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The heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.
God’s care of His Church
1. God is not tied to places. He can in a dungeon, in a prison, in a Babylon, let down His Spirit into the heart of any servant of His, and raise him to a prophetical height.
2. No place is so wicked but God can raise up instruments to do Him and the Church service there.
3. See here a door open for the enlargement of the Church, a type of God’s goodness toward the Gentiles.
4. The godly are wrapped up in the same calamity with the wicked. Ezekiel is among the captives.
5. The godly are mingled in this world with the wicked and profane.
6. God hath a special care of His Church and people, when they are in the lowest and worst condition. They shall have a prophet, though in Babylon.
7. Take heed of judging the condition of men by their outward afflictions. Those that are in great affliction may be greatly beloved, when those who are in great prosperity may be greatly hated.
8. The wicked fare the better for the godly. (W. Green Hill, M. A.)
Visions of God
Observe the nature of the prophet’s preparation for his work. It was not an outward call; it was not a visible stamp of authority or office given to him that men might see--he had that as priest before he was called to be a prophet; but it was that secret vision of God, it was that unseen speech of his soul with the Spirit of his God and of the Spirit of God with his soul that he could never demonstrate or prove to other men. That for them might be a dream of dreams, a visionary record of what never happened; but for Him from that hour it was the most real of all realities--a living voice through all his life, that shaped and coloured it long after, and that drove him forth amongst his fellow men, now to speak to them, as he tells us, in the bitterness of his spirit, and now under the burden of the Lord to sit down astonished and silent with them in their sorrow; but that made him a new, a different man for the rest of his life--from the moment that he saw and heard those visions of God and the voice of God within them. This was the secret preparation of the prophet for the prophet’s work, and this is just that hidden preparation for God’s work amongst men which our Church distinctly recognises the necessity of in all those who seek her ministry, while she as distinctly recognises the need for the outward and visible call. The outward call does not do away with the need of the inward voice and calling, nor does the inward voice and preparation supersede the need of the outward call and mission. It was not so in Ezekiel’s case. The one joined itself on to and grew out of the other. When Ezekiel the priest was called by this hidden and overmastering voice of God, when he was called to do a special prophet’s work, it was not an unknown God whose glory he was bid to see; it was the God of his fathers, the God who had formed and organised the Jewish Church and the Jewish priesthood of which Ezekiel was a member. And the voice which bid him go was not to him an unknown voice; it was a voice that had led his ancestors through the wilderness, that had spoken to them God’s law from Sinai, and the very visions of glory that he beheld weaved themselves out of and grew, as it were, out of the priest’s memory of the worship of the temple. The inward call sprang out of, joined itself to, rose naturally, and all the more forcibly out of the outward position and the outward calling of the man. And so is it in all settled and orderly churches. Yes; this is the true preparation and the true mission of him who would be a prophet, a speaker for God amongst the sons of men. He must be, if he is to be a successful prophet for God, a man who has seen God for himself; he must be a man who has had that vision of God that none can see but each man for himself. There are visions of God that all men may have, and may have in common together. There are visions, for instance, which we may speak of as the reflective visions of God--visions of God in the glories of Nature; visions of God in the marvels of history and of Providence; visions of God in the revelation of His Word; visions of God in the worship and sacraments of the sanctuary; but there is one vision more, one hour of vision which should come to each man, if it were but once in his life, and woe to him who claims to be a prophet for God who has not seen that vision and passed through that hour when, the man lifting himself or lifted up above the low, and mean, and poor surroundings of the daily world in which he lives, with its strife, with its sorrows, with its cares, with its business, with its seductions, and rising high above these to the very heavens where the Lord dwells, sees God for himself, hears God’s voice speaking to him as His, and claiming him for His, and gives himself in answering offer, and gives himself to God and says, “O Lord, here am I; send me to do Thy work amongst men: make of me Thine instrument and Thy servant, and give me the great glory of serving Thee, and telling Thy words in the ears of Thy people.” The mission of the national Church is not first and before all things to be popular. It is first and before all things to be faithful to speak the living Word of the living God, as she learned it in her visions of God. Men seem to forget this great truth nowadays, and men seem with a faithless and an anxious timidity only eager to make the Church popular, and to make her popular with the masses, and many are the counsellors and various the advice that the Church is enjoying at this moment as to how she shall make herself popular and successful. Again, there are those who would have us trust to the attractiveness of our sanctuaries and the beauty of our worship, and who tell us we shall win the masses and the people back to our deserted churches, if only we will have bright and hearty services and beautiful aesthetic churches, and all that is charming and attractive to win the senses of the multitude. You are beginning at the wrong end when you strive to win the masses to God with attractive services. Make men feel their need of the services; make men understand that when they come to the house of God they come there that they may see visions of God, see the glory of the Lord, hear His voice, learn His will, offer Him their homage and their respect; make men thus feel their need of the worship of the sanctuary, and they will come whether the sanctuary be beautiful or not, and if they come for the beauty of the sanctuary, they are degrading it by an unreal worship, unless they come for the glory of Him whom they should seek to meet there. What the Church needs for her work now is what she has always needed--men whose hearts are filled with visions of the living God, and with a firm faith in this--that He has given them a work to do, a message to speak amongst their fellow men, and the thought of that burns as a very fire in their bones, and they cannot keep back from speaking God’s message and God’s word of life amongst their suffering fellow citizens and fellow countrymen. Their hearts are moved by the thought that they have to go out amongst “them of their captivity,” though they feel it to be a rebellious house. They have to go out to people tied and bound in the chains of their sins, as they lie without the limits of the kingdom of Christ. (Archbishop Magee.)
Visions of God
1. Thoughts of heaven must receive their character from views of God. If we could see into heaven and did not see signs of God there, we should remain in spiritual darkness. We must pass into the house to perceive the householder. All beliefs of our interest in the heavens will be blighted unless they are steps on our way to know we have a living, almighty, perfect Friend.
2. All true views of God are given by God. He alone opens the inward eyes and presents the aspects He wants to reveal. He may open them through some outward impulse, or by action on the heart, but in either case the ripple of sensational life is hushed by the flow of a grander life, and the reasoning faculty stands still, waiting to know what it shall receive. Then, as the light air comes to a hanging leaf and stirs it, as a father’s love and wisdom come to an erring child and prompt to confession, so the subject of visions of God knows that God has affected him--that God alone could accomplish that which has happened to him.
3. Visions of God require a conscious apprehension by men. Men can look upwards or downwards, outward or inward; but they may shut their eyes, So they decide whether they will see the things of God or not--whether they will accept the fuller manifestations of God or not.
4. Various aspects of God are presented. Wonderful in number and variety are the views which God has provided for willing hearts. “They are new every morning.” (D. G. Watt, M. A.)
Visions of God
Seasons of illumination are granted to men; moments of intellectual or spiritual insight in which they obtain deeper knowledge of the mysteries of life, than in years of laboured activities. Life is conditioned by depth more than by length of days. The current of history may be changed in a day, the geography of a continent is determined by the achievements of one day. “God works in moments,” and when the heavens are opened and visions of God are granted to men, the day becomes a creative epoch, from which they date their redemption. The momentum of that day will not be exhausted for generations. That one day of spiritual illumination has lighted up the dark passages of centuries, and the glory of the vision has dispersed forever the gloom of the captivity. The vision by Chebar is not the solitary experience of Ezekiel. God makes Midian the training ground of Israel’s emancipator, and the hills of Bethlehem for Israel’s greatest king, and Jesus lived in Nazareth. The minimum of opportunity yields the maximum of results. Men have visions of God in coal mines as well as in cathedrals. The prophet in exile makes the disadvantages of his position tributary to his highest successes. “The heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.” Visions of God are only possible when the heavens are opened. Heaven is the source of all illumination, more revelations are given to this world than discoveries made in it. Stars and suns are set aside, that the prophet may see God. It is a moment never to be forgotten when God appears in unveiled splendour. It becomes imperative at times that our faith be established by visions of God. Crises in our personal history have called for special revelations. Such was the captivity to Israel. We need the vision in captivity more than in our native land, with its temples and its priests. Israel thought that God had forsaken them; the vision proved that they had forsaken God. The way of communication between heaven and earth was still open. The hope of the race lies in the unbroken connection between heaven and earth, and the opening heavens in times of great peril proclaim that God lives and loves. Chebar has become a river of life, and the exile the gate of heaven. (G. T. Newton.)
Visions of God
To impart to man some degree of religious sensibility, it seems only necessary to lead him to a consideration of himself. Teach him to examine his own nature, to look a little into the wonderful mechanism which is going on in his own breast, and there will be found one of the most effectual means of awakening him to a real sense of the true character of his existence, and of the high and exalted relations which that existence sustains. Next, from the consideration of himself, let him turn to the consideration of the wonderful works existing out of himself. Let him look around on the green earth, with all its diversities of hill and dale, and wood and water, and sunshine and shade; and then from the plains below, let him look up to the canopy above, bright with stars and burning with suns,--and there will be seen visions of God, visions of power, wisdom, and goodness transcending his utmost powers to measure and fathom. By consciousness and observation we know how different a being a man generally is from what, considering his nature and destiny, we might reasonably expect him to be. Look at him, pursuing with passionate interest today what tomorrow will have passed into utter oblivion; now entering into contests where victory will bring no honour, and then striving after possessions whose acquirement will confer no happiness. View man in this situation and under these circumstances, and then remember that this is a being whose days upon earth are rapidly coming to an end; that he is born for eternity, for which he is here to prepare himself; and that that preparation, though embracing the interests of futurity, is also most conducive to the best enjoyment of the present,--and nothing can account for the course of conduct which he so often pursues, but that moral insensibility and stupor into which his connection with the world imperceptibly betrays him. In the first and early period of our existence, it is our nature to be governed chiefly by sensible impressions. Our thoughts, our wishes, our enjoyments, all lie within a narrow boundary. As we advance in years, our views extend, our hopes are expanded, our expectations are enlarged. We think more of what shall be and of what may be. Our happiness is more bound up with internal feelings, apprehensions, hopes, and anticipations. Hence arises one of the great advantages attending the good, that in their minds the thoughts and feelings connected with the future must necessarily be of a far brighter and happier description than those which are experienced by persons of an opposite character. It is, however, scarcely possible at the present moment for the best of our race to regard the course of human affairs without observing much to trouble and perplex them. Often will the spirit of the thoughtful and humane faint within him at the recollection of the magnitude and extent of the distresses and afflictions that have their residence on earth. For a moment he may feel as if his faith and piety were giving way; but deeper reflection comes to his aid, and restores him to confidence and hope. Visions of God rise up before his mind, and in those visions he sees the hand of Omnipotence stretched out over the angry and tempestuous waves of mortality, and bidding them into stillness and peace. In spite, then, of the difficulties by which we are surrounded, and notwithstanding the distressing occurrences that present themselves from day to day, the Christian believer will not let go his conviction that all is under the benignant care of a wise and merciful Providence, and will eventually be made to terminate in the establishment of truth and righteousness. He pretends not to dive into the depths of the Divine counsels. Knowing how absurd it would be to expect that he, who is but of yesterday, should be able to interpret the plans and proceedings of Him whose goings forth have been from of old, even from everlasting to everlasting, he submits in reverential silence to what appears most inscrutable and mysterious, believing and trusting that, as the government of human affairs is in the hands of the same Being who first made man a living soul and breathed into him the breath of life, it cannot but tend to a blessed and happy consummation. The more he reflects on all this, the more satisfied does he feel that the Author of his existence cannot be indifferent to the workmanship of His own hands, to the offspring of His own benevolence, and that whatever appearances there are which seem to imply the contrary, are only appearances, and melt away at the touchstone of examination, like midnight vapours at the approach of day. In the midst of our labours and duties, harassed perhaps by care, wearied with trouble, trembling with apprehension, our safety, our strength, our consolation will be best sought and obtained in those retirements of the soul when the veil is removed, and our eyes are opened to see visions of God. (T. Madge.)
Visions of God
I. Thy seer of the visions.
1. A priest. Of all men, they who minister to others in spiritual things need first to have their own visions of God. A spiritually-blind priest can only give dead, formal, perfunctory service.
2. A prophet. The prophet must first be a seer. No one can speak for God who has not first heard the voice of God or seen the glory of His truth.
II. The time of the visions. Early maturity--thirty years old.
1. After years of preparation.
2. Before a life of work.
III. The circumstances of the visions.
1. Ezekiel was among the captives.
(1) Banished from his native land; but not from God.
(2) Surrounded by sorrowful men among the captives. Atmosphere depressing. Yet light of heaven broke through it.
(3) Himself a captive. Trouble revealed the need of God, and invited His gracious help.
2. Ezekiel was by the river Chebar. In a quiet scene of nature. God is in the broad earth as surely as in any temple.
IV. The source of the visions.
1. From heaven. Then the prophet must look up. There is a spiritual astronomy which claims our study as much as the facts of man and earth.
2. Through the opening of heaven. God must reveal Himself. Revelation is the rolling back of the curtain, opening the gates of the unseen.
V. The nature of the visions. Seeing some rays of the Divine glory, some fringe of the robe of the Almighty. This is the highest of all visions. We can see it in the human countenance of Jesus. (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
Vision and duty
(with Isaiah 6:1 and Acts 26:19):--These three incidents to which our texts refer have some significant characteristics. In the case of each man, this vision of God was his call to the prophetic or apostolic office, not to a short season of special service. Moreover, each is related with the purpose of justifying the speaker’s conduct. The position of this vision in Isaiah’s book is very significant. He has begun to prophesy and had spoken many things in the hearing of the people. They would not heed him but bade him be silent. He tells the story of his call, and says to them and to himself, “I must speak. I am not my own master. I have seen the Lord of hosts, and He said, ‘Go.’ I cannot get behind or away from that vision.” Very similar are the circumstances under which the prophet Ezekiel tells his story. It is quite obvious, from the opening chapters of his book, that he shrank from the task of preaching to the exiles. But he could not help himself. Whether they hear or whether they forbear, speak he must, for he too has been told by God to go. So he relates what he saw when God appeared to him, and that must silence every qualm and query. Paul, too, is on his defence. Worldly people who recognise his genius, but pity his apparent sacrifice, and enemies who are conscience-stricken by his words are trying to silence that eloquent tongue. But he meets all their threats and entreaties with the unanswerable argument, “The risen Lord appeared to me. I had a vision, and I dare not be disobedient to that.”
I. The imperative constraint of a vision of God. We are all familiar with the fact that every life of successful achievement must be the result of concentration. The natural tendency is for the elements of our life to fly off at a tangent, and there must be some centripetal force which will keep them circling round the centre if any work is going to be done. We need to come under the unifying influence of a dominant purpose which shall weld the elements into a homogeneous whole; otherwise there will be discord and dissension. No man can build up a colossal business, or become a successful artist, or secure lasting fame in literature, who does not feel the spell of this purpose and walk under its constraint. Now, the most powerful constraint which can fall upon any man is that due to a vision of God. By that I do not mean just a belief in the existence of a Divine Being. A man may believe so far and be practically unaffected by his belief. It was something very far removed from a mere intellectual assent which transformed the lives of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Paul. The attempts to describe what each saw vary immensely, and show wide differences of literary ability. No one would put Isaiah’s majestic chapter and Ezekiel’s rather involved and labouring effort upon the same plane of literary merit. But Isaiah and Ezekiel and Paul are all attempting to describe a very real vision. Each knew that God had come into his life. For note the similarity of the immediate effects. Isaiah felt the whole building to tremble and the air seemed filled with the hissing steam which is emitted when fire and water mingle. He could only cry out in terror, “Woe is me.” Ezekiel fell upon his face before the appearance of the glory of the Lord, and then went away and sat amongst the captives for seven days dazed and astonished. Paul was stunned, blinded, smitten to the ground, and was led helpless into Damascus. And the ultimate consequences were similar also. And each man explains his conduct by declaring that he is under the imperative constraint of the vision of God. He dare not be disobedient to that. Nothing but death can break its spell. The vision of God will constrain us very powerfully! It will brook no disobedience. It will be more imperious than the dictates of prudence and of propriety. It will explain all our enthusiasm which the man who has never seen God cannot understand. There is no other influence which is powerful enough to oppose the disintegrating force of self-love and self-will within us, and to unite our hearts in the service of a true religion. Mere intellectual assent to dogmas about a divinity will not constrain us to forsake sin. Ceremonials and forms of worship cannot redeem us from callousness in worship and in conduct. The forces within us smite such barriers aside or leap over them at once. How noteworthy it is that in these three cases the ritual of the Jewish religion in which they had been trained is forgotten! There is no priest in the temple in which Isaiah stands, and no sacrifice is offered. Ezekiel the priest sees the glory of God as he sits in the plains by Babylon’s river. Saul, the punctilious and phylacteried Pharisee, meets Jesus face to face on the lonely road near Damascus. For years each man had been familiar with the most suggestive ritual which the world ever possessed, and it had only touched the surface: it had only succeeded in making them moral. It was the vision of God which revolutionised their life, making their nature reel to its foundations and turning the river of their energy into another channel. All devoted lives have been inspired by a vision of God, and not by the sight of a temple; by appropriation of the sacrificial offering, and not by kneeling before an altar. We shall only be blacklegs or hangers on, men called in to fill an emergency, if we depend for our inspiration upon anything less than a vivid personal experience of God. But is it possible for us to have a vision of God? According to the teaching of Jesus Christ, it is. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” “He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father.” It is possible for us to have an encounter with the Divine Person; to feel the contact between His Spirit and ours; to stand amidst a busy world and to be oblivious to all, whilst we gaze with entranced souls upon the flashing glory of God. But this is not to be a solitary experience casting a spell over succeeding years. Verily the time when the Lord of Glory first came to our side will be the epoch from which we reckon time. But if we see God in the face of Jesus Christ, He is with us always, even unto the end. Am I wrong in interpreting the emotions which sometimes surge in our hearts as a kind of envy of those men who received such a call to the ministry as came to these three servants of God? We urge ourselves on with a whip into which the cords of duty, of necessity, of reward, are lashed; but it is painful progress. We wish that our rapt eyes might see the Lord upon a throne high and lifted up, or a flaming glory borne by wheels full of eyes, or that some blinding light from heaven might enfold us in its passionate embrace. Is it not blessedly possible for us to have such a vision of God as never gladdened the eyes of Isaiah or Ezekiel? There is one significant difference between the apology of Paul and that of the earlier prophets. They are seeking partly to satisfy their own hearts and quiet the storm within; they fell back upon their vision as the justification to themselves. Paul has no misgivings within to hush! Why not? Because the vision of God is for him constant. It cannot fade as did that given to Isaiah! The Christian man lives in the Divine presence. There is no necessity for us to travel back along the road to some sacred spot marked by its altar. The place where we are standing now may be the place of vision. And we have to practise the presence of God!
II. The contents of our vision of God determine the limitation of our work. Isaiah sees God exalted upon a throne, with sweeping robes filling the temple, before whom the cherubim veil their faces and the choirs of heaven chant “Holy,” and the smitten prophet cries, “I am unclean.” This is a vision of God as exalted in righteousness. It is the moral supremacy of Jehovah over against the sin of Israel which fills the vision of Isaiah. It is different with the vision granted to Ezekiel. He gazes upon a blazing glory, which is supported by the cherubim, and which moves throughout the world with the swiftness of lightning upon the wheels full of eyes. Obviously this is God as sovereign in nature and history; this is God as omnipresent and omnipotent, governing the councils of the nations and ruling over all. I do not mean that Isaiah and Ezekiel saw only this. Isaiah knew of God’s omnipotence, for “the whole earth is full of His glory.” Ezekiel understood God’s moral supremacy; but the over, powering conception of God of the two visions is different. Now see what a connection there is between the dominant idea of God in the vision, and the work which each man has to do. Isaiah is sent to a people living securely in Jerusalem, but sunk into great sin. He has to exalt the Holy One of Israel over against the impurity of the nation’s life. Ezekiel is a prophet sent to a later generation, a mere handful of exiles who have been led away from despoiled Jerusalem by the armies of the mighty king of Babylon. Sitting by the river Chebar, the harps hung on the willows in a strange land, it seems as if Jehovah is not able to help them. Then Ezekiel comes to exalt the Omnipotent King in place of the boasting, hustling strength of Nebuchadnezzar. Now turn to the vision given to Paul, and consider its meaning and contents in the light of his writings and work. He saw God revealed in Jesus Christ. That meant the God whom Isaiah saw, a God exalted in righteousness, whose holiness convicted the self-righteous Pharisee as the chief of sinners, and made him preach, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” That meant also the God whom Ezekiel saw, a God who is supreme above all the machinations of men and the swift vicissitudes of human experience, so that it is a part of his work to tell men that “all things work together for good to them that love God,” and therefore to “rejoice in the Lord alway.” But it meant also another aspect of God of which Isaiah and Ezekiel had only faint knowledge, namely, as the Father of men, who so loved the world as to send His Son to be the propitiation for all sin, and was calling all men everywhere to enjoy His salvation and to be reconciled to Him in Jesus Christ. And therefore Paul can be sent not to the few people of one nation to meet their special needs, but to all nations, to preach a Gospel which satisfied the universal and unchanging needs of the whole human race. So do the contents of our vision of God set the limits to our work. Our service in the world is determined by our knowledge of God. That is abundantly illustrated on the wide field of history. Any monk in mediaeval England could repeat a paternoster, but it needed a man whose heart was illumined by personal intercourse with the Father to translate the Bible for the people. The last century was satisfied with a most rigid and mechanical conception of God; and it was marked by a national life as meagre in its religious attainments as it was poverty-stricken in its religious ideals. It was only when men like Wesley and Carey, who had brooded over the Word of God and had become filled with His Spirit, delivered their message, that the Church was roused from its lethargy and began to save men at home and abroad. Herbert Spencer can write learnedly about the first principles of philosophical study; but he has no message to the sinful, because God is to him the unknowable, and that vision of God makes him powerless to serve. Matthew Arnold may compose clever essays which render a service within certain narrow limits, but he cannot preach to the mass of men, because his vision of God as only a power not ourselves which makes for righteousness is too dim to touch the heart of man. Huxley and Mill can tell people a great deal about the life history of a lobster or the laws of logic, but ask them to come to the bedside of a dying man or to comfort a sorrowing heart, and they are dumb, and must give place to the humble saint who has looked into the eyes of the Risen Christ. And so in all our work, its limitations are determined by the contents of our vision of God. A man who has never seen a holy God will not care much about holiness. Why is a man content to amass a fortune by a policy of greed and grab, though he leave the world worse than he found it? Because he has never been into a holy place and seen God giving up in love! And the other part of the truth is that the Christian’s vision of God is the only satisfying one. It is no disparagement of the work of Isaiah and Ezekiel to point out that it was limited. This was the necessary result of the imperfection of all pre-Christian knowledge of God. The jewel has many facets; and one man gazed upon one flashing surface, and another in different circumstances upon a second. But Paul saw God in Christ, who is the express image of His person; and we all may see the glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father. This does not lift the veil from the secret nature of God. Nothing is more magnificent in these visions than their reverent reticence. No one can see God; only the appearance of His glory. But we see all that glory in Jesus Christ. Failure to interpret God through Jesus Christ only has always spelled disaster. The vision of God in Jesus Christ crucified and risen again is the only vision which can satisfy all the needs of our own heart and fit us to render permanent service to men in all circumstances. And this is the vision of God upon which we may gaze today. We shall not stand in any smoke-filled temple and gaze upon a throne high and lifted up. We shall not watch the whirling wheels full of eyes which carry the burning glory. But we may see Jesus. He is no dim, fading figure upon time’s canvas. He stands before us a living Person, clear cut against the horizon of eternity. We know the life He lived, the death He died, and that He rose from the dead. The supreme business of every man in this life is to see God in Jesus Christ himself, and then to help others to have the vision. Deep down in the heart of every man is the longing which cries with the badgered patriarch, “Oh that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come even to His seat!” “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man cometh unto the Father but by Me!” “It is the voice of Jesus that I hear.” Jesus brings us to our Father, and puts our hand in His strong grasp. (J. E. Roberts, M. A.)
The added sense
“I had visions of God.” So said Ezekiel. He was selected from a crowd that he might have them, and he had them. There is something that is arbitrary in God’s selection of a prophet; so that the man is, as Paul said, apprehended, and cannot choose but hear. There are also qualities in the man that cause him to be chosen. He will be a man of sense. He will be a man of intellectual power, for a prophet must not be a fool; and of moral power, one in whose heart are certain abiding convictions. But chiefly he will have the spiritual sense, the seeing eye. The soul has senses as the body has, and the pure in heart shall see God. It is quite conceivable that when our Lord chose His disciples He may have done so at first sight, for He knew what was in men. Perhaps it is more easily conceived that He had known, watched, studied them for months, and had said within Himself that when the time came for beginning these were the men who should be His chosen ones. Either way, they were chosen because they were fit to be, a preliminary fitness being implied. When we are told that a certain man had visions of God, it implies that beside the God who gives it there is the man who can receive it; and when He speaks there is a man who, being aware of it, stands in a listening attitude. The added sense which certain prophets have had is not a mere human faculty invested for the time with keener powers, but is a distinct and particular thing. The poet’s eye sees visions not shown to others; and what were the world if it were robbed of the poet’s dreams? The practical man has his uses--he who knows that two and two are four, utilitarian to his core; who never had a waking dream in his life. But where should we be without the man who sees the heavenly glories and calls things by their truest names? He has visions, this man, and so perhaps the astronomer may have, and the historian and the biographer, but they are not the visions given to him of the added sense, the pure in heart, and the prophet by the river, nor are they worth as much. Take away the seers, the mystics, the dreamers, and we are bankrupt. These men find the gold, mint it, and scatter it abroad for commoner men to find. Someone has expressed his pity for the blind man for this reason among others, that he has “knowledge at one entrance quite shut out.” For it is perfectly true that he who adds a sense to us adds in effect a world. If you can unstop the ears of a deaf man, and so give him the sense of hearing, you give him immediate entrance to the world of sound, the sweet world of the breeze, the bird, and the speaking friend. This explains why it is that the great realities of the spiritual world are myths, names, and dreams to so many people, and why there are so many people to whom one cannot speak of his deepest experiences. Words are only symbols to convey impressions and when there is no appreciation or reception of the impression, what is the use of words? When you talk to these people about the markets and the price of corn and coal, or when you go to a higher level and speak of pictures, poetry, and music, you speak intelligible words; but when you speak of grace in any of its thousand terms, you treat of things they do not know. The expressed mission of Christ was to open the eyes of the blind. It was His condemnation of the wilfully blind around Him that they had eyes but could not perceive. It was then, and still is, the emphatic cry of the Christian, “I see,” the meaning, the shore, the eternal Face. It is an interesting conception that one has when he thinks it might have pleased God to have made our mortal nature differently, and to have endowed it with four senses instead of five. Suppose it had been thought sufficient that we should be able to see and to hear, to feel and taste, but were denied the sense of smell; and yet God, denying us this, had filled the world with odorous buds and fragrant trees as now. Then the meadow-sweet were vain, the perfume of the violet unreal, and all sweet scents non-existent, But God had presently, let it be imagined, repented, and had given to one solitary and selected man the sense of smell; and this man, forgetting the deprivation of the rest of us, came to us with his question, Can you tell me why there should be so great a difference between the fragrance of the violet and the rose?” “My dear sir,” we should reply, “we do not understand you; the shape of the flowers and their size and colour we can speak of, but what this fragrance is we are unable to understand.” And should he go on to speak such words as smell, odour, and scent, we could only insist on our denial. The lack of sense makes it so. And it is precisely in the same way that visions of God are impossible to some men, and so frequent with others. A man is not necessarily beside himself because he sees what the rest say is not there, or hears a voice when all the world declares there was no sound. For then suppose the cure were worked on us, and we should walk through the gardens with a new sense added. With what wonder we should become aware of their odours, and go from flower to flower to try them all The more the world grows sordid, and, as it terms it, practical, the more it needs the added sense. When a man is wholly given to trade, and a woman to frivolity, the day of seeing visions of God is gone. What is needed is the added sense; for then the Church sees something more than organisations, and the nation more than colonies; and even the common man sees the encircling hills run back and life grow wide with astonishing speed. There is a prayer which, if answered, would meet the necessities of the case: “Open the young man’s eyes, that he may see.” “Lord, that I may receive my sight.” (A. J. Southouse.)
Some men never had any religious experience even of the lowest type; some men never prayed: are we to go and ask such men what they think of prophets, inspired souls, minds that burn with enthusiasm? We shall go to them for religious judgment when we go to the blind for an opinion of colour, and to the deaf for an opinion of sound. There are some men whose opinion we do not take upon any subject. On the other hand, when a man says he has seen heaven opened, and has seen a Divine vision, and has felt in his heart the calm of infinite peace, we are entitled to question him, to study his spirit, to estimate his quality of strength and tenderness, and to subject his testimony to practical trial. If the man himself is true, he will be better than his certificate; and if the man himself is false, no certificate can save him from exposure and destruction. Let us attend to this man awhile. He comes amongst us with unique pretensions. He says he was “among the captives by the river of Chebar.” Then was Ezekiel a captive? The historical answer is, Yes; the religious answer is, No. He was a prisoner, and yet he was enjoying the liberty granted to him by enlarging heavens and descending visions. Have we not had experience of this kind? May we not so far claim the companionship of the prophet? You do not live in the prison. Plato said that when Socrates was taken to prison the prison ceased; it was the prison that gave way. A right mind can never be in prison. What did Ezekiel see?--“visions of God.” By this term we are not to understand simply great visions. Ezekiel saw God, hints of God, gleams of the Divine presence, indications and proofs of God’s nearness; verily, they were sights of God. “The word of the Lord,” he continues, “came expressly” unto him. By “expressly” understand directly, certainly, without mistake. The voice of God cannot be mistaken: it startles men; then it soothes men; then it creates in them an attentive disposition; then it inspires men; and then it says, Evermore, till the work is done, shall this music resound in your souls. Then there is a “word of the Lord,” actually a “word.” There is some word the Lord has chosen, taken up, selected, held up, stamped with His image? Yes. Where is it? Every man knows where it is. The word of God is nigh thee, in thee, is in a sense thyself. To want God is to have Him; to demand the word of the living God is to know it. What may come of expansion, enlargement, higher and higher illumination, only eternity can disclose; but the beginning is in the very cry that expresses necessity or desire. Then comes the vision itself. Who may enter upon it? Personally, I simply accept it. We are not all poets, prophets. Some of us have but one set of eyes; the best thing for us to do is to listen, and wonder, and believe. We are rebuked by these revelations. We think we see everything when we see nothing. What have we seen? Trees? No: only the wood in which trees grow. Flowers? Not one; but things that want to be flowers, aspirations, struggles towards beauteous expression and fragrance. We have not yet seen one another. We have seen nothing as it really is. When a man, therefore, has seen aught of God or spirituality, we should listen to him with entranced attention. The talk is to us lunacy, the words are madness, until we are touched with a kindred spirit, sublimed by a kindred faith; then all things are known to be possible with God. The need of every age is a spiritual ministry. Spirituality and superstition are not the same thing. We want men who will give us ideal visions of life, high conceptions of morality, sublime forecasts of destiny, and a deepening sense of the sinfulness of sin. We need men who can create, not moral commandments and stipulations, but a moral atmosphere, which a bad man cannot breathe. It is better to pray than to doubt; it is mentally stronger to believe than to deny. “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God”; the prophet hath said in his faith, “The heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.” I would rather listen to the second man than to the first. The probabilities, at least, are on his side. Already there are intimations that the universe is larger than any fool has discovered it to be. Let us hear the prophet. (J. Parker, D. D.)
A whirlwind came out of the north.
Divine revelations in seasons of trial and perplexity
The history of the Jews was a succession of startling paradoxes. Their worst disasters ushered in their proudest successes. At three several crises in their career--in youth, in middle life, in old age--they came into collision with three giant empires of the ancient world--Egypt, Babylon, Rome. Each time they were crushed, almost annihilated, by the conflict. Yet each time they started up into a fresh and more vigorous life. Their unmaking was in each case a making anew. As a paradox, the Babylonian captivity was the most striking of the three. Blow follows upon blow, until the tale of their misery is full. The last company of exiles is deported; the last scion of royalty is a prisoner; the last breach in the fortress is stormed. The city is laid waste; the temple is a heap of stones. All is over. The sweet minstrelsies of the sanctuary jar cruelly on their ears now. The very name of Sion is a bitterness to them. And meanwhile, in this their helpless, hopeless misery, they are confronted with the most gigantic, awe-inspiring power which the world had hitherto seen. If at that crisis any calm and impartial bystander had been asked whether of the two--Babylon or Israel, the master or the slave--held in his grasp the future destinies of mankind, would he for a moment have hesitated what answer he should give? And yet out of the very abyss of despair the prophet’s hope takes wing and soars aloft. It is not that he sees only the bright features of the prospect. No words can be fiercer or less compromising than the invective in which he denounces the sins of the nation. It would seem as if in his imagery he could not find colours dark enough to blacken the Israel of God. The Israel of God? Why, thy father was an Amorite and thy mother a Hittite--vile, polluted, God-forsaken heathens both; and after the foul deeds of thy parentage thou thyself hast done. The Israel of God? Why, thine elder sister is Samaria--Samaria, the profane and the profligate; and thy younger sister is Sodom--Sodom, whose very name is a byword for all that is most loathsome, most abominable in human wickedness, and whose vengeance--the sulphurous fire from heaven--flare out as a beacon of warning against sin and impurity to all time. “And thou art far worse than thy sisters.” Restore thee from thy captivity? Ay, then when Samaria is restored, then when Sodom is restored--then, and not till then--unless thou repent. And yet, as the prophet’s eye ranges beyond the immediate present, what does he see? The Spirit carries him into the wilderness and sets him down there. It is the scene apparently of some murderous conflict between the wild tribes of the desert or of some catastrophe which has befallen a caravan of travellers. The ground is strewn with the bones of the dead--fleshless, sinewless, picked clean by the vultures and bleached by long exposure, tossed here and there by the rage of the elements or the reckless hand of man. Is it possible that these bones, so bare and so dry, shall unite, shall be clothed, shall live and move again? God only can say. A moment more, and the answer is given. There is a rustling, a clatter, a uniting of joint and socket, a meeting of vertebra and vertebra. Sinews stretch from bone to bone flesh and skin spread over them. At God’s bidding breath is breathed into them. They start up on their feet an exceeding great army. But the range of vision is not bounded here. Beyond the wilderness lies the pleasant land. Beyond the valley of dry bones is the hill of Sion, the city of the living God. After the revival of Israel comes the spread of the truth, the expansion of the Church. The exceeding great army is there; but the battle is still unfought, the victory has still to be won. So the prophet is carried again by the Spirit, and set down in the holy city. He is there once again within the sacred precinct’s, where of old he had ministered as a priest. The scene is the same, and yet not the same. The hill of the temple has grown into “a very high mountain.” Everything is on a grander scale--a larger sanctuary, a more faithful priesthood, richer and more abundant offerings. His eye is arrested by the little spring of pure water which issued from the temple rock and found its way in a trickling stream to the valley beneath--fit symbol of the Church of God. As he watches, it rises and swells, ankle-deep, knee-deep, overhead. Silently, steadily, it expands and gathers volume, pouring down the main valley and filling all the lateral gorges, advancing onward and onward, till it washes the bases of the far-off hills of Moab and sweetens the salt, waters of the very Sea of Death--teeming with life, watering towns and fertilising deserts, throughout its beneficent course--a stream so puny and obscure at its sources, so broad and full and bountiful in its issues--this mighty river of God. Indeed it was no earthly pile of masonry, no building made by hands--this magnified temple, which rose before the prophet’s eyes. So it has always been. God’s chief revelations have ever flashed out in seasons of trial and perplexity. As in Ezekiel’s vision, there has been first the whirlwind--then the cloud--then the flame, the light, the glory, glowing with ever-increasing brightness from the very heart and blackness of the cloud. There is first the wild, impetuous force, unseen yet irresistible, rooting up old institutions, scattering old ideas, perplexing, deafening, blinding; sweeping all things human and Divine into its eddies. Then the dark cloud of despair--the despair of materialism or the despair of agnosticism--settles down, with its numbing chill. Then at length emerges the vision of the Throne, the Chariot of God, blinding the eyes with its dazzling splendour; and after this the vision of the dry and bleaching hones starting up into new life; and after this the vision of a larger sanctuary and a purer worship. It was so at the epoch of the Babylonian captivity; it was so at the downfall of the Roman empire; it was so at, the outbreak of the Reformation. And shall it not be so once again? We are warned by the experience of the past not to overrate either the perplexities or the hopes of the present. Nearness of view unduly magnifies the proportions of event’s. Yet it is surely no exaggeration to say that the Church of our day is passing through one of those momentous crises which only occur at intervals of two or three centuries. It is the concurrence of so many and various disturbing elements which forms the characteristic feature of our age. Here is the vast accumulation of scientific facts, the rapid progress of scientific ideas; there is the enlarged knowledge of ancient and widespread religions arising from the increased facilities of travel. Here is the sharpening of the critical faculty to a keenness of edge unstrained in any previous age; there is the accumulation of new materials for its exercise from divers sources, the recovery of many a lost chapter in the history of the human race, whether from ancient manuscripts, or from the deciphered hieroglyphs of Egypt and the disentombed palaces of Assyria, or even from the reliques of a more remote past, the flint implements and the bone caverns of prehistoric man. These are some of the intellectual factors with which the Church in our age has to reckon. And the social and political forces are not less disturbing. What, then, must be our attitude as members of Christ’s Church at such a season? The experience of the past will inspire hope for the future. “In quietness and confidence, shall be your strength.” We shall not rush hastily to cut the political knot, because it will take us some time and much patience to untie it. We shall keep our eyes and our minds open to each fresh accession of knowledge, stubbornly rejecting no truth when it is attested, rashly accepting no inference because it is novel and attractive. As disciples of the Word incarnate, the same eternal Word who is, and has been from the beginning, in science as in history, in nature as in revelation, we shall rest assured that He has much yet to teach us; that a larger display of His manifold operations, however confusing now, must in the end carry with it a clearer knowledge of Himself; that for the Church of the future a far more glorious destiny is in store than ever attended the Church of the past. There is the whirlwind now, sweeping down from the rude tempestuous north; there is the gathering cloud now, dark and boding; but even now the keen eye of the faithful watcher detects the first rift in the gloom, the earliest darting ray which shall broaden and intensify, till it reveals the chariot throne of the Eternal Word framed in transcendent light.
1. The idea of mobility is the foremost which the image involves. The vision of Ezekiel provokes a comparison with the vision of Isaiah. Isaiah saw the Lord enthroned on high, there above the mercy seat, there between the cherubim, there in the same local sanctuary, where for centuries He had received the adoration of an elect and special people. The awe of the vision is enhanced by its localisation. But with Ezekiel this is changed. The vision is in a heathen land. The throne is a chariot now. It is placed on wheels arranged transversely, so that it can move easily to all the four quarters of the heavens. Its motion is direct, immediate, rapid, darting like the lightning flash, whithersoever it is sped. Not, indeed, that the element of fixity is lost. Though a chariot, it remains still a throne. It is supported by the four living creatures whose wings as they beat fill the air with their whirring, but whose feet are planted straight and firm. They have four faces looking four ways, but these are immovable. “They turned not when they went.” However we may interpret them, they are the firm supports of the chariot, moving rapidly, yet never turning, unchangeable in themselves, yet capable of infinite adaptation in their processes.
2. The counterpart to the mobility in the larger dispensation of the future thus implied in the vision is its spirituality. It is mobile just because it is spiritual. The letter is fixed; the form is rigid and motionless as death. The spirit only is instinct with life. “Whither the spirit was to go they went.” Everywhere the presence of the Spirit is emphasised; and this emphatic reiteration is the more remarkable because it is found in the midst of accurate dates, precise measurements, topographical descriptions, minute external details of all kinds.
3. But lastly, if spirituality characterises the motive power, if mobility is the leading feature in the intermediate energies and processes, universality is the final result. The chariot of God moves freely to all the four quarters of the heavens. The prophet sees it first in the plains of Babylonia. He is then carried in his vision to the Temple at Jerusalem. There he beholds the glory filling the holy place, the throne of God supported on the cherubim: and there, too--an unwonted surprise--are the four faces, the wings, the hands, the wheels full of eyes, just the same forms and the same motions which he had seen in the land of his exile. Ay, he understands it now. The living creatures of Babylonia are none other than the sacred cherubim of the sanctuary. Three times, as if he would assure himself or convince others by reiteration, he repeats the words, “The same which I saw by the river Chebar.” So, then, God works with power, God is enthroned in glory, not less in that far-off heathen land than in His own cherished sanctuary among His own elect people. The vision of Ezekiel is not a dead or dying story, which has served its turn and now may pass out of mind. It lives still as the very charter of the Church of the future. If in this nineteenth century we Englishmen would do any work for Christ’s Church, which shall be real, shall be solid, shall be lasting, we must follow in the lines here marked out for us. Mobility, spirituality, universality, these three ideas must inspire our efforts. Other methods may seem more efficacious for the moment, but this only will resist the stress of time. Not to cling obstinately to the decayed anachronisms of the past, not to linger wistfully over the death-stricken forms of the past, not to narrow our intellectual horizon, not to stunt our moral sympathies; but to adapt and to enlarge, to absorb new truths, to gather new ideas, to develop new institutions, to follow always the teaching of the Spirit--the Spirit, which will not be bound and imprisoned--the Spirit, which is like the breath of wind, and whose very name speaks of elasticity and expansion, passing through every crevice, filling every interstice, conforming itself to every modification of size and shape; this is our duty as Christians, as Churchmen, as Anglicans, remembering meanwhile that there is one fixed centre from which all our thoughts must radiate, and to which all our hopes must converge--Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever. (Bishop Lightfoot.)
The likeness of four living creatures.
1. God employs not ignorant, silly ones in His service, but those that are intelligent, angels that are wise and very knowing.
2. The angels are in all quarters of the world, taking notice of men’s words, works, and ways.
3. Men should be ashamed to be ignorant, seeing angels are likened unto them for knowledge and understanding.
4. God doth interest angels and use their service in the government of the world.
(1) To inform us of God’s will, and God of our ways.
(2) In opposing the great enemies of Christ and His Church, whereupon they intermeddle with kings and kingdoms, and the great affairs thereof.
(3) To execute the judgments of God upon wicked men.
(4) To defend the godly, to save and deliver them from harms.
(5) To guide and lead the godly in good and safe ways.
(6) To comfort.
(7) To look unto the souls of men, that they fall not into the hands of devils at their death.
(8) They are God’s reapers at the end of the world.
(9) To declare kingdoms, cities, people cursed.
(10) The angels have work and power in the Church of God. (W. Greenhill, M. A.)
The likeness of a man.
The likeness of a man
I. There are human features in heaven.
1. There is a resemblance between spirits in heavenly regions and men.
2. There is a human likeness in God. Christ is its manifestation.
3. The human Christ is in heaven.
4. There are men in heaven.
II. There are human features in revelation.
1. Revelation comes to us through human channels. The thought of heaven is translated into the language of earth.
2. Revelation makes known to us the true glory of humanity.
3. In all religion it is important not to lose sight of human nature. We have to see--
(1) God’s sympathy with man.
(2) Man’s living, earthly experience of God.
(3) Man’s duty to his fellow men. (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
The hands of a man under their wings.
Suppression of self
We are to do God’s works without noise or notice of ourselves. Angels, that are agents for God, have their hands under their wings; their actions are seen, but not their hands. When Manoah catechised the angel, and asked him, “What is thy name?” the angel would not tell him, but said, “Why askest thou thus after my name, seeing it is secret?” And you shall not find the names of above two angels in Scripture, Gabriel and Michael. Angels are jealous of God’s glory, and had rather conceal their hands and names than God should lose the least degree of His glory; for Manoah would therefore have known his name, that he might have honoured the angel afterward: and we are very apt to look at the instrument, and neglect the principal. It is wisdom to muffle up ourselves and to hold forth God as much as may be: Matthew 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works,” etc.; He doth not say, that they may see you, but see your good works, and glorify your Father, not you. (W. Greenhill, M. A.)
The hand under the wing
I. As a symbol of the ideal life of man. Perfect blending of serving and soaring. Man is a child of the skies as well as of the soft.
II. As a symbol of superhuman energy and force in connection with the human instrumentality. Human skill, tact, and eloquence are powerless unless winged by superhuman might.
III. The right place for the hand of service is under the wing of faith. “Whether ye eat or drink,” etc.
IV. In the noblest service there is need for swiftness and grace. If there were more delight in service there would be no need to repeat appeals and resort to contrivances and schemes to get work done.
V. The hand of service partly hidden by that which gives it speed. Often those whose days are filled with business find time for Christian labour of most varied kinds. (H. Starmer.)
And they went everyone straight forward.--
The straightforward direction
If you look at a map of Russia, you will find that the railroad between the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg is a straight line. It happened in this way. When the engineers were about to survey for making the railway, they asked the Czar which way he wished the line to take. He asked for a map, and, without a moment’s hesitation, he took a ruler and drew a straight line between the two cities, and said, “That is the way I wish the line to be made.” And has not God in the same manner drawn a straight line from the soul to Himself, its true goal, and is not Conscience the bright and shining light that signals the way clear between earth and heaven? (Sunday Circle.)
Going straight toward the goal
The man who says, “I am going straight for glory, and if anybody is in my way, so much the worse for him,” for I am bound to take the right road; such a man will find a pretty clear track. Mr. Moody would say, “Make a bee line for heaven.” A bee knows the nearest way, and keeps to it with all its force. Let me hear each one of you say, “I am not going to take any corners, or twists, or windabouts; but straight away, what God bids me to do I am going to do; what He bids me believe I am going to believe, and if there is anything to be suffered for it, all right.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Whither the Spirit was to go, they went.
Led by the Spirit
By spirit, we are to understand, neither the will of angels, nor winds, nor the soul of man (for spirit in Scripture doth signify all these), but the essential and eternal Spirit of God. This is evident by Ezekiel 1:20.
1. Angels, although exceeding wise, full of knowledge, active, and able to do great service, yet are not at their own disposal, they move not at their own pleasure, they went not where they listed. Let the abilities of the creature be never so excellent, they must be under the power of a superior, they must be ordered and directed by a higher cause.
2. It is the Spirit of God who is the great agent that sets angels to work; they perform nothing by their own virtue and strength, but at the command and impulse of the Spirit they act, they set out, proceed, finish, and return. As in a ship at sea, there are the winds without to drive it, and the pilot within to guide it to what place he pleaseth; so here is the command of the Spirit ab extra, externally, and the impetus intra, the inward influence, to carry out and order these. The great things angels have done, have been done by the Spirit of God: if they suggest good thoughts; if an angel strengthen Christ in His agony; if they reveal mysteries and things to come to Daniel and others; if they contend against princes, and agitate the great affairs of the kingdom, it is by virtue of the Spirit of God, that works efficaciously in them, and in good men, that are employed for the glory of God and the public good of Church or State.
3. Angels are led and easily led by the Spirit. “They went”--without dispute or delay--“whither the Spirit would have them go.” Offer up yourselves, freely and fully, to the conduct of the Spirit, and that will lead you into all truth and into the land of uprightness. (W. Greenhill, M. A.)
The poets tell us of a firefly in southern climates, said to be the most brilliant of all fireflies, which has this peculiarity, that it never shines at all except when going rapidly upon the wing, and then its brilliancy, can be seen afar. So it is with our immortal souls. When we are upon the wing, active and advancing, going forward in the Christian race toward God and toward heaven, our light shines out and all men see it; but when we stand still, it dies. (Christian Age.)
One wheel upon the earth by the living creatures.
No stability in the world
The four living creatures denoted the four parts of the world, and their agencies in them and by them: now are presented the wheels; every living creature had a wheel by it: and this strongly implies that there are wheelings, turnings, and changes in all parts; yea, the very same that are in one part are at one time or other in another part. The wheels are alike. Are wars, plagues, famine in one country? they are, or will be, in another. Do men die here? so in all parts. Are men unfaithful now? so they were of old. Are there unseasonable times here? such are abroad. Are things carried by violence, oppression, injustice here? so they are elsewhere. Are there designs, plots upon our kingdom and Church? so there are upon others. Whatever befalls one state, befalls another, internally and externally. The wheels are the same, and move alike, though sometimes backward in one part of the world and forward in another; there is no stability anywhere, but all things are changing. In vain, then, do men travel the world to find certainty and content in it; in vain do we go up and down, here and there, thinking to find settledness, and something satisfactory. The world is like itself everywhere; go east or west, and there is nothing but a wheel, and a wheel running. We must not look for stability, content, certainty, among the wheels, but above them: now it is not time to look about and abroad, but to look above the world and the wheels of it. If we have tribulation in the world, we may have peace in Christ. (W. Greenhill, M. A.)
Symbols of Divine Providence
The sum of this celestial vision is that the Divine Providence doth rule in the world, and is exercised in all parts thereof, and not only in heaven, or in the temple, or in Jewry, as the Jews then thought. As for the changes in the world, which are here compared to wheels, they befall not by haphazard, but are effected by God, though all things may seem to run upon wheels, and to fall out as it fortuneth. At the day of judgment, at utmost, men shall see a harmony in this discord of things, and Providence shall then he unriddled. Meanwhile, God oft wrappeth Himself in a cloud, and will not he seen till afterwards. All God’s dealings be sure will appear beautiful in their season, though for the present we see not the contiguity and linking together of one thing with another. (J. Trapp.)
A wheel in the middle of a wheel.
God in human activity
By a wheel within a wheel God governs and makes all things work together for good to those who love Him: all pleasant and all painful things; all that is mean, contemptible, slanderous, all that vexes and annoys. So we may put on gladness, knowing that He overrules each event of life, and while we work, He worketh in us according to His pleasure.
1. The Scriptures affirm this truth. They are as full of evidences of it as the daily press is full of the records of man’s workings in individual and national life. Eyes see clearer, washed with tears. Paul could glory in his infirmities, for he saw even in them that the power of Christ was made glorious. In all the pains and penalties, the joys and griefs, the thoughts and imaginations of life, God is busy, out of evil still educing good.
2. History proves this. Never did men meet behind closed doors without God seeing them. Every plot and conspiracy is known to Him. The Jews were persecuted and peeled, they were ever an easy prey to the spoiler, now they are the bankers and traders of the world; many hold seats of power among the nations. The thing you intend to accomplish carries with it a score of things you did not intend to do. Luther and Columbus accomplished more than they ever dreamed of doing, because God was in their movements.
3. The laws of nature illustrate this. The thunderstorm is His scavenger, driving off malaria and noxious vapour. The earthquake is a safety valve by which imprisoned gases are set free. Weeds, thistles, insects, are made to work out some good.
1. We cannot get along without God. If we choose to rebel against His working, He will curb and overthrow us. If we lead selfish, prayerless, cruel lives, He will thwart and destroy.
2. Nothing happens which does not help him who loves God. Losses, crosses, abuse, and injury lead to the growth of patience, watchfulness, and the silent bearing of sorrow. Burn your own smoke and go on. Trials help to build up character.
3. The love of God is emphasised by the truth before us. He reigns--not sin. (H. M. Gallaher, D. D.)
The symbol of Providence
I. Your troubles, difficulties, losses, whatever they may be and whatever may be the instruments of them, are all from God. Your times are in His hands. Your ways are ordered by Him. Your breath depends upon His will. All your sorrows and all your joys are parts of His one great plan of education for you to make you meet to be His own forever.
II. Succeeding events explain the providence and purposes of God. We learn what He intended to do, by what He has done. If we study the Lord’s providence, remembering that all its events come from God, and that God alone can teach us what is their meaning and design; if we wait upon God with patient faith in His Divine teaching, to see what He means to do with us, all the flames will unfold themselves in due time. The whirlwind will pass by. The clouds will scatter, and light alone, the purest light, will remain to shine around us, “clear as amber.”
III. All the providences of God have a fixed purpose, and are wisely arranged in their operation. There is no blind chance in the government of God or in the affairs of men. When one asked Dr. Payson if he could discern any reason for his great personal sufferings, he answered, “No; but I am as well satisfied as if I saw ten thousand reasons. The will of God is the perfection of all reason.” The ways and thoughts of God are not like ours. He does not give to us a previous account of His plans and purposes. But He knows the thoughts which He thinks concerning us. And He makes us to see and acknowledge at last how wire and how perfect they all were. Thus every providence appears to us with the face of a man, open, intelligent, and clear, having a manifest design, and perfectly adapted to accomplish it. It has also the eye of an eagle, which seeth afar off. It is watchful over the least of the affairs which it includes. The very hairs of our head, the stones in our path, the moments of our unconscious sleep, are all the subjects of its provision and control. These providences are also perfectly steady and uniform in their operation. The Lord is of one mind, and changeth not; the same yesterday, today, and forever.
IV. The same providences are often designed to produce separate and sometimes apparently opposite results. These various results of Providence, and the instruments by which they are completed, are not generally wonderful or strange things. They are perfectly natural and common things, but brought about by ways which we had not anticipated. They are things which occur just as naturally as a wheel revolves, or as wings support in flight. But they come and go in their particular occurrence as God directs, and they bring to pass the designs which God has formed.
V. In this gracious and wonderful scheme all providences have a secret purpose of blessing for those who love God. This is a very precious lesson. The plans of Divine providence are always subservient to the plans of Divine grace. They are designed as blessings for the chosen people of God. Whom He loves, He protects and prospers. There can be no one to harm those who are followers after that which is good. However God may try His people on the way, and however dark, unintelligible, and hard to bear these trials may appear, the triumphant and happy result is always the same, perfectly sure, and entirely compensating. He refines His chosen ones like gold and silver, and they glorify Him in the fires.
VI. All the providences of God are under the control of the great Redeemer and Saviour of the people of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. The government of the world is on His shoulder, and He upholdeth all things by the word of His power. (S. H. Tyng, D. D.)
The whole universe is ruled by God
1. He rules in the world of physical nature. The “whirlwind” which the prophet saw was under the throne. All forces of nature, however strange and irresistible they may appear, are subject to God. What science reveals as laws, are no more than means and methods of Divine operation. God was seen in Jacob’s dream above the ladder; so above all secondary causes is the great First Cause who originated them, and who still inspires them with energy and guides their courses.
2. He rules in the world of spirit. The cherubim which the prophet saw, with their mysterious forms and motions, were also under the throne. Freedom appears inseparable from spirit, but all creaturely freedom moves and acts within the will of God. “He doth according to His will in the army of heaven” (Daniel 4:35). Holy beings ever obey lovingly. His will is not only their law, but the ground and means of their blessedness. Devils are compelled to obey. This is the cause of their constant rage and misery. Inspired by hatred to God and goodness, they are obliged to see that not only are their plots defeated, but they are eventually made to promote the very ends they sought to destroy. It is so also with men in this way: the renewed are “workers together with God”; the unrenewed, though unwilling and rebellious, must subserve Divine purposes (Romans 9:17).
3. He rules in the order of history. The wheels the prophet saw symbolised the government of the world in its entirety. There was an appearance “as of a wheel within a wheel”--the multiform agencies and complications employed by Providence. The wheels “went straight on”--the direct course of Providence, which never halts, and is never turned aside from its purposes. The “rings were high and dreadful”--the vastness of the Divine purposes, awful in their sweep and grandeur. The “rings were full of eyes”--the omniscience of God, so appalling to the wicked, so comforting to saints. The “noise” of the moving wheels and of the accompanying cherubim was as “the voice of the Almighty”--all nature, and life, and the course of history, a revelation of the living, omnipotent Deity. (Christian Age.)
The mysteries of Providence
I. God carries on all things by a secret and an invisible virtue, that though you see the hand without, yet you see not the spring within.
II. Men’s spirits are many times raised unto an extraordinary pitch beyond the spirits of men. Drawn out to higher resolutions, they pitch upon higher thoughts and purposes than ever the times require: why now, mark, here is a mystery in this, that at one time a man should rise higher than at another time, and their resolutions and courages rise higher, and they should dare to encounter with those difficulties that even formerly they did tremble to think of. What is the reason of it? Oh, here is the mystery of Providence (Zechariah 12:8).
III. God puts impressions and apprehensions upon men many times, that they run to their own ruins.
1. Sometimes impressions of discouragement (Judges 7:13-7.7.14).
2. Sometimes impressions of encouragements (2 Kings 3:22-12.3.23).
IV. God many times raiseth up instruments, and He qualifies them for His work. Girding up their loins and strengthening their hands, that they shall go through that at one time that you would have thought ten thousand instruments could not have done it at another (Isaiah 45:1-23.45.2). God lays the same instrument aside again at another time. Many times the Lord will make a combination, and there shall be a conjunction of instruments, and afterwards the Lord will make use of these, even to destroy one another. Abimelech and the men of Shechem.
V. God many times destroys men by those means by which in all human judgment they think they shall be preserved. The people of Israel, when they were in any necessity, then by and by unto King Jareb, which some expound to be a helping king: sometimes in the way of Assyria, sometimes in the way of Egypt; yet, notwithstanding, they were destroyed by those that they brought in to their help. They bound Paul that he should not preach: “My bonds tend to the furtherance of the Gospel.” They banished the Church out of Jerusalem, on purpose that so they might have destroyed it: but that is the Church’s preservation, when Jerusalem is destroyed. These are the strange actings of Providence.
VI. When things are brought to the lowest ebb, the means weakest, and the confidence of the enemy and their expectations highest, then many times God is pleased to destroy the power of the mighty. When Gideon hath but three hundred men, he is fit to fight God’s battles; yea, Sisera must fall by the hand of a woman. Uses--
1. In all actings of Providence subscribe to His wisdom.
2. In all actings of Providence submit to His will. (W. Strong.)
And they turned not when they went.
It is a grand thing to see a man thoroughly possessed with one master passion. Such a man is sure to be strong, and if the master principle be excellent, he is sure to be excellent too. The man of one object is a man indeed. Lives with many aims are like water trickling through innumerable streams, none of which is wide enough or deep enough to float the merest cockleshell of a boat; but a life with one object is like a mighty river flowing between its banks, bearing to the ocean a multitude of ships, and spreading fertility on either side. Give me a man not only with a great object in his soul, but thoroughly possessed by it, his powers all concentrated, and himself on fire with vehement zeal for his supreme object, and you have put before me one of the greatest sources of power which the world can produce. Give me a man engrossed with holy love as to his heart, and filled with some masterly celestial thought as to his brain, and such a man will be known wherever his lot may be cast, and I will venture to prophesy that his name will be remembered long after the place of his sepulchre shall be forgotten. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Whithersoever the Spirit was to go, they went.
The nobility of a devout soul under the Spirit’s influence
Oh for conquering grace to crush down self. I would be as a grain of dust blown in the summer gale without power to change my course, carried by the irresistible breath of God; forever made willingly unwilling to will anything but the will of my Lord. I would be as a tiny straw borne along by the Gulf Stream, carried wherever the warm love of God shall bear me, self delighting to lie low and see the Lord alone exalted. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
For the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.
The unity of Providence
The bosom of Providence is the great moral crucible in which things work, in which they work together. They assimilate, repel, interpenetrate, change each other; and then leave as resultant one grand influence in the main for each character, for each man. “All things work together,” not in an aimless and capricious manner, for this end and for that, now in one way and now in another, as though a stream should one day flow seaward, and the next back toward its fountain among the hills, but in one volume, along one channel, in one direction, toward one end. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
As the appearance of a man.
Conceptions of God
Ezekiel’s conception of Jehovah appears in the” visions of God” which he describes (chaps. 1; 8; 10; 43.). These visions were all alike, and they reveal his general impression of that which Jehovah is: the fourfold nature of the cherubim, of their faces and wings and of the wheels, all forming a chariot moving in every direction alike, and with the velocity suggested by the wings and wheels, symbolises the omnipresence of Jehovah, while the eyes of which the whole are full are a token of His omniscience. The throne above the firmament on which He sat indicates that He is King in heaven, God over all, omnipotence. The Divine Being Himself appeared as of human form, while His nature was light, of such brightness that fire fitly represented Him only from the loins downwards; from the loins upwards the effulgence was something purer and more dazzling, and He was surrounded by a brightness like that of the rainbow in the day of ram. This glory, which contains Himself within it (Ezekiel 10:4; Ezekiel 1:18; Ezekiel 43:5; Ezekiel 34:6), is that which is manifested to men. (A. B. Davidson, D. D.)
Man a type of the supernatural
All the analogies of human thought are in themselves analogies of nature; and in proportion as they are built up or are perceived by mind in its higher attributes and work, they are part and parcel of natural truth. Man--he whom the Greeks call Anthropos, because, as it has been supposed, he is the only being whose look is upward--man is a part of nature, and no artificial definitions can separate him from it. And yet in another sense it is true that man is above nature--outside of it; and in this aspect he is the very type and image of the “supernatural.” (Duke of Argyll.)
As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain.
The significance of the rainbow
Ezekiel was reminded that he had to present God before the people as clothed with fire--a symbol, probably, of His coming indignation on the last of Jerusalem’s inhabitants. But, not to disturb the righteous, or to give them the least idea for supposing that, in the final desolation of Jerusalem, God’s covenant should cease, the vision went on (verse 28) to reveal a rainbow overarching this fiery throne, the mild lustre of which outshone its blazing glare. Could anything be more gracious? From that time, both the prophet and His faithful people might well rest assured that they were safe. God would not, and could not, forsake them. The bow of the covenant was above them, far beyond the reach of those changing providences which were represented as going forward so rapidly and incessantly below them. And even thus, amidst the changes and troubles of this mortal life, the true Israel, the believers in Christ, are safe under God’s covenant mercy and grace. (J. H. Titcomb.)
I fell upon my face.
Man’s incapacity for seeing God
If we knew and could feel as much concerning God and Christ and heaven as we sometimes desire, probably it would make us insane. We have seen horticulturists pull down the awnings in their greenhouses. Plants may sometimes have too much sun: and so may we. (N. Adams.)
Humbled by a sight of glory
1. See what mischief sin hath done unto us: it hath disabled us from partaking of our greatest good. The sight of glory is the happiness of the creature.
2. The sight of glory is an humbling thing. “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it” (Isaiah 40:5); and then follows, “All flesh is grass.” Glory will convince us that we are but grass. It is not hearing will do it--at least, not so effectually; seeing, and seeing of glory, doth humble mightily. Seeing of misery causeth grief, “Mine eye affecteth mine heart”; but seeing of glory causeth godly sorrow (Job 42:5-18.42.6; Isaiah 6:5). Those that are thoroughly humbled with the sense of their own vileness and weakness are fittest to hear Divine truths and to receive Divine mysteries. Ezekiel falls on his face, and then hears a voice; so was it with Daniel. Flesh and blood is apt to be lifted up, to trust in something of its own; men look at, and like their own parts, their graces; some confidence or other we are apt to catch hold of; but we must let all go, be low in our own eyes, if we will be fit auditors of Christ; we must fall down at the feet of His throne, if we will hear Him speak from His throne. He giveth grace to the humble, they find the choicest favours at His hands (James 4:6). (W. Greenhill, M. A.)
Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee.
The full stature of a man
Men often speak, and more frequently act, as if the religion of Christ paralysed manhood and cut the sinews of life. This is the reason, I believe, why so many give a reluctant ear to the religion of Christ. Now I concede the premise that determines this attitude to Christ; the premise that a man is entitled to the rounded fulfilment and the highest reach of the nature which God has given him. Our nature is a parchment on which God has written His will concerning us. The difficulty is that the original writing of God is so blotted and interlined with the writing of the devil that men misread their nature, and take it at the devil’s interpretation instead of God’s interpretation. In the measurement of ourself, any value below the highest is a mistake. It defeats God’s intention regarding us. It flings us at once on an inferior plane of life. It produces a manhood mutilated at the top, impoverished in its deepest centres of power and joy. Now let us glance at the religion of Christ. It is to feed these centres of power and joy in our nature, to enlarge them, to quicken them to their keenest energy, that that religion comes to us with its claim and appeal. So far from paralysing manhood and cutting the sinews of life, it is something which God has put on this earth to nourish the essential traits of manhood and thrust life upward to its highest levels of force and happiness. Christ Himself is the only true measure of His religion. We must take it in its original features and accents, with the large, grand truths which He revealed as its lines of structure, and the institutions which He founded to shelter those truths and bring them into living touch with men. What did He tell us of His religion? Nay, what did He tell us of Himself?--for Christ is Christianity. He said: “The Son of Man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” “I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” “I am the Light of the world. He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” These are crucial words. They sweep the whole horizon of Christ’s truth and work. The purpose of His religion is not to impoverish and mutilate life, but to show us the values of life as they stand in the light of God; and, in the downward pull of our nature and the sharp stress of the world, to help us to realise the highest values. Thus it comes to us. Thus it addresses us. It says, as God said to the prophet: “Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee.” You must meet it, as a man meets a friend, standing on your feet, looking into his eyes, grasping his hand. And more than this; as its spirit enters into you, it will set you upon your feet. It comes to uplift your nature, enrich your life, to give it reach and vision, to keep you on your feet in your fight with sin. But it makes demands, you say. Yes, but all its demands are needful for the training of our manhood to its highest fruition; and it helps us to meet its demands. For instance, it demands faith. But do you expect to go through life without faith? Then you will miss the best and richest things of life. It is like a man drawing the curtains of his windows when the sunshine is making holiday on the earth. Again, it demands worship. But surely no thoughtful man would give much for a life that had not the element of worship in it. It is when faith in unseen things is faint, and worship dies out of life, that men ask, “Is life worth living?” An empty heaven overarches an empty heart. Lastly, it demands the curbing of the lower forces of our nature. This, after all, is the demand that excites the most angry and determined revolt. But life itself, outside of Christ, if it be carried to any high issue, makes the same demand. Even to be the shadow of a man, even to be respectable and keep our place in the world, we must chain the brute within us. It is a difficult task, and men who essay it without the aid of God ofttimes find that the wild beast has escaped his cage, and is devouring the beauty and dignify of their life. Christ, it is true, goes beyond the demands of the world. He asks us to sacrifice, if the need come, natural appetite and innocent joy in the behoof of our soul. Life itself finds its meaning only by the soul working out with pain and battle its supremacy. To accomplish this, the world has its methods; but Christ’s method, after all, is the easiest method, the only effective method. Starve the evil in your nature by feeding the good that is in it. Conquer the strong man that has taken possession of your house by bringing in a stronger than he. The Church of Christ, with its revealed truth, its sacraments and its worships, is the Divine porch which God has built in the world, through which we may come to Him, and draw into our life, for help in our struggle and the healing of our wounds, the forces of His Divine life. (W. W. Battershall, D. D.)
The man who is great by gift, office, or opportunity, and at the same time of unfeigned goodness, will shrink back from the idea of incapacitating by oblique terrorism those who come within the field of his influence. He will wish them to employ their powers for the common weal to the best possible advantage, and will therefore seek to put them at their case, to encourage them to intellectual self-command, to build them up and not to cast them down. God’s dealings with His servants of all ages correspond to our conception of His gentle and gracious character. The vision of His presence and power is not meant to permanently depress, overawe, and incapacitate. His glory is overwhelming, but it is not His will to annihilate reason and all that constitutes personality by the manifestations of His majesty.
I. Self-possession is necessary for the highest forms of intercourse with God. A man cannot be a recipient of the Divine revelations till he has made some little progress in the art of collecting and commanding his own faculties. Now and again God makes Himself known in vivid and stupendous ways which smite mortals with fear and trembling. For the time being, He strips them of their manliness. The characteristic attributes of the human personality are numbed, stifled, half-destroyed, and the man who is the subject of these manifestations might well think himself in the throes of a process intended to dissolve the elements which make up the unity of his being, and merge him irrecoverably into the terrible Infinite. Now this paralysing sense of the supernatural, which appears to threaten the obliteration of the individual, is only temporary. God does not wish to subtract anything from the personality, or to make us less than that which He created us to be. But, after all, the only thing God wants to drive out of the personality is the taint of selfishness, affinity for wrong, soft complaisance towards transgression. Indeed, it is the sin latent in us which produces collapse before His presence, and when that is gone serene self-possession is recovered. He does not wish to blight, or repress and destroy a single element in the constituent sum of a man’s identity.
1. This lack of quiet self-possession is sometimes the reason why stricken, conquered, storm-tossed souls cannot enter into the quiet of saving faith. A temptation to keep back the obedient response to God’s solicitation of human confidence may come in two opposite ways. Many a man persuades himself that his heart is not so profoundly stirred that he can exercise the faith that will save him. The psychological atmosphere, he is tempted to think, is far too normal and commonplace. And, on the other hand, those most profoundly wrought upon by a sense of their guilt, and the vision of the Divine holiness, exercised to the point of distraction by some force which has seized upon their emotions, find it difficult to collect their minds into an intelligent and purposeful act of faith. Their natures are almost stupefied by the mighty supernatural arrest that has come to them. The power of thought and emotion is for the moment frozen up or has almost passed away. They cannot collect themselves for the transaction which is required at their hands. Saul, the blinded persecutor, must have been in some such condition, as he lay prone at the gate of Damascus, for he could not there and then put forth the faith by which he was healed, built up, sanctified. The nature prostrate and helpless through a cataclysm of overwhelming conviction must be brought out of its paralysing amazement. Faith is an act which demands collectedness of mind, a rational and reflective attitude, modest self-possession. True it is that faith is God’s gift, but the hand that receives is not the hand clutched with terror or folded in sleep, but the hand which is heedfully and unfalteringly held out.
2. Whilst reverence in God’s presence is a duty from which there can be no release, that sacred emotion of the soul is not meant to dumfound and transfix us, however mighty the revelations to which it is a tribute. Indeed, the reverence that is allied to helplessness and maimed perception is manifestly a sentiment of inferior quality. The man who wishes to dazzle the supporters he is rallying to his side brings some kind of reproach upon himself. He who seeks to lull his admirers into dreaminess or to fascinate them into stupor, and so disarm their judgments, confesses thereby the meagreness of his own power to captivate by reason and by love. If, as God comes forth to conquer us, His revelations put the larger part of our mental life to sleep or obscure a single faculty or perception, that would be practically a confession of weakness on His part. It would imply He had not adequate moral and spiritual reserve forces wherewith to subdue our souls into adoration of His attributes and homage to His great behests. When God sees fit to disclose His majesty and abase our pride, He does not intend to permanently weaken, discourage, paralyse. That would be to surround Himself with worshippers of meaner capacity and servants of inferior fitness for His tasks. He desires to call forth, train, and perfect the undivided powers of those whom He seals and sends.
3. The largest and the loftiest service of God is that which is rational in the best sense of the word. Those disclosures of His being, character, and operation which God will make both in this life and in that which is to come, are intended to stimulate and not to depress that group of faculties of which the brain is the symbol. He has created us all that which we find ourselves, so that we may be better able to comprehend Him than beings less richly endowed, and we cannot think that this special capacity will be overborne and destroyed as soon as the goal comes into view. Every mental power must be healthy, well-mastered, on the alert, so that we lose nothing from His many-sided revelations. We cannot apprehend God and assimilate His truth and life in states of feeling which are not far removed from trance conditions. The highest intercourse with God attainable by a human soul is that in which the soul is perfectly at ease, competent to command its own powers and apply its own discernments.
4. Men may pass into mental states in which we describe them as possessed--possessed either by the Spirit of God for good, or by an unclean spirit for evil. But possession represents only a half-way stage towards a final goat of holiness or sin. In possession, both for evil and good, the personality becomes more or less veiled, overborne, suppressed. Manifestations of the Divine glory that confound and disable through their momentary intenseness, unfit for the truest and most comprehensive communion with God. In our own, as well as in earlier times, Christianity has fallen under the spell of Oriental philosophies which assume that the basis of human personality is evil, and its duration therefore fleeting; and that reabsorption into the infinite and universal life is the goal of all aspiration and progress. The unexpressed idea seems to be that the infinite cannot tolerate the finite, that it is always thirsting to draw every attribute of manhood out of us, and that it will leave at last the mere husk and shell of an effete personality behind, bleaching into final invisibility, or perhaps not even so much as that. Such a view credits God with predatory instincts rather than pays Him the glory due to His absolute and eternal love. God wishes to take out of our personalities nothing but what is hateful--selfishness, folly, moral blemish and defect. In Christ’s high-priestly prayer we find the charter which pledges the permanence of all those elements which constitute personality. His own relation to the Father, which presupposed the essentials of personality, was to be the standard looked to in the perfecting of the disciples. “As Thou, Father, art in Me and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us.” The branch which is grafted into the stock of a tree still produces its own specific flowers, in spite of its union with the tree, and produces them more nobly because of the reinforcement of life it receives from the tree. Our Lord’s union with the Father accentuated rather than obscured the properties of His personality. The Father was ever dwelling in the Son, but the personality of the Father was not lost in the mystery of intercommunion; and the Son was ever dwelling in the Father, but He remained a perfectly conscious and clearly defined Son, and His personality was neither volatilised nor swallowed up by the mystic relation. The union which entirely abstracts and absorbs makes communion a fixed impossibility. And His own age-long fellowship with the Father, Jesus Christ presents as the type and consummation of all human excellence and blessedness. Ages await, us in which the revelations of God will transcend the grandest disclosures of the past; but even then these, revelations will be attempered to our capacity to receive and assimilate, Man’s intellectual grasp, far from being overtaxed and palsied by the strange secrets of the future, will only be stimulated and enlarged. We are not children of the mist, freaks of cloudscape, broken shadows, iridescent vat, ours, whose destiny it is to confront the sunlight and be irretrievably dissolved. In the maturity of an all-round, unshrinking, indefectible personality, we shall be summoned into the presence of His glory to receive, without error or distraction, the nobler teaching of the hereafter. He will ask us then to be self-possessed, and He is teaching us the alphabet of that duty now. “Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee.”
II. A serene and undisturbed temper is necessary not only for the man who is an elect recipient of Divine revelations, but for the man also who is to be a messenger of these revelations to others. Courage before men is a characteristic of the genuine prophet; a timid, blushing, disconcerted herald from God’s throne is an incongruous compound. The first apostles did much to prove their place in the holy succession by the firmness with which they spake under circumstances which would have abashed men with a less convincing religious history behind them. In the chapters to which the vision of Ezekiel is a prelude, the prophetic office is illustrated by the duty laid upon the sentinel or watchman. For such work the power of calm, unerring discernment is indispensable. He must be master of himself, able to see with his own eyes, to trust the correctness of his own judgments, to hold his own in the world. Unless a man has self-command, or can at least acquire it by discipline, he is unfit to be God’s watchman. The nervous prophet, the self-deprecating herald, the apostle who allows himself to be overborne by the clamour of the world, stultifies his own mission and does not a little to discredit his message.
