, that we may perfectly love God, and magnify His holy Name!’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Ezekiel 8". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent