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The Assimilation of Doctrine
I. The mere swallowing of food is not enough unless it be assimilated and digested; yet it is a necessary condition of digestion. So with our beliefs; we swallow them wholesale by an act of extrinsic faith based on the word of others; and such faith is like the prop that supports a plant till it strikes root downwards and becomes self-supporting. They are not ours fully save in the measure that we have worked them into the fabric of our life and thought.
II. So too with Divine revelation whose mysteries are obscure, not because God wants to hide truth from us, but because we are not educated sufficiently, either mentally or morally, to apprehend them aright. Its purpose is to enlighten us, not to puzzle us; to improve our mind, not to stultify it. Our intelligence should, so to say, eat its way gradually into the meaning of what at first we hold to be merely by obedient assent. Yet there is ever a Beyond of mystery; for the more we know, the more we wonder. It needs understanding to understand the extent of our ignorance. It is precisely as being beyond us that revelation provokes the growth of our mind. We strain upwards and find the outlook ever widening around us; and from each question answered, a new brood of doubt is born.
III. Let us not then imagine that we have finished our duty by swallowing revelation wholesale in submission to external authority; we swallow that we may digest, and we digest that we may live the eternal life of the mind and heart by an intelligent sympathy with the mind and heart of God.
G. Tyrrell, Oil and Wine, p. 69.
He who has a faith, we know well, is twice himself. The world, the conventional or temporary order of things, goes down before the weapons of faith, before the energy of those who have a glimpse, or only think they have a glimpse, of the eternal or normal order of things.
Professor J. R. Seeley.
Pain, danger, difficulty, steady slaving toil, and other highly disagreeable behests of destiny, shall in no wise be shirked by any brightest mortal that will approve himself loyal to his mission in this world; nay, precisely the higher he is, the deeper will be the disagreeableness, and the detestability to flesh and blood, of the tasks laid on him; and the heavier too, and more tragic, his penalties if he neglect them.
'The man rises before us,' says Carlyle of Fichte, 'amid contradiction and debate, like a granite mountain amid cloud and wind. Ridicule, of the best that could be commanded, has been already tried against him; but it could not avail. What was the wit of a thousand wits to him? The cry of a thousand choughs assaulting that old cliff of granite; seen from the summit, these, as they winged the midway air, showed scarce so gross as beetles, and their cry was seldom ever audible.
References. III. 12. W. C. Magee, Growth in Grace, p. 237. G. Matheson, Voices of the Spirit, p. 80.
In the campaign of 1886, Mr. Gladstone wrote as follows in his journal, on the morning of the closing day at Liverpool: 'Worked up the Irish question once more for my last function. Seven or eight hours of processional uproar, and a speech of an hour and forty minutes to fire at six thousand people in Hengler's Circus. Few buildings give so noble a presentation of an audience. Once more my voice held out in a marvellous manner. I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit, but the hand of the Lord was strong upon me.'
King Charilaus of Sparta was of a gentle nature, as is proved by the words of his colleague, King Archelaus, who, when some were praising the youth, said, 'How can Charilaus be a good man, if he is not harsh even to wicked men?'
'The fire in his soul burnt to the end,' says Froude of Carlyle, 'and sparks flew from it, which fell hot on those about him, not always pleasant, not always hitting the right spot or the right person; but it was pure fire notwithstanding, fire of genuine and noble passion, of genuine love for all that was good, and genuine indignation at what was mean or base or contemptible.'
References. III. 14. G. Matheson, Voices of the Spirit, p. 80. III. 15. W. Matthews, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiii. 1908, p. 52.
Upon a cliff... is a clay-built lighthouse-like watch-tower. The watchman (who must be clearsighted) is paid by a common contribution: his duty is to look forth, in the spring months, from the day-rising till the going-down of the sun; for this is the season when the villagers who have called in their few milch-goats send them forth to pasture without the oasis. We saw the man standing unquietly in his gallery, at the towerhead, in the flame of the sun; and turning himself to every part, he watched, under the shadow of his hand, all the fiery waste of sand before him.
Doughty, Arabia Deserta, II. p. 311.
Writing from the island of Ischia in 1827, Erskine of Linlathen observes: 'La Sentinella is the name of my inn; and it received its name from its being the post of an outlook who gave notice of the approach of Saracen corsairs, who used to ravage this country some centuries ago, and carry off the inhabitants as slaves. It commands the whole view of the Neapolitan coast.'
Public life is a situation of power and energy; he trespasses against his duty who sleeps upon his watch, as well as he that goes over to the enemy.
Burke, On the Present Discontents.
References. III. 17. W. J. Kennedy, The English Clergyman and the Present Times, p. 1. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv. No. 1431.
I know that the world offended (by Goddes permission) may kill the bodie, but Goddes maiestie offended hath power to punishe bodie and soule for ever. His maiestie is offended, when that his preceptes are contemned, and his threateninges estemed to be of none effect, and amongest his manifold preceptes geven to his prophetes, and amongest his threateninges, none is more vehement then is that which is pronounced to Ezechiel in these wordes: Sonne of man, I have appointed thee a watchman to the house of Israel, that thou shouldest heare from my mouthe the worde, and that thou maist admonishe them plainlie, when I shall say to the wicked man: O wicked, thou shalt assuredlie die.... This precept, I say, with the threatning annexed, to-gither with the rest, that is spoken in the same chapter, not to Ezechiel onlie but to euerie one whom God placeth whatchman over his people and flocke, compelleth me to utter my conscience in this matter, notwithstanding that the whole world should be offended with me for so doing.
John Knox, from the Preface to the First Blast.
Compare the close of Baxter's preface to his Call to the Unconverted. 'Reader, I have done with thee when thou hast perused this book; but sin hath not done with thee, even those that thou thoughtest had been forgotten long ago; and Satan hath not done with thee, though he be now out of sight; and God hath not yet done with thee, because thou wilt not be persuaded to have done with the deadly reigning sin.... I beseech thee, I charge thee to hear and obey the call of God, and resolvedly to turn, that thou mayest live. But if thou wilt not, even when thou hast no true reason for it, but because thou wilt not, I summon thee to answer it before the Lord, and require thee there to bear me witness that I gave thee warning, and that thou wast not condemned for want of a call to turn and live, but because thou wouldst not believe it and obey it.'
The Bible is full of private conversations, or individual and strictly confidential interviews.
Why not talk with the Prophet in the city? Is the city without Divine messages? Are the countless throngs upon the city streets very far from God? Not necessarily. God speaks as surely in the city as in the desert. By unexpected events, by labour and strife, by the various fortunes of vice, and the amazing struggles of virtue, God speaks to men with distinctness and solemnity. The point is that busy men may hear God in solitude, and solitary men may hear Him in the city. Change of mere position may have moral advantages. In the great temple of the sea we may offer peculiar worship; in the quiet sanctuary of the wilderness we may hear the softest tones of heaven. This should be insisted upon so as to destroy the fallacy that in the absence of any one set of outward circumstances worship is impossible.
In the text there are three points of deep interest: I. The speciality of God's appointments. He appoints places, times, methods. He appoints, in this case, the plain. 'Where two or three are gathered together,' etc.; 'Wheresoever My name is recorded,' etc. Where the appointment is special, the obedience should be instantaneous, cordial, punctual.
II. The personality of God's communication: 'I will talk with thee'. We should know more of God if we held closer intercourse with Him. We may go to God directly. Every devout meditation brings us into the Divine presence. Expect this; believe it; realize it. In the sanctuary we are not hearing the voice of man, but of God. In nature we hear the Divine voice. God talks with man in the garden in the cool of the day.
III. The familiarity of God's condescension: 'I will talk with thee'. It is a friend's appointment.
It is not, 'I will lighten and thunder,' or 'I will overpower thee with My strength,' but, 'I will talk with thee,' as a father might talk to his only son. Though the Prophet was at first thrown down, yet the Spirit entered into him, and set him upon his feet. Application. (1) God has ever something to say to man. Must have ( a ) as a Ruler; ( b ) as a Father. His word is ever new. (2) In seeking solitude, man should seek God. Solitude without God leads to madness.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. I. p. 235.
References. III. 22. P. Morrison, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xl. 1891, p. 70. III. 22, 23. R. G. Colquhoun, ibid. vol. lxx. 1906, p. 292. III. 24. G. Matheson, Voices of the Spirit, p. 84. IV. 1. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. ii. p. 236.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Ezekiel 3". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25