1. Self-possession is often a secret of success in common things. In not a few pursuits the cool head and uniform self-command are essential to life itself. A man must have confidence in the art he has assumed, and in his own aptitude for applying the principles of his art, and above all in the truths to the promulgation of which his art is contributory. He who has a modest faith in his own resources, be they natural or spiritual, will inspire some degree of that same faith into others. The man who cannot command his own faculties at the moment, never inspires confidence, however vast the stores of knowledge and power with which popular rumour may credit him. It is the working capital in actual view which assures the onlookers rather than the unrealisable assets. We cannot persuade others till we are so absorbed by the subject matter of that persuasion that all the powers of the mind rise up to emphasise it. The duty of self-command implies very much more than subjecting our bad passions to the control of the will; and if we do not learn self-command in the widest possible sense of the term, we inevitably weaken our effectiveness for good. By fluttered moods and weak, indeterminate accents, the wisest man is just as much disqualified from swaying others as the ignorant or the imbecile. Nervous embarrassment, inability to bring our best gifts into use at the call of a providential opportunity, palpitations, strikings of spirit, hesitancies, seem to turn our message into farce and dumb show. One faculty which we can quietly use at will for practical ends is better than a brilliant host of faculties which are not under perfect control.
2. Self-possession is a sign of the quietness of faith. When attained by spiritual processes it becomes a Voucher for that trust in God which, once learned in His immediate presence, extends to the daily fulfilment of the tasks He has fixed. Without this tranquillity which grows from faith we can have no power. There can be no confusion or embarrassment where this fixed persuasion exists. The man who is bold at God’s command is bold because authority is behind him, and authority means the mighty grace which will not suffer its obedient instruments to be confounded or brought to shame. A true faith should enable us to wield our finest powers for God and His service. Respect for the opinions of others should never lead us to cancel ourselves and the contents of our own consciences. The strength and boldness we need in speaking for God must, in many cases, be built up from their very foundations on religious principles and experiences. The man whom nature does not help, and who through superhuman influence alone grows bold and at ease, will far surpass the other in effectual service for God. It may sometimes happen that in the physical life there is a barrier to their self-possession which is a prime condition of usefulness, and in one case out of a hundred the barrier may be insurmountable. Excellent and high-principled men and women assume too readily that they are the victims of nervous disorder, weak circulation, faintness. Let God’s imperative “Stand upon thy feet” help us. It is a Divine voice which calls us to mental collectedness, to the quiet use and control of all our hidden gifts. He would fain rescue us from our frailties, from proneness to mental confusion, from undue awe of the face of our fellows, from that nervous paralysis which so often has its roots in a morbid or a defective religious life. It is not His will to have servants who lack the note of courage, competence, effectuality. By contact with God we shall gain steadiness, confidence of touch, impressive self-mastery for our work. “Now when they beheld the boldness of Peter and John . . . they took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus.” If we learn presence of mind before God we shall find little difficulty in maintaining it before men. “Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart; wait, I say, on the Lord.” (T. G. Selby.)
The prophet’s commission
I. The attitude of the prophet in the presence of God. Jonathan Edwards, who has been called the Isaiah of the Christian Dispensation; was often carried in the chariot of his imagination into the very highest heaven of ecstasy to behold the greatness and the glory of the Lord. And during those seasons of seraphic communion he realised his utter weakness, and his very body seemed to faint and fail. Pascal, too, had no less exalted experience when he was visited with the presence and power of God, and saw visions so unutterable that he could only fall on his face and weep tears of joy. But God does not mean that His servants should be overmastered with the majesty of its glory. God is not like an Eastern sovereign who wishes his subjects to be impressed with his distant greatness, and would extinguish the sense of noble manhood within their breast. The relation which God sustains to His people is that of a father to his children, who would impress them with the conviction of his absolute authority, and yet, at the same time, would endeavour to awaken within them the sense of their nobility and dignity as his children.
II. The attitude of the prophet in the presence of man. We may bend our knees in the presence of God, but we must stand upon our feet in the presence of man. It is in this attitude that we receive strength. Bunyan’s picture of the prophet is the ideal for all time. “He had eyes lifted up to heaven, the best of books was in his hand, the law of truth was written upon his lips, the world was behind his back. He stood as if he pleaded with men; and a crown of glory did hang over his head.”
1. The first quality or attribute of the true prophet is that of conviction. The prophets of science have emerged out of their caves of prejudice, of tradition, of authority, and have gazed at nature with the clear eye of truth, and under the open canopy of heaven. And so it must be with the prophets of Scripture; they must be prepared to dismiss all the idols of prejudice and passion, and study the Bible in the light of open day, and thus arrive at a firm, immovable conviction of its truth. We have no business to preach our doubts; it is the grand realities that we are to proclaim in the presence of an unbelieving world. A lady once, examining Turner’s pictures, said, “But, Mr. Turner, I don’t see these things in nature.” “Madam,” replied the artist, with pardonable pride, “don’t you wish you could?” Thus the true prophet must be a seer, and being a seer, the whole breadth of nature and Scripture will be open to him, and he will see things that others wot not of.
2. The second quality which distinguishes the true prophet is that of courage. The apostles after the day of Pentecost were full of courage. The fear of man was completely taken away, so that they testified with boldness the truths of the Gospel concerning the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. So it was with Luther, with Knox, with Savonarola, and all the great prophets of old; they were bold and uncompromising in their utterance of the truth.
3. The third quality of the faithful prophet is character. The staff of the prophet must be in the hands of a pure and upright man. Gehazi was a bad man; and hence, although he had the wand of Elisha in his hand, it failed to work enchantment. He passed the staff over the face of the dead child, the son of the Shunamite woman, but there was no voice, nor any that answered. But when Elisha took the staff in his hand, then the boy was raised to life again. Thus will it always be. (J. C. Shanks.)
Human progress a preparation for the fuller knowledge of God
I. The will of God is the uplifting of man. Ezekiel thought that he honoured God by falling prostrate on the ground. Be learnt that God was rather honoured by his standing on his feet. Salvation is the uplifting of man. It must be so because God is love. His aim is to lift the objects of His love into free fellowship with Himself. His glory and their exaltation are one. And the liker to Himself they are, the greater His joy. And this is true with reference to all man’s powers. To stand upright is the outward sign of self-possession and of power in full development and exercise--first of all, the highest powers of faith and aspiration and conscience, but then all the powers which go together to make the man. Every human faculty has its place in the kingdom of God, and is sought out by the redemption of Christ Jesus.
II. The text makes this uplifting not only compatible with, but necessary to, the reception of Divine truth. “Stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee.” Character can only be understood by corresponding character. If the lesser is to have fellowship with the greater, it must always be because the lesser grows until an answering faculty apprehends the greater. Take away the faculty in the receiver, and you destroy the power of the revealer to reveal himself. If the musician is to utter his soul, his instrument must sufficiently combine melodiousness, harmony, and delicacy to express his conception and to call forth all his skill. Had Mendelssohn known only the tom-tom of an African savage, we could never have had the Elijah and the Songs without Words. So we could never have had the dialogues of Plato had the philosopher had in view no audience more intellectual than a Sunday school class. And this is no mere human limitation. God can only reveal Himself to man and in man as human nature becomes lofty and deep and broad enough to apprehend and to express His mind. Further, each new power developed in man is a new point of contact with God. The world is so full of God that it is impossible to establish any new connection with it without its becoming a way of approach to some part of the mind of God, which is waiting to be revealed, when the means of receiving it are found.
III. We have in the text a special message from God to the men of our times. From every side the call is being heard--“Stand upon thy feet.” Orders have been called to political and economical influence, which never exerted it before. Men are pressing forward to claim their share in the higher life of science, literature, and art, who but a generation ago were not sufficiently awakened even mournfully to say, “Such joys are not for us.” What is the true prophet to say to this many-sided movement? Is he to ban it as secular and worldly? Nay, rather, he must proclaim that so long as moral earnestness is behind it, it is the inspiration of God bidding men stand upon their feet, that He may speak to them. (J. S. Lidgett, M. A.)
Optimism and pessimism; or, the true dignity of man
(with Psalms 8:4-19.8.5):--It is most important that man should recognise his high origin, the nobility of his powers, and the glorious destiny that is possible to him, and that invites his noblest efforts and ambition. The first attitude of the soul toward God must always be that of profound reverence and deep humility. Still God will not allow His chosen ones to crouch at His feet. First, the lowly penitent pleading for mercy; after that, the servant, obeying the commandments of God because he must obey or lose his place; but then, the son and friend, standing up beside his God, listening with rapturous delight to the voice of the loving Father. God is ever ready to draw near to those who love Him, and to speak with them as friend speaketh with friend. “Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak to thee.” I think we may learn from these words that it is possible for us to miss the voice of God, and to lose much of the comfort of His presence, by failing to claim the privilege of coming to God at all times, in the fullest confidence of love and friendship. Man must recognise his true dignity, and maintain his self-respect, before he can receive the highest revelation of God. It is worthy of note that God put dignity and honour upon man by creating him in His own image. He also showed His great regard for man by giving His Son to redeem him, and lift him up from the low condition into which he had been brought by sin and transgression. And especially does He assert the dignity and worth of man, regenerated and purified, by making his body the temple of His Holy Spirit, and by providing for him a glorious, happy home, where no sin, nor sorrow, nor suffering can ever enter. There are pessimists in our day who boldly proclaim that human life is a failure--that the world is going from bad to Worse--that there is nothing in human life to be thankful for, but much to be deplored. The explanation of pessimism is found in the fact that men are living Without God and without hope in the world. There are, I think, three different views of human life. First, the superficial view of life, indulged in by the young and inexperienced. Life is not looked at in all its sober reality. Its responsibilities and trials are not duly weighed. The brightness on the surface is all that is seen. This is the optimist view. Then comes the second view of life, held, perhaps, by disappointed, unsuccessful men. Life is a burden and a toil; and yet the desire to live is strong in them; and they are puzzled and perplexed beyond measure. This is the view of the pessimist. Then there is the third view of life, deeper, truer, and more hopeful--bright with a more sober and abiding light than that of the optimist--and happy with a calm confidence in God, that cannot be shaken. This is the Christian view of life. The pessimist and the optimist are both in error. The pessimist opens the windows of the soul outward, and lets out upon the world the darkness of his own morbid, melancholy, and darkens the brightness of the world with his own darkness. That is bad--an evil that ought to be carefully avoided. The optimist opens the windows of the soul inward, letting in the world’s bright sunlight, so that he sees only the brightness, and thinks nothing of the misery and wretchedness that are around; and hence he puts forth no effort to make the world brighter and better. But the true Christian philosopher opens the windows of the soul upward, and lets the light of heaven stream in. He sees everything in the light of God’s providence and God’s purposes, and has his mind enlightened by God’s Spirit. (S. Macnaughton, M. A.)
The assertion of manhood
Ezekiel was overwhelmed by the vastness of the universe and the great range of God’s sovereignty. He could no longer--like the earlier prophets--limit his thoughts of Divine providence to the fatherly care and protection of a handful of Jews. It was something much vaster. In the government of the world there was wheel within wheel, there were forces at work that seemed to take little heed of individual or even national interests; there was the terrible impartiality of a universal Power dispensing equal laws to all peoples of the earth. To himself he suddenly appeared of no account in this universe of law and force, and in utter abasement he grovelled on the ground. But he was not permitted long to abase himself. God had a work for him to do, a message to deliver. And before the work could be done or the message revealed, the prophet must rise from his grovelling attitude, and reassert his manhood and recover his self-respect. He must recover his belief in the true position of man; he must assert his liberty of action; he must believe in the possibility of leading a holy, a Divine life, and when he had thus shown his sense of the true dignity of man and his respect of self, he could be made a prophet and servant of the Most High.
1. The first element in the self-abasement and prostration, the sense of insignificance in presence of the great forces of nature, and of the vastness of the universe, is finely described in the 8th Psalm: “When I consider Thy heavens,” etc. However we explain it, there is a failure to realise the true dignity of man, to value aright the purpose of life, to understand the issues that depend upon our thoughts, and words, and actions. We get into the way of looking on ourselves simply as atoms, inconsiderable parts of a world which contains much that is more worthy of securing God and man’s attention than a human soul; and we are content, with the lowest level for our character and conduct. But if we are tempted to feel in this way, the voice of God says to us: “Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee.” It tells us how the Creator, after He had framed the earth and designed the heavens, made man in His own image, endowed him with reason, that he might know and judge himself; with conscience, that he might discern between right and wrong; and imagination, that he might purify his affections; with a principle of life, that he might live forever. It commands us to measure the superiority thus conferred upon us as children of the living God.
2. The second element in Ezekiel’s abasement was a sense of helplessness. If his vision were a first glimpse of the reign of law, his fear may have contained the first shadow of a feeling that has shed its deepest gloom, on the paths of so many in these later days. The question, What is man? is answered by a large number of the thoughtful and the unthinking alike in the language of sheer fatalism. In effect, they say: “I am what I am, and need not be expected to change; God and man must take me as they find me. Another, with different parentage, and brought up in different circumstances from mine, may be a better, a more amiable man than I am. But he need not plume himself upon that. Had our places been reversed, so would our characters, and I for my part must be content to remain as I am.” The same feeling is shown in reference to our mission in the world. The same man who blames fate for what he is, denies, in practice, if not in words, the possibility of his doing any work for good. He reasons for ethers as he reasons for himself--they are, and will be, what the struggle for existence, the advantages or disadvantages of their lot have made them; and as circumstances have neither fitted him to do anything for them, nor brought him into contact with them, he must leave them alone. He and they are fixed alike in this great wheel of fate, and although they all move, it is by no conscious effort on their part. All alike are poor, helpless creatures, whirled round in the great machine. I cannot doubt that this feeling was in the mind of Ezekiel as it was in the mind of his contemporary Jeremiah. Nor can I doubt that it was to rouse him out of his helplessness that God told him to stand upon his feet. And neither can I doubt that God calls upon us all to assert our dignity as men by claiming our liberty.
3. The third element in the abasement of Ezekiel must have been a sense of sinfulness. We need not try to analyse this feeling or show how it acted upon him. The emotions that flooded the soul of the prophet can hardly be dissected and tabulated. The knowledge that he had himself sinned, had been guilty of transgressing, or, at least, of failing to carry out with anything like perfection those laws whose power had just been revealed to him, was the last drop in his cup of humiliation. It would have been strange if it had been otherwise. If we ever obtain a glimpse of the majesty of the law and of the Lawgiver, we can hardly fail to be humiliated by the recollection of our own past lives. We have known the right and the good, and we have not chosen them; we have seen the path of safety for health of body, health of mind, health of soul; and we have wilfully forsaken it. We are not the men we might have been, we have not done the good we ought to have done; our prospects for time and eternity are overclouded, and the splendour which ought to have shone around them has become dim. And when we see the appearance in the likeness of a man on the sapphire throne--should I not say on the cross?--we will not fail to fall prone and abase ourselves if we have retained any of the better feelings God gave us at our birth. But our text reminds us that it is not good to remain too long in this abject state. We are not forever to be confessing that we are miserable sinners. The voice calls to us even when we are abased under a sense of sin: “Son of man, stand upon thy feet.” Escape at once from the humiliation and the sin that has caused it. Look up to the bright heaven of a new ideal. Set your affection on things that are above. Prepare to move in the service that hitherto has been neglected, and God will teach you by higher training for a nobler life. (J. Millar, B. D.)
The importance of self-respect
Ezekiel was to be the bearer of a Divine message for the correction and moral rousing of his countrymen, and in order that Heaven may impart to him its secret, and inspire and instruct him for the work to which he has been chosen, he is called to rise and stand upon his feet. Here, then, in the very Book in which we are always meeting with injunctions to bend and bow, if we would be Divinely visited, are instances of men summoned to get up from the dust of conscious littleness and unworthiness, that they might be Divinely spoken with--of men, prone upon their faces in the presence of God, who were required to place themselves upon their feet before He could say anything to them, or make any use of them. Yet we may be quite sure, at the same time, that their prior prostration was equally indispensable. When Jehovah would charge Moses with the task of delivering Israel, the word to him was not, “Stand upon thy feet, that thou mayest hear and be invested from above,” but, “Fall upon thy face.” When, however, he had been deeply awed and humbled, to begin with, then he was bidden to uplift his head and believe in himself. It was needful, that as Saul and Daniel and Ezekiel were, he should first be deeply awed and humbled; but like them also, he needed to become erect after depression for the Heavens to be intimate with him, and to make him their mouthpiece and organ. And for healthy living, for beautiful action and endurance in our place, whatever it may be, we all require to have these two united in us--awe and assurance--prostration and erectness--the recognition of our insignificance--our dependence--and the recognition of our worth and dignity. We need to be both lying down in felt emptiness and helplessness, and rising up in brave self-sufficiency; and while it may be the fact that Heaven will reveal nothing to those who are not humble and lowly, it is equally the fact that Heaven never has anything to reveal to those who are not duly reverencing, and manfully leaning upon themselves. Coming to the New Testament, we meet continually in its pages with the same recognition of the importance of self-respect. Jesus Christ was always saying something in aid of it--something to encourage and support it. When He would strengthen His apostles for cleaving to their convictions against the opposition of the world, for brave and fearless prosecution of the work to which they were called, He talked to them of their worth in the eyes of the Almighty Father, telling them that the hairs of their head were all numbered, and that they were of more value than many sparrows. When Simon Peter, overwhelmed for a moment with the feeling of his manifold imperfections, fell down at the Master’s feet, crying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord,” how was he treated? The Master dropped at once a hint of the great capacity which He saw latent in him, and waiting to be developed, of the great use which he was destined to be in the service of the kingdom--“Fear not, Simon; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” When, again, Christ mingled with the degraded outcasts of Judea, of what did He speak to them? of their worth, of how Heaven missed them and wanted them. They heard from His blessed lips of the shepherd’s concern for the lost sheep, of the housewife’s eager search for the lost piece of silver. There is nothing more conducive to healthy self-reverence against the influence of felt poor quality and low desert, than the assurance that we are dear to someone who is superior--that someone who is superior cares for us, and clings to us, and considers us capable of much better and greater things. And this was the strength which Christ brought to the weak--the Gospel with which He raised the self-despairing. You are the child of a God who thinks on you, and yearns over you, and to whom, in your worst vileness, you are a prince in bondage, worthy of being sought after and redeemed. Then look at the Epistles--the Pauline epistles especially: in them, how constantly are the readers reminded of their high estate, or of the great things that were imputed to them, of the great things that were assumed with regard to them; of the lofty idea of their condition and character, which His perfect manhood involved, whose members and brethren they were. “Ye are bought with a price” - “Ye are all children of the light, and of the day”--“Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost?”--“Reckon ye yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” But you will say, “When are we not self-respecting?” Well, he is not, for one, who craves and courts the approbation of others, and sets himself to gain it--who wants it, wants it to comfort and uphold him--who can be strong and happy enough while others are praising or smiling on him, but when they are not, waxes feeble and melancholy. Again, he is wanting in self-reverence who gives himself at all to imitate another, who, in any work which may be laid upon him, tries to repeat the greatness of another, to copy his distinctions rather than to evoke and cultivate his own, to strain after his dimensions, rather than to be as perfect as he can within his own. Then, again, he is not self-respecting who hesitates at all to go with his convictions, who fears to trust and follow the light within him, when the many are moving in the opposite direction; who, when careful and honest inquiry seems to be carrying him to conclusions that will separate him from the multitude, and perchance from those who are deemed great and wise, becomes afraid--afraid to abide with what commends itself to him as good and true. Beware of losing self-respect through living dramatically--with a daily appearance put on, which is not true to the reality--with the frequent assumption before spectators of that which does not belong to you. Beware of losing it through leading an idle, aimless, useless life, a life without any high or worthy purpose. Beware of losing it, especially, through forever failing to obey your higher promptings, and forever regretting and bemoaning the failure, while never seriously endeavouring to improve. (S. A. Tipple.)
Standing before God
For all true and worthy service of God--which simply means all true and worthy living of the lives God hath here given us--this word reminds us that there is a necessity--a falling and a rising before God. For this man whom God bids to rise and stand upon his feet had been down, down low and in the dust. Ah! there is too little of this prostration before God--too little vision of the glory and majesty of Him with whom we have to do. Yet this must precede and be the source of all powerful rising and service. We must get down before we can get up. And the humiliation that is blessed is the humiliation that comes from realising God. Our Lord Himself spent memorable hours of His life bowed in communion before God. He found there the secret of power and strength to fulfil His Father’s will. Much more must we. There is, then, first of all the lowly abasement. But there follows also, as surely, the rising again. And this is the second condition under which God will speak to us and use us--“Stand upon thy feet.”
I. God calls us to a true dignity when He calls us to His service. It is a very false view of religion which holds that it tends to make a man poor spirited and lachrymose. The true self-respect, the self-respect that springs from humility before God, and not from pride before man, has its roots in religion. And there is no man who will carry himself with truer dignity through the world than the man who believes in God, who has the fear of God before his eyes, and has heard the voice of God in his own soul. And, if we think of it, there are many men who are laid low whom God would rather have to stand up; and many, on the contrary, who stand up whom God would rather see abased. The despairing and the doubting, for example, are often on their faces on the earth. They wander in the grounds of Giant Despair, and he punishes them sorely and without pity. Now, God would rather that they arose, that they made effort to stand upon their feet, and to set them on the rock that is higher than they. On the other hand, there are some who stand whom God would rather see abased. We have many types of them in the Scriptures. The self-reliant is one. Peter points many a moral, but none more surely than this--“Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” Again, the Pharisee of Christ’s parable is another type. The rich fool of the parable, too, was a man who stood up very proudly, planting his foot confidently on his sure income, his fine houses, and stores. “Thou fool!” What an awful irony is here. “Thou fool, this night” thy soul, thy soul shall be required of thee. Very far, then, is the dignity and self-respect of a deeply religious man from such foolish pride and vain self-confidence as this. He stands as Christ stood (and never was there dignity more regal than His), rooted in humility, yet conscious of the Divinest relations, that, like golden chains, bind him to his God.
II. When God says, “Son of man, stand upon thy feet,” it also means that He requires courage in the souls that would serve Him. Ezekiel needed it. “Be not afraid of them,” etc. And it is needed as much by us as by others who have borne witness before us. The temptations that try our courage, though neither briers nor scorpions, are very real and powerful, and many a quaking there is before them. We need courage to do the right thing in spite of looks of enmity and glances of scorn, in spite of the alienation and misunderstanding of men. God knows we may find that our enemies are they of our own house, and much courage and standing on the feet is needed then. I read lately the story of the lives of two brothers. The one was a soldier who had won great distinction abroad. In a moment of crisis, in the heat of battle, at the peril of his own life, he dashed forward and saved a fallen comrade from the death that surrounded him. It was bravely and well done. He was decorated and gazetted, feted and lionised. But at home was a father, a drunkard, an old man whose life was a disgrace to himself and a burden to his friends. It did not suit the gallant soldier to know this father much, or to live in his neighbourhood. He preferred to enjoy his honours at a distance, away where the breath of this loathsome scandal would not reach him or mar his pleasures. But by this father stood the other son. He was a highly educated, sensitive man, whose life was dedicated to noble work, and who was already gaining for himself the first sweet distinctions of his profession. His father’s life was a keen and bitter shame to him. He could easier have borne the knife plunged into his flesh. Yet, at the call of duty--the highest and most sacred duty, in his eyes--he bowed his neck to this shame and sorrow, gave up his bright prospects, lived alone, apart, with this wretched maniac of drink, did the work of a menial, and bore more than a meniars share of cruel blows and insulting words. The one gained the laurels of men, because, under the impulse of the moment, in the heat and excitement of battle, he did a courageous thing; yet in the moral trial, brave soldier as he was, he proved cowardly and ignoble, and left to the shoulders of one, whom he counted a fool for his pains, the cross that should at least have been shared by both. The other got no laurels--was nowhere noticed or spoken of with any distinction; but who can read the story of his self-sacrifice, of his humility, of his patience, without feeling that here, in the sight of God, was the true hero--here the true courage that faced worse than the bullet or the steel, and that endured longer than the swift, exciting hour?
III. The call to stand upon the feet indicates also the uprightness that God would have in all His servants. It is vain to think we can serve God, or be witnesses to Him in the world, if we are still harbouring the sins that tend to keep us low. Never was there greater need than today for the people of God to stand in uprightness and integrity. Christ has suffered too much and too long in the open unworthiness of many lives. There are things--habits of life, practices of trade, indulgences of temper and passion and lust, both open and secret--that, if we are to serve Him truly, must be over and ended, past and gone forever. Let us examine ourselves, and let each see what are the things he must cast from him, and must struggle to leave behind--those dead, crucified selves, on which alone we can rise to higher things.
IV. When God calls us to stand, He means He would have in us a readiness to act. Ah! God would oftener speak to us, brethren, but He sees we are not very ready to do anything. Why should He speak? We are indolent. We are too comfortable in our chairs of ease, or too much engrossed with other things. Oh, the hesitancy and reluctance of our obedience! How we need to be persuaded and pled with! Oh, shake yourself from this fatal spirit of indifference and indolence, for many are suffering from it, and losing their lives in it. Stand upon your feet. Offer yourself to God, as if you meant it. And “I will speak to you,” saith the Lord. “I will direct your path, and open for you the way of a blessed life.” (R. D. Shaw, B. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezekiel 1". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany