Consider helping today!
Fill thy hand with coals of fire from between the cherubims and scatter them over the city.
Divine forces and human agents is retribution
I. There are in the economy of God, terrific forces for the destruction of evil. The whirling globe of fire was but a symbol of the manifold elements that, through processes of pain, and it may be throes of agony, have punished and will punish sin. And very often those elements are just those that have been guiltily used by man. It was true of these Jews “that they had abused fire to maintain their gluttony, for fulness of bread was one of their sins; they burned incense to idols, and abused the altar fire which had been the greatest refreshing to their souls, and now even this fire kindled upon them.” Thus, indeed, is it clearly taught in the prediction of Christ, “They that take the sword shall perish by the sword,” that the implements of our evil become the engines of our punishment. And such engines have terrific force.
1. To avoid sin ourselves.
2. To believe in the final victory of goodness.
II. The great forces provided against evil will often be used by the instrumentality of man. A man’s hand was to scatter these coals of retribution. Thus it commonly is. As man is the tempter, so is man frequently the punisher of man. Chaldean armies are instruments of Divine righteousness. Human judges are often the swords of God: human revolutionists the vindicators of liberty against despots. It is for this hand sometimes to scatter the fires of retribution; but ever to scatter the fires of purification. The consuming of the sin--sin in thought, sin in feeling, sin in habit, rather than retribution, on the sinner, may perhaps be the higher and better teaching of this vision for all of us. (Urijah R. Thomas.)
And there appeared in the cherubims the form of a man’s hand under their wings.
The hand and the wing
There are two proofs of our religious life. The first is our great thoughts of God; the second is our great deeds for God. On the first we soar up to Him as on a wing; with the second we labour for Him as with a hand. The Bible, the whole structure of our sacred faith, appeals to the two aspects of life--divine and human. It has the wing and the hand; it reaches out to heights we cannot attain; it is suffused in splendours and in mysteries beyond our endurance. The Trinity and the Godhead, eternal duration, the origin of things, the eternal love of God to man, His electing and atoning grace--how far off these things seem. On the other hand, how it sinks down to sympathy, to fellowship, to suffering, arching them over by visible and invisible majesty. Thus, while man mourns over his lot, that “his strength is labour and sorrow,” he finds, as Ruskin has finely said, that “labour and sorrow are his strength”; and God makes him fit for soaring by sorrowing or by sympathetic doing.
I. See what a Divine work creation is. Here, in this human hand beneath the angel’s wing, do we see the procedure of the Divine work. All God’s most beautiful things are related to use. God does not unfold from His mind beauty alone. Infinite thought, ah! but infinite manipulation too; this hand, the hand of the Infinite Artist, tinted every flower and variegated every leaf into loveliness; this hand, the hand of the Infinite Mechanician--I do not like the word, but let it go--gave respiration and lustre arid plumage to the wing of every bird; this hand, the hand of the Infinite Architect, poised every planet in space, and adapted its measure of force to every grain of sand. I would not preach a gospel of cold utilitarianism--that word usually represents the hand without the wing; it is the depravity of logic which it represents, not the Divine reason and fitness. On the contrary, many know nothing of use. Oh, what wasted lives we lead! Alas! alas! our most beautiful things are as perishable foam bells, born and expiring on a wave. Not so God.
II. Then you see what Divine providence is. Man is the one manifold. In the multiplicity of Divine operations we see the human hand beneath the angel’s wing. “A little lower than the angels,” God carries on His great operations. What is this humanity which everywhere meets us alike, in things above and beneath? “Angels desiring to look” into the things of men, and all nature striving upward into manhood. By men surely God carries on some of the greatest affairs of His providence. From His exalted concealment, God is constantly energising by the human hand. This in all ages has been. And is not our redemption a hand, the human hand beneath the Divine wing, a hand stretched out, “the likeness of a man’s hand beneath the cherubim.” What is the humanity of Jesus but the human hand beneath the Divine wing? If all things on earth whisper man, and point to man, and reflect man, and prophesy the reign and the ultimate Christian perfectibility of man, oh, what a consolation is this! Thus, also, this thought, this idea, rebukes the many false modern notions of God. See in this God’s own picture of His providence; and never be it ours to divorce that human from the Divine in God’s being.
III. See, in the human hand beneath the wing of the angel, the relation of a life of action to a life of contemplation. The great Gregory says, “The rule of the Christian life is first to be joined to an active life in productiveness, and after, to a contemplative mind in rest.” Thus, when the mind seeks rest in contemplation, it sees more, but it is less productive in fruit to God; when it betakes itself to working, it sees less but bears more largely. Hence, then, by the wings of the creatures we may behold the contemplations of the saints, by which they soar aloft, and, quitting earthly scenes, poise themselves in the regions of heaven; as it is written, “They shall mount up as on wings.” And by the hands understand deeds, they administer even by bodily administration; but the hands under the wings show how they surpass the deeds of their action by the excellence of contemplation.
IV. Religion is the human hand beneath the angel’s wing. It is both. So I may say to you: Has your religion a hand in it? Has your religion a wing in it? Has it a hand? It is practical, human, sympathetic. Has it a wing? It is lofty, unselfish, inclusive, divine. Has it a hand? How does it prove itself? By embracing, and this hand laying hold upon--by works. Has it a wing? How does it prove itself? By prayer, by faith, by heaven. I do not know if you have read and are acquainted with the essay of that eminent man, Richard Owen, “On the Nature of Limbs”; if so, you did not fail to meditate on that frontispiece, in which the science of anatomy rises into more than the play of poetry; where that great, perhaps greatest of all anatomists, does not hesitate to show to us by a diagram, the human skeleton hand, clothed upon, preening, developing into the wing of an angel. But faith sees more than science: faith does, indeed, behold the hand rising into the wing; indeed, sees in the hand only the undeveloped wing. Without a doubt it shall be so; we are preparing for the hour when our wings shall burst from their prison and spring into the light. (E. P. Hood.)
The hidden hands of Christlike ministry
Oberlin, the French philanthropist, was once travelling in the depth of winter amongst the mountains of Alsace. The cold was intense, the snow lay thickly upon the ground, and ere the half of his journey was over he felt himself yielding to fatigue and sleep. He knew if he gave way to sleep he would wake no more; but in spite of this knowledge, desire for sleep overcame him, and he lost consciousness. When he came to again, a waggoner in blue blouse was standing over him, urging him to take wine and food. By and by his strength revived, he was able to walk to the waggon, and was soon driven to the nearest village. His rescuer refused money, saying it was his duty to assist one in distress. Oberlin begged to know his name, that he might remember him in his prayers. “I see,” replied the waggoner, “you are a preacher. Tell me the name of the Good Samaritan.” “I cannot,” answered Oberlin, “for it is not recorded.” “Ah, well,” said the waggoner, “when you can tell me his name, I will then tell you mine.” And so he went away. (The Signal.)
The four wheels by the cherubims.
The Divine government
I. This vision represents the absolute and universal government of God.
1. That God does possess and wield such a government is indicated by the reference to the throne--an object which is in itself the symbol of supreme power. It is indicated also by a reference to the influences emanating from the throne, and regulating the movement of the cherubim and of the wheels--the cherubim signifying angelic beings, and the wheels signifying the procedure and course of mundane affairs, all subordinated to Him and regulated by Him, the possessor of infinite majesty. While we acknowledge its immensity, let us endeavour habitually and most profoundly to feel that we ourselves are subject to the government of God.
2. The peculiar connection in which this government is exhibited. The prophetic descriptions speak of a human form as being associated with the manifestation of the Divine glory. Now, from the analogous statements of inspiration we cannot do otherwise than consider this part of the vision as introducing to us the Son of God--Him who became incarnate in the fulness of time, as Mediator uniting in Himself the human and the Divine nature, and in that complex state effecting the great work of human redemption. What is pourtrayed can suit none but Him; and to Him, as “Emmanuel, God with us,” “God manifest in the flesh,” it does emphatically and beautifully answer.
II. This vision represents the characteristics which the procedure of the Divine government includes and exemplifies.
1. There is a representation of its intricacy. This is conveyed in the structure of the cherubim; it is conveyed in the relation between the cherubim and the wheels; and it is conveyed in what is stated as to the wheels themselves. We live truly in the midst of mysteries; and as those mysteries pass, in their dark and shadowy forms, there ever resounds to us the challenge, “Lo, these are parts of His ways,” etc.
2. There is the characteristic of intelligence. It is stated, with regard to the agencies which are now introduced for our attention, that “their whole body and their backs and their hands and their wings and the wheels were full of eyes round about, even the wheels that they four had”; the eyes, according to the interpretation of Scripture symbols, being known as the signs and emblems of intelligence. Here, we conceive, we have the fact brought before us, that the system according to which the course of our world proceeds is not that of blind mechanism or fate--a dogma which modern infidelity, imitating its predecessors, has revived and promulgated, but that it proceeds under the direction of mind, the highest operation by which events can by possibility be regulated. The infinite mind of Jehovah is constantly occupied in directorial functions. That infinite mind formed the plan of government, and that infinite mind, as the course of His government proceeds, is ever active, diffusing itself to the furthest range, and penetrating to the most minute recesses, lighting up all as with the radiance of its own emissions, and by knowing all, prompting and ordering all.
3. There is the characteristic of immense and ever active energy. We read, for example, of the cherubim and of their movements, that “as for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps: it went up and down,” etc. “And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning.” And as to the wheels it is said, “when they went, they went upon their four sides; they turned not as they went, but to the place whither the head looked they followed it; they turned not as they went.” The agencies which are set in motion by God never cease and never tire, but pass steadily and uniformly onward, in order to accomplish the purpose of Him who “worketh all things according to the counsel of His own will”--their energy being constantly supplied and fed by the resources of His energy, which is inexhaustible, as the God who is almighty, the Lord God Omnipotent.
4. There is the characteristic of harmony. We read that the wheels have one likeness; and we read also that the wheels and the cherubim act and proceed in entire and in perfect concert. “I looked,” says the prophet, “and behold the four wheels”--“the spirit of the living creature was in them.” We learn from this that the agencies employed under the Divine administration are never disjointed from each other, never contravene or oppose each other, but blend all their movements and operations as though they were actually, notwithstanding their multifariousness and variety, one. We may observe that the procedure of these agencies is also in perfect harmony with the original plan of the Divine mind, never for a moment deviating from it, but always answering to that which is designed to be accomplished. We may also observe that the procedure of these agencies thus harmonising will finally appear so before the whole intelligent creation, that they may admire, and that God may receive His highest glory.
III. This vision represents the tribute which the government of God, so characterised, demands.
1. The government of God, thus characterised, demands our adoration. It is truly the development of what is great and ineffably majestic; and the proper tribute for the development of its greatness and majesty is that of humble and awful reverence.
2. The government of God, so characterised, demands our study. Intelligent beings were formed with the view that they should become the students of the government of God. It is made known to them that they might meditate upon it, so as to apprehend it; and only thus can they offer the other departments of the tribute which are required from them. The Divine procedure and government is the noblest theme which can possibly engage our immortal mind. There is nothing but what is comprehended here. It includes all history, all the inventions of art, all the discoveries of science--science, whether confined to matter or mind, whether referring to our own world or to the most distant tribes that are discoverable in the vast universal of space: all things that can engage our imagination or reason are comprehended in the government of God.
3. The government of God, as thus characterised, demands our submission. “Nay, but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Be still and know that I am God.”
4. The government of God, thus characterised, demands our confidence. If for our eternal welfare we are reposing upon the testimony which He has given us concerning His Son, let us exercise the same confidence with regard to the interests of nations, and with regard to the wellbeing of the Church; and let us not doubt that all things now transpiring around us, in the passions of communities, in the convulsions of nations, and in the events disastrous or Otherwise, which affect the interests of the Church, are under the management of the same perfect principle, and are gradually intended to evolve the same grand and delightful results. And then let us trust also in our anticipations of the future. (J. Parsons.)
Full of eyes round about.
God has been called “All eye.” This is the terrible pain of living, that there is no privacy, no solitude, no possibility of a man getting absolutely with himself and by himself. Wherever we are we are in public. We can, indeed, exclude the vulgar public, the common herd, the thoughtless multitude; a plain deal door can shut out that kind of world: but what can shut out the beings who do the will of Heaven, and who are full of eyes, their very chariot wheels being luminous with eyes, everything round about them looking at us critically, penetratingly, judicially? We live unwisely when we suppose that we are not being superintended, observed, criticised, and judged. “Thou God seest me”; “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth.” We need not regard this aspect of Divine providence as alarming. The aspect will be to us what we are to it. Faithful servants are encouraged by the remembrance of the fact that the taskmaster’s eye is upon them; unfaithful servants will regard the action of that eye as a judgment. Thus God is to us what we are to God. If we are humble, He is gracious; if we are froward, He is haughty; if we are sinful, He is angry; if we are prayerful, He is condescending and sympathetic. Let the wicked man tremble when he hears that the whole horizon is starred with gleaming eyes that are looking him through and through; but let the good man rejoice that all heaven is one eye looking upon him with complacency, watching all his action that it may come to joy, reward, rest, and higher power of service in the generations yet to dawn. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The eyes of Providence
“Full of eyes round about.” Here is a difference from that in Ezekiel 1:18. It is said there the rings were full of eyes; here, that all, even wheels and cherubims, were full of eyes, and He that sat on the throne, even the Lord, He is full of eyes.
1. The motions of causes and creatures here below are not casual or disorderly. The wheels and cherubims are full of eyes, they see and know their way, the work they have to do, the place they are to go unto; the eye of Providence is in every creature and every motion. When things fall out contrary, or beside our expectations, you say they are mischances; but you are mistaken: in sea or land affairs, in martial, magisterial, or ministerial, yea domestic affairs, whatever falls out is an act of Providence; surprising or sinking of ships, disappointment of counsels, defeating of armies, escape of prisoners, interception of letters, firing of towns, drownings, self-murderings, divisions of brethren, clandestine marriages, abortions, divorces, the eyes of Providence are in them all, and heaven’s intentions are accomplished in them.
2. There is much glory and beauty in the works of Divine providence. All the wheels and cherubims are full of eyes; the wheels have eyes round about, not in one place, but in every place; the cherubims, their bodies, backs, hands, and wings are full of eyes; and (Revelation 4:8) they are full of eyes within, they are inwardly and outwardly glorious, beautiful. Man’s eyes add not so much beauty and glory to his face, as these eyes do to the works of God in the world. The peacock’s train, which is full of eyes, how beautiful and glorious is it! yet far short of the beauty and glory which is in God’s government of the world. When the queen of Sheba saw so much wisdom in a man, so much glory and beauty in the order of his house, she admired, and had no spirit left in her (1 Kings 10:4-5). And could we see the wisdom which is in God, the glory and beauty which is in His ordering the wheels, we would be so far from complaining of any wheel’s motion that we would admire every wheel, the order and motion of it; but oh, how blind are we, who hardly have an eye to see any of these eyes! When a man is on a high hill, there are many hedges, ditches, and separations of one piece of land from another; there are low shrubs and higher trees, here a hill and there a river; yet all contribute something to make a beautiful and glorious prospect to the eye: and so it is in the works of providence. If we were lifted up by the Spirit to view the wheels and their motions, we should find that all these things that seem grievous to us, our wars, divisions, taxes, burdens, and such like, do contribute much towards a glorious prospect. (W. Greenhill, M. A.)
The wheel of providence
I take this figure to refer to Divine providence--the actual dealings of the Creator with His creatures; so various, so complicated, and yet so harmonious after all.
I. The changes in God’s providence. The chariot that we see here is not of the old rude type, not a mere sledge drawn roughly and heavily along the ground; but something more ingenious and more elaborate. It has its wheels--that beautiful kind of mechanism, which none of the most recent improvements in locomotion have been able to supersede; the wheel, with its many spokes and perfect circle, ever revolving and revolving. Many of us can recollect the time when, as children, our minds first caught the idea of the motion of a wheel; the higher part becoming the lower, the spokes that were upward becoming reversed and pointing downward, whilst from beneath other spokes were ever rising to the top; and so, nothing continuing at one stage--nothing to be seen but change, change, perpetual change. And now, no longer children, we see it all in providence; and, seeing it, look up and cry, “O wheel!”
1. We see it in social life.
(1) Look into the house. “One generation is passing away, and another generation coming.” “Instead of the fathers are the children.”
(2) Look on the Exchange. Old long-established houses are sinking, are disappearing, and younger firms are taking their place.
(3) Look into the Churches. Where are the old preachers that used to move all hearts? and who are these younger men that have risen to so much influence?
2. We see it in national experience. See what our Father is doing in the earth, what changes--what mighty changes--He is working on every hand. This is no new aspect of His dealings. There was a time when on the spokes of the wheel were written the names of Babylon and Persia, of Greece and Rome. And then the wheel turned round: and each in succession rose to the summit--and was humbled to the dust. Has it not been the same story ever since? and is it not the same story now? It matters not what political opinions you may hold. As you watch the rise and fall of nations, parties, and opinions on the wheel of Divine providence, you are constrained to cry, “O wheel!”
3. We see it in the history of the professing Church. Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea--these are the names of seven famous Churches: Churches to which Christ Himself dictated sacred letters, and which stood high and conspicuous in the religious history of the world. Where are they now? The wheel has turned! They are sunk down into the mire, and lie buried there! So too with the Churches to which Paul wrote. Where are Corinth, Galatia, Philippi, Colosse, Thessalonica? The mosque rises where once stood the Christian sanctuary, and the Crescent has displaced the Cross. But you say, The Church of Rome still stands. It does! But is this the Church to which Paul wrote? So you may go through the professing Churches of every name--at home and abroad--near or far, and you will find nothing uniform or stationary: only change upon change--increase and decrease--advance and decline until you stand amazed and bewildered, and can only cry, “O wheel!”
II. Progress in the midst of all these changes. The wheel the prophet saw was not like the wheel we may see in fireworks,--one which revolves round the axle, leaving the axle motionless; it was the wheel of a chariot--one which carries the axle with it, and bears the chariot on with each revolution. And there is something in this view very cheering in the truth it suggests: that in the midst of so many changes of God’s providence a real progress is taking place. Bear in mind--the progress of the chariot is independent of the position of the separate spokes. Some of them may be rising, some falling; but each moment the chariot goes on. Nay, some of them may be actually moving backwards--but still the chariot goes forwards. Just so, all the changes in God’s providence--even those that look like changes in the wrong direction--are helping on the progress after all.
1. In what sense is this to be understood? In what forward movement are these changes bearing a part? I answer, in the accomplishment of the purposes of God. The world is to be converted to God. “All the ends of the earth shall remember,” “I, if I be lifted up,” etc. The Church is to be complete in members, purity, and bliss. We read of “a multitude that none can number, of all nations and kindreds and people and tongues.” We read of saints “without spot or blemish,” and these are “presented faultless,” etc. The Redeemer is to have a large and abundant reward. “He shall see of the travail,” etc.
2. In what way can this progress come to pass? How can changes so disastrous help forward the accomplishment of purposes so delightful? We have to do with One who is “wonderful in counsel and excellent in working.” There may be lions in the path--but He slays the lions, “and out of the eater comes forth meat, and out of the strong, sweetness.” There may be passions in man’s heart worse than beasts of prey,--but He so controls their working that in the end “the wrath of man shall praise Him.” “Is there anything too hard for the Lord?” (F. Tucker, B. A.)
The mysteries of providence
I. The extent and universality of its operations. The wide reach of God’s providential government comprehends what is easy to be understood as well as what is mysterious. The light and the darkness are often placed together, though in reality they are both alike to Him. With God there is nothing incomprehensible:--the terms great and little, easy and difficult, with Him are words of the same meaning. When we read the account of these wheels, of their rings and their motions, and the living creatures that accompanied them, we are confounded. Yet it is easy to conceive of the Son of Man governing the celestial inhabitants according to the will of His Father, regulating their movements by the agency of His Spirit, and employing them as instruments in accomplishing His gracious purposes.
II. The complexity of its movements.
1. Is it not intended to mortify our pride? There is no religion without humility.
2. Does it not serve to exercise our faith and patience?
3. Is it not designed to check in us a lawless spirit of curiosity?
III. The perpetuity of its revolutions. The changes that are taking place in the history of nations, churches, families, and individuals are all tending to the completion of His designs. Are they not intended to teach us how uncertain and unsatisfactory are all created things?
IV. The harmony of their concurrence.
1. They are all directed to one object.
2. They are all acting upon one plan. Here there is nothing casual or fortuitous. The past has made way for the present, and the present is preparing for the future.
3. They are all animated by one influence.
V. It is unimpeded in its progress. We mean not to say that there are no hindrances in the way of the Divine purposes being accomplished; for ignorance, prejudice, and sin present most formidable barriers; but as the wheels in the vision are described as going forward, impelled by a Divine influence, it certainly teaches us that God’s will is irresistible, and intimates the certain triumph of truth in the world. (Essex Remembrancer.)
Ezekiel’s vision of the wheel
The cry, “O wheel,” the articulated cry of the universal human spirit, meant, “O Divine mystery! the intellect cannot comprehend thee, yet the heart’s aspiration is towards thee.”
1. This exclamation indicates our proper attitude in presence of these mysteries as one of awe, and not of definition. Modern scientific investigation tends to reveal to us, more and more humiliatingly, the narrowness and impotence of our faculty. The very growth of knowledge makes manifest the limitations and the illusiveness of knowledge. And the danger is that of a universal scepticism; that men should say, “I cannot know anything as it is, and therefore I will believe nothing, obey nothing, but the instincts of my own nature.” It is only the spirit of reverence that can save us. Let us not spend our intellectual energies and dissipate our spiritual forces in the pursuit of that which ever eludes us. Let our language be, “Though we cannot comprehend, we will adore.” And so let our reverence teach us obedience and love, and our piety be of the life and not of the intellect. Let us not divorce religion from life, and make it a series of dead abstractions instead of a living spirit. It is the pursuit of a good that is known, and not speculation, however dogmatic, upon that which is unknowable, that constitutes practical religion. It is “in loving our brother whom we have seen” that we attain to the love of God, “whom we have not seen.”
2. In all this imagery the prophet is describing a vision of God, and by the emblem of the wheels he describes so much as is understood of the Divine nature. There is breath in the wheels. It is a living deity. There are eyes around the peripheries. This points to infinite knowledge and intelligence as overruling the world. The wheels are four-faced; the faces representing the different orders of creation, showing the relation of the Divine Spirit to all the various kingdoms of life. The movements are swift and in all directions, there being a double motion of the wheels, which are inserted in pairs at right angles to each other. This suggests the idea of omnipresence. The mischief is, that so many minds stay in the symbol and suffer it to block out the spiritual idea, instead of serving as a stepping stone to it The wheel becomes the deity instead of the symbol of deity; the object of idolatry, instead of simply a spiritual hieroglypbic to aid our conceptions of the Divine.
3. The wheel which the prophet saw in his vision stands not only for a representation of the Divine nature, as he conceived it, but also as an illustration of the Divine method in the universe.
(1) It is curious, in the light of the prophet’s representation, that the scientific theory of the origin of the universe which at present holds the field is the doctrine of “vortices,” which teaches that the atoms of the impalpable ether first became compacted into solid matter through a spinning motion in some way imparted to them, or generated amongst themselves. All the planets were originally whirling rings of molten or meteoric matter thrown off from their central sun, such as may still be seen in the rings of the planet Saturn. The mightiest forces of nature with which we are acquainted on our earth travel in circles more or less perfect: the cyclone, the whirlwind, the whirlpool, the ocean currents. There is perpetual circulation, or, to use the prophet’s term, “wheeling” or “whirling” everywhere. It is in the body, in the course traversed by the blood. It is in the cells of minutest plants, where the protoplasmic fluid travels in circles or circuits with a movement that is called for this reason “cyclosis.” It is in the meteorological conditions of the earth. The fierce heat of the sun in equatorial regions causes the water of the ocean to evaporate in vast bodies of invisible vapour, which, rising to the upper regions of the air, are drawn into currents which bear them to the colder northern regions of our planet, where they distil in snow and rains upon the mountains; form rivulets and rivers which flow back into the sea, and are borne once more by the trend of the pelagic currents to the regions whence they arose. The movements of the tides imply a constant circulation. This portion of the globe on which we dwell has experienced remarkable rotations of climate. It has known, for long ages together, both tropical heat and arctic cold; and it is supposed that the slow oscillations of the earth’s polar axis may bring round similar changes again. And so, in the movements of History, the same law prevails--the whirling wheel is still the type. The very words we use to describe the course of providential occurrences is a proof of this. We talk of cycles--of revolutions--of evolution. In all these words the central idea is that of circular motion. There is everywhere revolution and return. There are cycles of thought which complete themselves, and then the human mind seems to revert to its starting point. Old exploded errors are continually cropping up again, and the world’s teachers have to be perpetually doing their work anew. We all know how fashions recur: not only fashions in dress but fashions in thinking. We laugh at witchcraft and toy with spiritualism. The pages of history are filled with the stories of the rise and fall and decay of nations that emerged from comparative barbarism to a splendid civilisation and universal conquest, and then fell back into a condition of comparative barbarism once more.
(2) In the prophet’s vision there were “wheels within wheels.” This points to another law of the universe, the complex relations of forces. You have seen an orrery, a most complicated piece of mechanism, whereby the orbits of the heavenly bodies are illustrated. It is just a system of “wheels within wheels.” Nothing can be explained by itself. The ancients used to divide off the various sciences as though each were a self-contained and independent department of study. But now the sciences are so interlaced and mutually dependent that you cannot effectively study any of them alone. “To understand botany aright you must also possess a knowledge of chemistry. You cannot understand zoology apart from geology. Psychology, the science of mind, is rapidly becoming a department of physiology. The same force which we call electricity is, according to varying conditions, at one time heat, at another time motion, at another time light, at another time latent energy,--“wheels within wheels.” We talk about simple thoughts. There is no thought that is not the product of, and that does not ramify into, a thousand other thoughts. We talk of the “simple Gospel,” but what wheels within wheels of mystery, what a vast range of insoluble questions does it suggest! It is a simple Gospel only to the unthinking.
4. I find further suggested by this emblem, the Divine law of progress. The revolution of the wheels results in transition over space. There is the motion, not only upon their own several axes, but through the air and over the ground, according to the will of the informing spirit. They are the type, not only of motion, but of locomotion, Winter after winter the leaves fall, and vegetation dies down, and everywhere is apparent decay and death. But nature is only recovering herself for another effort, and in the spring every tree shoots forth into a more vigorous growth. Nature dies to live again. Out of the decomposition of last year’s foliage what new and beauteous forms of floral life have sprung! And their decay in turn will nourish other forms of life. “Every atom of the soil is in the universal wheel of things.” Shall this be true of nature alone? Shall not man rise through seeming dissolution to his true completion? As one of our modern mystics says, “We call autumn the fall of the year, and winter the dead past of the year, but they are as really included in the circuit of the year as spring and summer. Let us learn to contemplate the fall and the death of man, together with his new birth and resurrection, his ascension and glorification, as comprehended in the wheel of God.”
5. The prophet is careful to tell us that, complex as were the wheels, they were not mere dead mechanism. “The spirit of life was in the wheels.” The immanency of the Divine life in all things was to him a noble and a helpful conception. And the latest teachings of science and philosophy, God’s modern priests and prophets, are that all this mighty universe, all the things that we see and hear and perceive, are the phenomena, the manifestations, of a hidden but all-pervading life that, through our sensations, is thus in direct, constant, and vital contact with our consciousness. There is no such thing as dead matter. It is we who are dead, not to perceive the life that is in all.
6. Think of Ezekiel’s monsters and griffins, and his impossible machinery careering through the air, as embodying the thought of God; and then contrast these representations with those of Him who said, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father”; who translated Divine abstractions into living and loving deeds; who healed the sick, and said, “That is God”; who taught the ignorant, and said, “That is God”; who forgave injuries, and said, “That is God”; who laid down His life, and said, “That is God”; who pointed to no grotesque symbols and spoke in no mystical jargon, but of the ever-serving, the ever-sacrificing, the ever-present, the ever-loving Father--God. (J. Halsey.)
I. The wheel, as a rule, moves round one central bar of wood or iron, which we call an axis or axle. It teaches us a lesson in this respect. Our lives should have one strong principle, about which they should move just as the wheel does round its axle, and never turn aside in the least.
2. The wheel often bears the burdens of others, and thus hellos the world to go on. This is true of many kinds of wheels; but I will only speak now of those which you see every day under all kinds of conveyances on railways and in our streets. How patiently they turn round and round, often along dirty roads, in order to carry the heavy burdens laid upon them! I want you children to be like the wheels, always ready to render a kind service to others: “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and thus fulfil the law of Christ.”
3. There is many a wheel that is satisfied with working out of sight. For instance, the wheels of the clock or watch go on doing their work although most attention is paid to the hands which they turn rather than to themselves. There are many in the world who could learn a great deal from wheels that work patiently out of sight. They are willing to be flywheels, which everybody can see and admire; but not to be little wheels, which do their work unnoticed by anyone--except by the Great Engineer, who knows them well, and what important work they are doing. There are others who are satisfied with the thought that this Divine Engineer is pleased with them because they do just the work He wishes them to do; and know that He is “no respecter of persons.”
4. The wheel only asks of us a little oil to encourage it to go on. The other day I heard the wheels of a perambulator crying piteously for just two drops of oil; but the nursemaid was as deaf as a pest, and did not hear them, and the poor wheels went on squeaking. There are some good, kind people who will do all they can for the sake of others; but occasionally they want a little oil by way of encouragement; a kind word or smile, that is all. (D. Davies.)
The vision of the wheels
None of all the prophets have set out the providence of God in His wisdom, power, sovereignty, and superintendency more than this prophet Ezekiel, nor by more elegant emblems. In the whole verse you have four parts.
I. The crier. Which though not expressed, yet is necessarily to be understood. “It was cried”; by whom? By Him that sat upon the throne (verse 1), that is the Lord.
II. You have the cry itself. “O wheel!”
III. The object of the cry. To whom it was made; it was to the wheels. “As for the wheels, it was cried to them.”
IV. Here is the witness in whose presence the cry was uttered, and that was the prophet. “It was cried in my hearing.” In speaking of these wheels, it will be necessary to look into the whole vision. In which vision you may see an excellent subordination of causes one to another, and all to the supreme cause, in the carrying on the government in the providential kingdom of Christ.
1. You have the supreme cause set out by the appearance of a man upon a throne above the firmament (Ezekiel 1:26). Above the firmament was the likeness of a throne, and upon the throne was the likeness of a man above upon it. The likeness of a man. Who is this but the Lord Christ in the Person of the Mediator? But Christ was not as yet come in the flesh, why then is He here represented in the likeness of a man?
(1) It was to prefigure His incarnation.
(2) It was to show that the government of the world was put into His hand as Mediator, and that He possessed the throne of the world not as God only, but according to His human nature. By Him all things consist (Colossians 1:17). And hence it is that God the Father calls Him, My King (Psalms 2:6).
2. Though Christ rules absolutely, yet He doth not rule immediately; He governs the world by the agency of the Eternal Spirit. As Christ rules for God, so the Spirit rules for Christ. He is the great Administrator of the government throughout the mediatory kingdom. He sets all a-going (Ezekiel 1:12). Whither the Spirit was to go, they went; and again (verse 20), whithersoever the Spirit was to go, they went; thither was their Spirit to go. All the angels of God are under the command of the Spirit. And so it is with the wheels, they all move as the Spirit of God moves them. What great things did the judges in Israel of old! Why, all was by the Spirit of God. So it is said of Othniel, the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he went out to war, and the Lord delivered his enemies into his hand (Judges 3:10). So it is said (Judges 11:29), The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he fought against the children of Ammon; and the Lord delivered them into his hands. So it is said of Samson: The Spirit of the Lord moved him (Judges 13:25). Princes, armies, navies are all nothing without the Spirit of God act them. If God dispirits, the men of might cannot find their hands. The sound of a shaken leaf shall chase them (Leviticus 26:36). And if God spirits men, one shall chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight (Deuteronomy 32:30). The wheels go which way soever the Spirit goes. If you see the wheel go over kingdoms, and break down thrones and sceptres, marvel not at the matter, for the Spirit of God is in the wheels.
3. Here is another subordination of causes; and that is the living creatures. In chap. 1:5 you read of four living creatures, every one of which had four faces (Ezekiel 1:6). He doth not say who or what these living creatures are in that vision; but in this tenth chapter he tells you they are the angels (Ezekiel 1:20). The living creatures that I saw, under the God of Israel, I knew that they were the cherubims; everyone had four faces apiece (Ezekiel 1:21). The former vision was at Chebar, this was in the temple. God discovers Himself more in the temple than at Chebar (Psalms 29:9). And if you look into chap. 1:10, there is a description of their faces. As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, and the face of an ox, and the face of an eagle. The very same faces with the four beasts mentioned (Revelation 4:7). These four faces show four excellent endowments. Wisdom and prudence, typed out by the face of a man. Courage and boldness, by the face of a lion. Diligence and industry, by the face of an ox. Expedition and dispatch, by the face of an eagle. These were the likeness of the four faces of each cherubim, all which is to instruct us in the wise forecast by which the Providence of God doth dispose of all these lower events that come to pass in the world. The angels are the great ministers of Christ in the government of the world, called four here (chap. 1:5), four living creatures; not because Christ uses that number, and no more, but the number relates to the object, namely, the world, which is constantly divided into four parts, east, west, north, and south; and these are called the four quarters of the earth (Revelation 20:8). And the four quarters of heaven (Jeremiah 49:36). As there are four parts of the world, so the angels are said to be four; to show that they have a care of the whole earth (Revelation 7:1). But otherwise God doth not use only four angels in the conducting the affairs of the world, but many, yea multitudes (2 Kings 6:17). Christ hath His angels in all quarters; as the devil and his angels compass the whole world for evil, so Christ hath His angels who compass it for good. They are in every corner and company; especially in every church and assembly. The inward part of the temple was to be adorned with cherubims, to note the special attendance of the angels in the assemblies of the saints (1 Corinthians 11:10). If Satan and fallen angels have a power to influence the affairs of the world for evil, then surely good angels have as much power as they to influence them for good, otherwise devils should gain by their fall more than ever they had by their standing. Great is the influence of angels in the governments of the world; therefore the wheels are said to follow the motions of the cherubims (Ezekiel 10:16).
4. Here is a further subordination; and that is of the affairs of the world to the angels. Christ, who rules all, sends His Spirit, the Spirit acts the angels, the angels rule the world, and therefore you have in the next place a vision of wheels. By these wheels the world is resembled, and all the affairs of it (Ezekiel 1:19). When the living creatures went, the wheels went by them; and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. And ver.
2. When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood. Now they which are called here the living creatures are in Ezekiel 10:16 called the cherubims, and the reason of all is in the next words, for the Spirit of the living creature is in them, i.e. in the wheels, as it is twice mentioned (Ezekiel 1:20-21). So that here you have a short view of the whole subordination of causes one to another, and of all to the supreme cause, in ordering all the affairs of this lower world. God the Father puts the government of all into the hands of Christ. Christ substitutes the Spirit to be His Prorex, and sends Him into the world to manage all things. The Spirit acts the angels, and they all minister to Him. The angels act the wheels, and they all are governed by them. I must open this part of the vision a little more distinctly concerning the wheels--
1. As to the nature of them.
2. As to what is ascribed to them.
1. As for the nature of these wheels, they are visional, and presented by way of emblem. The prophet tells you (chap. 1:1) the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. These wheels were a part of those visions, and therefore not material wheels, but yet as really represented to the eye of the prophet in similitude, and as strongly impressed upon his mind in the image of them as if they had been material. By the wheels we are to understand this visible world, because of the turnings and changes of all things in it. It is usual with the Spirit of God to resemble the world to things that are in their nature most mutable.
(1) The wheel is a thing fitted for motion. From its figure it is apt to turn and move any way; that spoke that is now lowermost is anon highest, and that which is got to the top soon comes to the bottom again; here is no such matter as a permanent state of things. What are the kingdoms and empires of the world, but so many wheels turning up and down? Those four great monarchies, the Babylonian, the Persian, the Grecian, and the Roman, where are they? What is become of them? how did they wheel from one to another, and at last wheeled out of being? So it is with cities,--what is become of Sodom, and the cities of the plain? Nay, what is become of Jerusalem? She that was once the beauty of the whole earth, and yet now laid waste, and not one stone left upon another. Nay, the Church, which hath a firmer foundation than heaven and earth, yet she is a wheel too: hurried here and there, never long in any condition; sometimes prosperous, sometimes persecuted. Now she enjoys rest and peace; anon, O thou afflicted, and tossed with tempest! One while she is in Egypt, another while in the wilderness; sometimes in Canaan, and sometimes in Babylon. The lot of the Church under the Gospel is the same. It is the same with particular persons and families; how doth the wheel turn there? Solomon tells you, one generation passes away, and another comes, but he tells you of none that stays. Man’s exit is so near to his entrance, that what comes between is inconsiderable. His birth is a change, his death is a change, and so is his whole life: there are changes in his health; well today, sick tomorrow. Changes in his height and honour; now on the top of the wheel, anon at the bottom. You have an instance of this in Haman.
(2) Wheels make a great noise, their motion is obstreperous; so the prophet describes them (Nahum 3:2). The noise of the rattling of the wheels, and of the jumping chariots. So it is in the motions of the world. Great wars make a great noise; therefore you read of the noise of the trumpet, and the noise of war (Exodus 32:17). Every battle of the warrior is with confused noise (Isaiah 9:5). Great sorrows and great rejoicings make a great noise (Ezra 3:13). You read of the noise of joy, and the noise of weeping. Great changes in government make a great noise (Jeremiah 49:21). The earth is moved at the noise of their fall.
(3) The wheel is an instrument of great variety of services; it is many ways useful. The chariot is drawn upon wheels; great burdens are carried upon the wheel. Now, from these things it will not be difficult for you to apprehend what is meant by the wheels in this vision; namely, all created beings in this lower world; and all instruments which God makes use of in the government of it; all the elements, fire, water, earth, and air: they are so many wheels. But we are to understand them chiefly of rational agents: kings and princes, magistrates and ministers, armies and navies, rich and poor, learned and unlearned. Thus much for the nature of the wheels, which is the first thing to be opened.
2. As to what is ascribed to them. Now, concerning these wheels, there are several things ascribed to them that are of very great moment.
(1) It is said the wheels are full of eyes (Ezekiel 10:12). “The wheels were full of eyes round about.” This implieth the Omniscience of Christ, and His exact notice of all matters in the world; though many things may be hid from us, yet there is nothing hid from Him. If we could suppose anything done by man that is unknown to God, why then, in that particular thing the knowledge of man would be superior to God; he would know something more than God knows, which is impossible; for the eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good (Proverbs 15:3). There are secrets of government, secrets of state, secrets of the heart, secret contrivances, secret aims and intentions; but none of them are secrets to God. Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world. Thus the wheels are full of eyes.
(2) This sets out the care of Christ: the things of the world are not carried on by a blind force; all events are wisely disposed of by the governing care of Providence, which hath a special influence in the managing of all. Things may seem to us to run upon wheels, to go at random, or to fail out by chance, but there is no such thing as chance to that God that foresees and orders all events. He worketh all things according to the counsel of His own will. Those motions and commotions in the world that to us seem most irregular and confused are all ordered by God.
(3) These wheels are said to go upon their four sides (Ezekiel 10:11 of this 10th chap.). I told you before that the four wheels answer to the four parts of the world; and when it is said they went on the four sides, the meaning is that, look what quarter of the world was appointed to them, thither they went and there they moved. And then it shows their motion was constant and settled, answering to the immutable purpose of Him with whom there is no shadow of change. God is not as man, who is fickle and doth not know his own mind, turning from one side to another; today for pulling down what yesterday he set up. There is no altering the course of Providence; no art, no power, no policy can turn Him out of the way, His Providence is settled in its motion.
(4) There is no going back (Ezekiel 10:11). They turned not as they went, but to the place whither the head looked they followed it; they turned not as they went. We may be sure there are no retrograde motions in the course of Providence. How can there, seeing the wheels are full of eyes round about? He to whom all future events are in present view can see no cause to repent. There can be no blots in the copy of Providence, because it is written by the straight line of His unerring counsel. If God go forth against a person, or against a nation or people, none can stand in His way to turn Him back (Isaiah 43:13). If God will pull down, who can support? If God will take away (be it honours, or crowns, or kingdoms, or life itself), who can hinder Him? Can policy turn Him back? No. Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought (Isaiah 8:10).
(5) The wheels are said to he lifted up from the earth, and to be high and dreadful (Ezekiel 1:18-19). This is to teach us that God’s wisdom is infinite and unsearchable, and His Providences full of mystery. Sometimes they move in an ordinary way, then the wheels move upon the earth. Sometimes God goes out of the usual road, and acts in extraordinary ways, that reason can’t reach, then the wheels are said to be “high, and lifted up from the earth.” How little could Joseph see what God was doing when he was in the pit at Dothan, less in the dungeon in Egypt, when he is laid in chains for a reward of his chastity? Oh, how high are the wheels above the earth! nay, sometimes they are so high that they are dreadful (Ezekiel 10:18). They were so to Jeremiah (Ezekiel 12:1). Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously? They were so to Job (chap. 19:7). Behold I cry out of wrong, but am not heard; I cry aloud, but there is no judgment. He hath kindled His wrath against me, and He counts me as one of His enemies (verse 11). When the Church is in trouble, and all the earth sits still, and is at, rest. When you see Christians kingdoms broken with wars and tumults, and heathen nations in peace and quiet. His providences are ever righteous, but sometimes very mysterious.
(6) There is a wheel in the midst of a wheel (Ezekiel 1:16, and Ezekiel 1:10 of this chap.). Their appearance and their work was, as it were, a wheel in the middle of a wheel. This implies a transverse motion, like the circles in a globe, that cut and cross each other. It is to show us how cross and contrary the motions of Providence are to our apprehensions and designs. He brings about His purposes by contrary means. Haman lays a plot against the Jews, to cut off all the people of God in one day; and the king himself was in the plot too; letters were written, the thing agreed on. The wheel seems to run very smoothly; but mark the next words, it was turned to the contrary; and in the day that the enemy thought to have power over the Jews, that the Jews had power over them that hated them. Here’s a wheel in the midst of a wheel. Who can understand the intricacies of Providence? The working of this inward wheel is seen many ways. When God shall make such impressions upon the spirits of men as shall have their effect in their utter ruin, is not this from the wheel within?
(7) The wheels are sometimes at a stop, they stand stiff. So you read (verse 18 of this 10th chap.). When the cherubims stood, the wheels stood. This sometimes is really so. God suspends the ordinary operation of the creatures. The lions’ mouths are shut so long as Daniel is in the den. The fire hath no power upon the three martyrs. God can stop the motions of all second causes as He pleases. The sun stands still upon Gibeon, and the moon in the valley of Ajalon, if God will have it so. The sea divides, and the waters stand as a wall to fence out a passage for Israel. God can put a stand to the greatest wheels. Israel in Egypt cries for deliverance, God promises the thing, and sends Moses to effect it; but instead of being delivered, their bondage is increased, and their task doubled. The wheels seem to stand.
(8) The wheels are said to have all one likeness (Ezekiel 1:16; Ezekiel 10:10). They four had one likeness. Likeness in colour and appearance. Their appearance was like the colour of a beryl (Ezekiel 1:16). Likeness in situation, none higher than other: likeness in dimension, none greater or lesser than other. This teacheth us that there are the same dispensations of Providence in all times and all places, alike changes and vicissitudes everywhere (Ecclesiastes 9:2). All times have their turns, and all places their changes, as well one as another. That which befalls one nation befalls another; in all parts of the world the wheels are the same, all move to accomplish the purposes of God; alike in end, all move to promote the glory of God.
(9) The wheels are upon the earth (Ezekiel 1:15). “As I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures.” He mentions but one wheel, because he that saw one saw all, by reason of their likeness. But how could the wheel be seen on the earth, when the prophet saw the vision in heaven? As the wheels were not material wheels, but visional; so this earth was not the material earth, but earth in a vision; and so it was not the earth beneath, but an earth above. The wheels are said to be seen on the earth, and not in heaven, to intimate to us the difference between this state and that. This is a state of changes, but that state is unchangeable; the wheels are on earth, there are none in heaven. As there are no changes in God, I am the Lord, I change not (Malachi 3:6); so there are no changes in the glory that results from His presence. All things in that state are durable and permanent. In heaven, where all graces are perfect, there all our comforts are constant. But here, where all our duties are mixed with infirmities, no wonder if all our comforts have their alloys. It is the wisdom of God to proportion our outward condition to our inward disposition, which is mixed and chequered. The wheels are seen upon the earth.
(10) The wheels are acted by the living creatures (Ezekiel 1:19; Ezekiel 10:16; Ezekiel 1:17). The living creatures in the first chapter are the cherubims in this, and they are the angels that are intended by both. And that which is the design of the Holy Ghost in these expressions is to confirm this truth, that all inferior causes are acted and governed by causes superior. No creature moves below without a guide above. When the cherubims went, the wheels went. The angels have a great hand in the government of the world. And therefore if we will have any more distinct account of the motions of the wheels, we must then observe the motions of the angels. And concerning them, here are three things to be remarked--
1. Their going.
2. Their being lifted up.
3. Their returning.
1. Their going. It is said they went; and this going of theirs hath two circumstances not to be passed by.
(1) They went straight forward.
(2) They ran.
(1) They went straight forward. “They went”; there was no cessation. “They went forward”; there was no interruption. “They went straight forward,” without diversion. Had they looked back, that had denoted unwillingness. Had they turned aside, that had spoken out frowardness. Had they given over before they had completed their course, that had argued weariness. And this carriage of the angels is instructive in three duties. To be diligent in the Lord’s work. It is the rule God gives us (Ecclesiastes 9:10). You have motives to this both from without and within; both from below and from above. From without. How industrious are wicked men in the service of sin, making provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof. And shall they take more pains to damn their souls than we do to save ours? You have motives from within. How active is indwelling sin in the heart; what vigorous efforts doth it make to set up its dominion within, to gratify every lust, to spoil every duty, to root out the habits of grace, to quench all the motions of the spirit. You have motives from beneath. How restless are the infernal spirits against your souls; and should not this awaken us out of our sinful slumbers, and quicken us to duty? the apostle proposes it for that end (1 Peter 5:8). You have motives from above. The good angels of God, oh, how active are they in all their ministrations; therefore called flames of fire (Psalms 104:4), because of their agility and fervency in fulfilling the commands of God.
(2) Another duty this carriage of the angels teaches us is to mind our way and have our eye to the mark. “They turned not when they went.” They looked not this way or that, but straight forward, to accomplish that which was their appointed work. As the apostle said (Philippians 3:14), I press toward the mark. Of all things be sure to mind this, to have an eye to special duty; this is going straight forward. This carriage of the angels instructs us to persevere in the ways of God, without being weary. The cherubims went straight forward, and turned not when they went; and shall not the wheels do so too? Shall we begin in the spirit and end in the flesh? (Galatians 5:7).
(3) There is another circumstance in their motion, and that is the speed of it; they ran (Ezekiel 1:14). The living creatures ran . . . as the appearance of a flash of lightning, which notes their great speed and swiftness in doing the will of God; and therefore they are described with wings (Ezekiel 1:6). Every one had four wings. In Daniel 9:21 it is said, Gabriel came flying to him swiftly. And this shows us what our duty is, namely, To labour that the will of God may be done on earth by us, as it is done in heaven by angels. So was David (Psalms 119:60). Hasty purposes are usually clogged with show performances. So the Apostle Paul. Immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood. A ready obedience is a good proof of the power and virtue of grace in the heart, and renders the duty highly acceptable to God.
2. They are lifted up. The living creatures were lifted up from the earth (Ezekiel 1:19; Ezekiel 10:17). The expression may be taken either in an active or a passive sense. Take it actively, the living creatures lift up themselves from the earth, and the wheels lifted up themselves also, and then it imports their looking up to heaven for direction and assistance. So do the angels, and so do the wheels, to teach us that there is no moving right in the work of God, without direction and assistance from God; therefore says David, To Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul (Psalms 25:1). Wisdom to guide the undertaking, help to perfect the performance, and success to crown the service. If the expression be taken in a passive sense, then this lifting up imports a Divine power influencing the creatures in a more than ordinary manner, to fit them for some eminent service. It is said of Jehoshaphat, that his heart was lifted up in the ways of the Lord (2 Chronicles 17:6), i.e. he was carried above all discouragements and difficulties; and made strong and valiant for God and His work. This teaches us that God doth sometimes spirit second causes in an unwonted manner, and elevates them above themselves. So it was with David’s worthies; of one of whom it is said, he lifted up his spear against eight hundred whom he slew at one time (2 Samuel 23:8). There is a notable promise referring to this in Zechariah 11:8. He that is feeble among them shall be as David, and the house of David as the angel of the Lord. Let the Spirit of the Lord but lift up some Zerubbabel to set on foot temple work, and nothing shall hinder; what though there be a Samaritan faction at home, and that backed with a foreign confederacy with the Persian court? What great things did the apostles do in the infancy of the Gospel! Lord, even the devils are subject to us through Thy name (Luke 10:17).
3. There is the return of the living creatures. So it is said (Ezekiel 1:14). The living creatures ran and returned; but this seems to contradict the ninth and twelfth verses, for there it is said, They turned not when they went. But this receives an easy solution. They turned not from going and doing the work appointed them; but when that work was done, then they returned. They turned not from executing their commission, but then they returned to receive new instructions. And hence they are called watchers (Daniel 4:13). Behold a watcher, and an holy one, and (verse 17), This matter is by the decree of the watchers. They watch for God’s orders to execute them for the Church’s good; and this teaches us two things.
(1) That God will have an account of all the work He hath given us to do. As the angels return, so do the wheels. Every one of us must give an account of himself to God (Romans 14:12). There are none of us but have somewhat or other to account to God for.
(2) We are taught hereby never to be weary of the work God sets us to do: one duty should fit us for another (Galatians 6:9). Thus by the wheels being acted by the cherubims we learn what a perfect harmony there is among all second causes in their dependence upon and subjection to the wise and holy God.
4. Here is another thing ascribed to these wheels, and that is, the influencing virtue of the same spirit which acted the living creatures (Ezekiel 1:20). The spirit of the living creature was in the wheels. By the spirit here is meant the Divine Spirit, the eternal Spirit of God: the same Spirit that acts the living creatures, acts the wheels also; which in chap. 10:17 is called the Spirit of Life; and this is that Spirit which guided all their motions; therefore it is said (Ezekiel 1:12), Whither the Spirit was to go, they went. There is not an angel in heaven, nor a wheel upon earth, but are all acted and governed by the same Spirit. As the Spirit was concerned in the framing of the wheels; so He is in the motions of them: as He was in the creating of all things; so He is in all their operations. Lastly, these wheels are under the direction of a voice: as there are eyes round about them to guide them in their way, so there is a voice above them to command their motions. As for the wheels, it was cried to them, O wheel! This cry is the voice of Him that sits upon the throne (verse 1). And though it be particularly directed to Jerusalem, yet in a more general sense it is intended to the whole world, to all kingdoms, cities, churches, to all people. But why is the cry made to one wheel, when here is mention of more? It was cried to the wheels, O wheel! It is to show us that all inferior causes, and instruments, are but as one in the hand of the Lord. But though all creatures are included in these wheels, yet rational agents are principally intended; and if so, then to you is this word cried; and perhaps it is therefore made in the singular number, that everyone may look on it as his duty to hearken to the voice of God in the cry. As in giving out the decalogue, it is so directed that everyone may think himself concerned. Great desires, great joys, great grief, and great love are frequently thus expressed; and so this “O!” is a servant to the affections.
1. It is an “O” of discipline, by which we are instructed to admire and adore the wonders of Providence. The voice is from the throne, but it is to direct us at the footstool; therefore it is said, It was cried in my hearing, O wheel! (Romans 11:33).
2. It is an “O” of rebuke; and it is to every particular wheel, of what degree soever. Are magistrates wheels? this O wheel is cried to them. Why do ye stand still? Why have you acted no more for God? ye are heirs of restraint (Judges 18:7). Are ministers wheels? the cry from the throne is to you. O wheel! why do you not take heed to your ministry to fulfil it? Why do ye not move with more zeal for God, like the living creatures, that ran as the appearance of a flash of lightning? Why do ye not cry aloud against the sins of the times? Are parents and masters wheels? then I hear a cry to you; why do ye not mind the duty of your places? why move ye not more exemplarily in your families? Finally, every man is a “wheel” that is to be in constant motion for God; according to the place wherein God hath set him; and therefore the cry from the throne is to all of all sorts, rich and poor, young and old, high and low, male and female; to all, without exception of any. “O wheel!” why move ye not! why seek ye not after God?
3. It is an “O” of threatening. And this follows the former where no repentance intervenes to prevent it. Counsel goes first, but if that be slighted, reproof comes; and if that makes no impression, threatening takes place, then it is O wheel! O church! O city! O kingdom! Judgment is near at hand, wrath is coming upon thee. And this seems to be the sense of it here. Jerusalem had highly provoked the Lord, not only in setting at nought His counsels.
4. It is an “O” of lamentation, a language full of sorrow and compassion, and so shows the pity of Christ to a self-undoing world and people. “O wheel!” What hath sin brought upon thee? O people, O notion, how deplorable is your case become!
5. It is an “O” of calling, and carries a command in it, which is to be understood, though not expressed. O wheel! repent and turn yourselves from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations (Ezekiel 14:6).
1. Doth He that sits in the throne govern the “wheels”? is it He that cries to them and commands them? then let us not fear the Church’s enemies, how many or how great soever they may be. One God is more than all opposers.
(1) He is more in number (2 Chronicles 32:7-8).
(2) He is more in power (Job 9:13).
2. If He who sits above upon the throne doth command and govern the “wheels,” then our duty is to commend them to His care. Therefore, in all our addresses to God, let us make conscience of praying for the “wheels.”
(1) For the great “wheels” of the nation. Pray for our royal sovereign the king, whom. God hath made to be the father of our country.
(2) Pray for the two houses, the great council of the nation, those upper and lower “wheels”; that they may be full of eyes round about, to know the things which belong to our peace. The highest “wheels” will go wrong if God hides understanding from them.
(3) Pray for the lesser “wheels,” namely, inferior magistrates, that they may all in their places act for God, suppress wickedness, encourage virtue, countenance religion, and so move right on, and not bear the sword in vain.
(4) Pray for the spiritual wheels, the ministers of the Gospel, that they may be zealous for the truth, bold for God in a time when sin is daring. And seeing that every person, every individual is a “wheel” in the vision, therefore we ought to pray for all the Wheels, that they may not stand still, but move right on, following the guidance of Him that sits above upon the throne. This would make the “wheels” move wisely, like the “wheels;” that are full of eyes. The Spirit of God is a Spirit of wisdom, and wisdom is profitable to direct. This would make them move right on, and not turn as they go. The righteous shall hold on his way (Job 17:9). Lastly, it would make them move swiftly, and be in the ways of God, like the chariots of Aminadab.
3. Doth He that sits above upon the throne govern the “wheels”? Then let not us do anything to hinder Him in His work.
4. If He that sits above upon the throne guides the “wheels,” then commit all into His hands; subscribe to His wisdom, and be resigned to His will; for He doth all things well and wisely: He is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working. Many pretend to bow to His commanding will, who yet cannot subscribe to His effecting will. Suppose things do not go in the world as you would have them, yet they go as God orders them: the wheels go right on, God doth not need to set His sun by your dial. Trust Him with the government of the world, for He is head over all things to the Church. (Matthew Mead.)
Every one had four faces; the first face was the face of a cherub.
The Christian ministry
The text seems to have a decided reference to the angelic hosts,--those ministers of God who do His pleasure. To resemble these should be the great desire of every Christian, that God’s will may be done on earth even as it is done in heaven. But especially should this be the case with the Christian minister: his office greatly resembles that of the holy intelligences above; he is a messenger of God to mankind, an angel of the Church, and therefore well does it become him to study the character and emulate the holiness of cherubim and seraphim in heaven.
I. The first face was that of a cherub. The symbol--
1. Of exalted dignity. Dwelling around the throne of Deity. His especial ambassadors, etc. No office can be more exalted than that of the Christian ministry. It is that to which Jehovah appointed His own Son. One writer quaintly remarks, “God had only one Son, and He made a preacher of Him.” “Workers together with God,” etc.
2. Of elevated devotion. They are represented as holding great intimacy and close fellowship with God. How indispensable that the ministers of Christ live near to the Lord, hold close communion with the skies.
3. Of distinguished holiness. Ye that bear the vessels of the Lord, etc., as the priests of old. Not only partakers of the ordinary graces of the Spirit, but adorned with the mature fruits of holiness to the glory of God.
II. The second symbol is that of a man. With the sanctity of the cherub is to be united the sympathy of sanctified humanity. As men, Christian ministers are--
1. To be influenced by their relationship to Jesus as Head of the Church. They should have His meekness, humility, lowliness, desire to labour, readiness to suffer, etc.
2. To feel for their fellow sinners peculiar compassion. They are their brethren, of one blood, spirit, and destiny.
3. To know their own insufficiency and entire dependence on God’s blessing. This treasure in earthen vessels, etc. Paul planteth, etc.
III. The third emblem was the face of a lion. By this we are to understand the strength and magnanimity which are necessary to the ministerial office. The Christian minister must be strong in the grace which is in Christ Jesus. He must be strong to resist evil, to stand firm in the conflict, and to conduct himself as a man of God.
IV. The fourth symbol is that of the eagle. By this--
1. The true character of the minister’s work is portrayed. He has to do with spiritual things. He teaches not philosophy, science, economy, legislation, but the truths of the kingdom of God, the knowledge of the way of salvation.
2. The symbol of the eagle may be designed also to be expressive of their ardour and zeal The minister of Jesus is to be instant, earnest, energetic, zealously affected in every good thing.
3. His soul is to yearn with intense anxiety over perishing sinners. Application--
1. Let the solemn character of the office ever be cherished, and a lively sense of its importance be maintained from day to day.
2. Let the glorious results of faithfulness in the Saviour’s service animate to constancy and perseverance. (J. Burns, D. D.)
The combination of faculties in spiritual life
In the power of this life it does not matter where we are, or under what conditions we are found, we find a sufficiency of grace. Mr. Ruskin, in his Love’s Meinie, describes the Phalerope, a strange bird living out of the way of human beings, in the Polar regions of Greenland, Norway and Lapland, which he calls “The Arctic Fairy.” It is a central type of all bird power, but with elf gifts added: it flies like a lark, trips on water lily leaves like a fairy, swims like a duck, and roves like a seagull, having been seen sixty miles from land; and finally, though living chiefly in Lapland and Iceland, it has been seen serenely swimming and catching flies in the hot water of the geysers, in which a man could not bear his hand. As the above bird has a combination of faculties, so the gift of Eternal Life as personified in Christ bestows faculties of grace which enable us to stand in the clear light of God’s holy throne, which empower us to bear trial’s fiery ordeal, which equip us for conflict with the great adversary, which endow us with endurance in treading life’s rough way, which energise with strength in the work of the Gospel, which environ us with peace and joy in time of persecution, and which ennoble our whole being, for we are lifted into the realm of God’s dear Son. (Footsteps of Truth.)
When they stood, these stood; and when they were lifted up, these lifted up themselves also.
Feet and wings
Flying creatures have wings for the air and feet for the ground. This touch of nature is put on God’s cherubim. The prophet intends no special religious lesson here, but the fact he cites may be used to convey such.
I. The subject of Christian experience, what it is and how to be maintained. We have faculties of locomotion, feeding, sense, perception, etc., by which we act our parts on foot, as it were. We have attributes of faith perception, love appropriation, spiritual imagination, in which we become aerial creatures, resting suspensively in things above the world. This uplifting produces the transcendent mystery of experience in Christian conversion. We rise by trust in God--admitting the full revelation of His truth and friendship. Can the soul thus lifted stay in that serene element? It has gravitations which pull it all the while downward, and settle it on its feet, as the flying creatures fold their wings when they settle. Let us trace some of the instances and ways in which it ceases to live by faith. When a man of enterprise thinks of independence, how easily, how insensibly he ceases to hang on Providence as he did. His prayers lose their fervour. God is far less dear and less consciously present; and how long will he have the consciousness of His presence at all? The moment any disciple touches ground with but the tip of his foot, and begins to rest on earthly props, a mortal weakness takes him, and he goes down. Only a calm and loving return to his trust will recover him, and God is faithful enough to be trusted at all times. Let there be this rest by faith, and he will carry himself more steadily in studies, toils, or engagements. Sometimes obscurations may occur, but he has only to believe the more strongly and wait till they be cleared.
II. Many persons miss ever going above a service on foot, by not conceiving at all the more ethereal range of experience into which true faith would lift them. Sometimes they become reformers or philanthropists. They mean business in their religion, caring little for the fervours that are not fervours of work, The combining and roiling up of great masses of opinion are the means by which they expect to carry their projects. Censure and storm and fiery denunciation are close at hand. They, many times, do not conceive that they are disciples because of their repentances, or their prayers, or sensing of God by their faith, or any other grace that separates them from the world. They have much to say of love, but they visibly hate more strongly than they love. They never go above to descend upon the reform by inspirations there kindled; they keep on their feet, and war with the evils on the same level with them. Sometimes they attempt self-culture in the name of religion. They could mend defects, chasten faults, put themselves in the charities they have learned from Christ, perhaps, to admire; but the work is a far more hopeless one than they imagine, if there is no uplifting help from gracious inspirations. Oh, if they would go up to Christ, or to God in a true faith culture, faults would fall off, as blasted flowers from a tree, by the life principle therein. Sometimes they suppose they are religious because of a certain patronage they give to the Church and the Word. Not being in the gift of spiritual discernment, their tastes will be the better; and as there are always a great many reasons why a thing should not be done to any single reason why it should, they assume to be specially qualified critics. They contribute these critical powers, while others, less gifted, may contribute their prayers! Such negatives do not belong to the range of the Spirit, but to the nether world of fashion or opinion or custom. The critics have feet, but no wings. If they could give themselves over in trust to the Saviour, instead of giving their opinions and tastes, their contributions would be of worthier significance. (H. Bushnell, D. D.)
Then the glory of the Lord departed.
1. How unwilling the Lord is to depart, and leave that people He hath dwelt amongst, and been engaged unto!
2. There is no visible church but may fall, and cease to be. God is not tied to any place, to any people; but if they corrupt His worship He may withdraw: He did depart from Jerusalem, from the temple, and they were unchurched.
3. When the Lord goes from a people, then the protection and benefits they have by the angels go away. When the sun is gone from us, we have short days and long nights, little light but much darkness; and when God departs, you have much night and little day left, your comforts fade suddenly, and miseries come upon you swiftly. When God and His angels go from a church, the dragon and his angels get in; when men’s inventions prevail, they are subject to all woes and miseries (Hosea 9:12).
4. God would have men the notice of His departure. The cherubims stood at the door of the east gate, and there the glory stood over them; that gate was so seated in Mount Zion that they might see the entrance by it from most parts of the city, and here the glory now stood; it was come forth from the temple, and now exposed to public view, that they might inquire what was the matter, use all means to recover the glory which was going. (W. Greenhill, M. A.)
God’s gradual withdrawal
Observe with how many steps and pauses God departs, as loth to go, as if to see if there be any that will intercede with Him to return. None of the priests in the inner court between the temple and the altar would court His stay; therefore He leaves their court and stands at the east gate, which led into the court of the people, to see if any of them would yet at length stand in the gap. God removes by degrees from a provoking people; and, when He is ready to depart in displeasure, would return to them in mercy if they were but a repenting, praying people. (M. Henry.)
The likeness of the hands of a man was under their wings.
Wing and hand
In two places in Ezekiel we are told there were hands under the wings: human hands; hands like ours. If this world is ever brought to God, it will be by appreciation of the fact that supernatural and human agencies are to go together; that which soars, and that which practically works; that which ascends the heavens, and that which reaches forth to earth: the joining of the terrestrial and the celestial, “the hand and the wing.”
1. We see this union in the construction of the Bible. The wing of inspiration is in every chapter. What realms of the ransomed earth did Isaiah fly over! Over what battlefields for righteousness; what coronations; what dominations of gladness; what rainbows around the throne did St. John hover! But in every book of the Bible you just as certainly see the human hand that wrote it. Moses, the lawyer, showing the hand in the Ten Commandments, the foundation of all good legislation; Amos, the herdsman, showing the hand in similes drawn from fields and flocks: the fishermen Apostles, showing the hand when writing about Gospel nets; Luke, the physician, showing the hand by giving especial attention to diseases cured; Paul showing the scholarly hand by quoting from heathen poets, and making arguments about the Resurrection that stand as firmly as on the day he wrote them; and St. John shows the hand by taking his imagery from the appearance of the bright waters spread round the island of Patmos at the hour of sunset, when he speaks of the sea of glass mingled with fire; scores of hands writing the parables, the miracles, the promises, the hosannas, the raptures, the consolations, the woes of ages.
2. Behold this combination of my text in all successful Christian work. We stand or kneel offering prayer. Now, if anything has wings, it is prayer. Prayer flies not only across continents, but across centuries. If prayer had only feet, it might run here and there and do wonders. But it has wings, and they are as radiant of plume, and as swift to rise, or swoop, or dart, or circle, as the cherubim’s wings which swept through Ezekiel’s visions. But, oh, the prayer must have the hand under the wing, or it may amount to nothing. Stop singing, “Fly abroad, thou mighty Gospel,” unless you are willing to give something of your own means to make it fly. Have you been praying for the salvation of a young man’s soul? That is right; but also extend the hand of invitation to come to a religious meeting. From the very structure of the hand we might make up our mind as to some of the things it was made for: to hold fast, to lift, to push, to pull, to help, and to rescue. And endowed with two hands, we might take the broad hint that for others as well as for ourselves we were to hold fast, to lift, to push, to pull, to help, to rescue.
3. This idea is combined in Christ. When He rose from Mount Olivet He took wing. All up and down His life you see the uplifting Divinity. But He was also very human. It was the hand under the wing that touched the woes of the world, and took hold of the sympathies of the centuries.
4. There is a kind of religion in our day that my text rebukes. There are men and women spending their time in delectation over their saved state, going about from prayer meeting to prayer meeting, and from church to church, telling how happy they are. But show them a subscription paper, or ask them to go and visit the sick, or tell them to reclaim a wanderer, or speak out for some unpopular Christian enterprise, and they have bronchitis, or stitch in the side, or sudden attack of grippe. Their religion is all wing and no hand. They can fly heavenward, but they cannot reach out earthward. There was much sense in that which the robust boatman said when three were in a boat off the coast in a sudden storm that threatened to sink the boat, and one suggested that they all kneel down in the boat to pray, and the robust man took hold of the oar and began to pull, saying: “Let you, the strong, stout fellow, lay hold of the other oar, and let the weak one who banner pull give himself up to prayer.” Pray by all means; but at the same time pull with all your might for the world’s rescue.
5. There is also in my subject the suggestion of rewarded work for God and righteousness. When the wing went the hand went. When the wing ascended the hand ascended; and for every useful and Christian hand there will be elevation celestial and eternal. Expect no human gratitude, for it will not come. That was a wise thing Fenelon wrote to his friend: “I am very glad, my dear, good friend, that you are pleased with one of my letters which has been shown to you. You are right in saying and believing that I ask little of men in general. I try to do much for them and to expect nothing in return. I find a decided advantage in these terms. On these terms I defy them to disappoint me.” But the day cometh when your work, which perhaps no one has noticed, or rewarded, or honoured, will rise to heavenly recognition. While I have been telling you that the hand was under the wing of the cherubim, I want you to realise that the wing was over the hand. Perhaps reward may not come to you at once. But I promise you victory further on and higher up; if not in this world, then in the next. Roll on that everlasting rest for all the toiling and misunderstood and suffering and weary children of God, and know right well that to join your hand, at last emancipated from the struggle, will be the soft hand, the gentle hand, the triumphant hand of Him who wipeth away all tears from all faces. That will be the Palace of the King of which the poet sang in somewhat Scotch dialect:--
“It’s a bonnie, bonnie warl’ that we’re livin’ in the noo,
And sunny is the lan’ we often traivel thro’;
But in vain we look for something to which oor hearts can cling,
For its beauty is as naething to the Palace o’ the King.
We see oor friends await us ower yonder at His gate:
Then let us a’ be ready, for ye ken it’s gettin’ late;
Let oor lamps be brichtly burnin’; let’s raise our voice an’ sing:
Soon we’ll meet, to part nae mair, i’ the Palace o’ the King.”
(T. De Witt Talmage.)
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezekiel 10". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent