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Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations.
I. Let us consider our iniquities--I mean those committed since conversion, those committed yesterday, and the day before, and today--and let us see their sinfulness in the light of what we were when the Lord first looked upon us.
1. Hath the Lord loved us, though there was nothing in our birth or parentage to invite regard or merit esteem? Then surely every sin that we commit now is aggravated by that sovereign choice, that infinite compassion that doted upon us, though our birth was vile and our origin base.
2. There was everything in our condition that would tend to destruction, but nothing in us that would tend upwards towards God. There we were, dying, nay dead, rotten, corrupted, so abominable that it might well be said, “Bury this dead one out of my sight,” when Jehovah passed by and He said unto us, “Live.” The recollection of our youthful iniquity crushes us to the very earth. Yet though sovereign mercy has put all these sins away; though Jove has covered all these iniquities, and though everlasting kindness has washed away all this filth, we have gone on to sin. If some of us who are rejoicing in covenant love and mercy could have a clear view of all the sins we have committed since conversion, of all the sins we shall commit till we land in heaven, I question whether our senses might not reel under the terrible discovery of what base things we are.
3. One thing else appears designed to represent our sins as blacker still. “Thou wast cast out in the open field to the loathing of thy person in the day that thou wast born.” Great God! how couldst Thou love that which we ourselves hated? Oh! ‘tis grace, ‘tis grace, ‘tis grace indeed! And yet--O ye heavens, be astonished--yet we have sinned against Him since then, we have forgotten Him, we have doubted Him, we have grown cold towards Him; we have loved self at times better than we have loved our Redeemer, and have sacrificed to our own idols and made gods of our own flesh and self-conceit, instead of giving Him all the glory and the honour forever and forever.
II. The time when He began to manifest His love to us personally and individually.
1. He washed us with the water of regeneration, yea, and truly washed away the stain of our natural sanguinity. Oh, that day, that day of days, as the days of heaven upon earth, when our eyes looked to Christ and were lightened, when the burden rolled from off our back! That day we never can forget, for it always rises to our recollection the moment we begin to speak about pardon--the day of our own pardon, of our own forgiveness. The galley slave may forget the time when he escaped from the accursed slave holder’s grasp, and became a freeman. The culprit who lay shivering beneath the headsman’s axe may forget the hour when suddenly his pardon was granted and his life was spared. But if all these should consign to oblivion their surprising joys, the pardoned soul can never, never, never forget. Unless reason should lose her seat, the quickened soul can never cease to remember the time when Jesus said to it, “Live.” Oh! and has Jesus pardoned all our sins and have we sinned still? Has He washed me, and have I defiled myself again?
2. When He had washed us, according to the ninth verse, He anointed us with oil. Yes, and that has been repeated many and many a time. “Thou hast anointed my head with oil.” He gave us the oil of His grace; our faces were like priests, and we went up to His tabernacle rejoicing. Shall the body that is the temple of the Holy Ghost be desecrated? Yet that has been the case with us We have had God within us, and yet we have sinned. O Lord, have mercy upon Thy people !Now we see our abomination in this clear light, we beseech Thee pardon it, for Jesus sake!
3. He not only washed us, He not only anointed us with oil, but He clothed us, and clothed us sumptuously. “Jesus spent His life to work my robe of righteousness.” His sufferings were so many stitches when He made the broidered work of my righteousness. What would you think of a king with a crown on his head going to break the laws of his kingdom? What would you think if a monarch should invest us with all the insignia of nobility, and we should afterwards violate the high orders conferred upon us while adorned with the robes of state? This is just what you and I have done.
4. We have not only received clothing, but ornaments. We cannot be more glorious; Christ has given the Church so much, she could not have more. He could not bestow upon her that which is more beautiful, more precious, or more costly. She has all she can receive. Nevertheless, in the face of all these, we have sinned against Him.
III. What our sins really have been. The germs, the vileness, the essence of our own sin, has lain in this--that we have given to sin and to idols things that belong unto God. When you pray at a prayer meeting, the devil insinuates the thought, and you entertain it, “What a fine fellow I am!” You may detect yourself when you are talking to a friend of some good things God has done, or when you go home and tell your wife lovingly the tale of your labour, there is a little demon of pride at the bottom of your heart. You like to take credit to yourself for the good things you have done. Sometimes a man has another god besides pride. That god may be his sloth. Have you never detected yourself, when inclined to be dilatory in spiritual things, leaning on the oar of the covenant, instead of pulling at it, and saying, “Well, these things are true, but there is no great need for me to stir myself.” Sometimes it is even worse. God gives to His people riches, and they offer them before the shrine of their covetousness. He gives them talent, and they prostitute it to the service of their ambition. He gives them judgment, and they pander to their own advancement, and seek not the interest of His kingdom. He gives them influence; that influence they use for their own aggrandisement, and not for His honour. What is this but parallel to taking His gold and His jewels, and hanging them upon the neck of Ashtaroth? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A charge to city ministers
I. Ezekiel had a commission to a corrupt city; So have you. Superstition, sensuality, formality, worldliness, were rampant in Jerusalem. But were her sins greater than those of Manchester, Glasgow, London?
II. Ezekiel’s commission was to reveal the corrupt city to itself; this is yours.
1. Because the moral corruptions of a city expose the population to terrible calamities.
(1) Calamities in this life--diseases, pauperism, lunacy, etc.
(2) Calamities in the life to come. A terrible retribution awaits the wicked.
2. Because the city itself is ignorant of its moral corruptions. “They know not what they do.” Poor, miserable, blind, naked, etc. Go and tell them. Take the torch of the Gospel into their midst, and let it flame down upon their consciences.
3. Because a revelation of it to itself may lead it now to moral reformation.
4. Because unless you make this revelation to it no one else can be expected to do it. Who else will or can do it? Not scientists, legislators, merchants, soldiers. The work is given to you. (Homilist.)
It is related of John Wesley that, preaching to an audience of courtiers and noblemen, he used the “generation of vipers” text, and flung denunciation right and left. “That sermon should have been preached at Newgate,” said a displeased courtier to Wesley on passing out. “No,” said the fearless apostle; “my text there would have been, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!’”
“I remember one of my parishioners at Halesworth telling me,” says Whately, “that he thought a person should not go to church to be made uncomfortable: I replied that I thought so too; but whether it should be the sermon or the man’s life that should be altered so as to avoid the discomfort must depend on whether the doctrine was right or wrong.”
Conviction of sin--the preacher’s aim
It is plain dealing that men need. A toyish, flashy sermon is not the proper medicine for a lethargic, miserable soul, nor fit to break a stony heart. Heaven and hell should not be talked of in a canting, jingling, and pedantic strain. A Seneca can tell you that it is a physician that is skilful, and not one that is eloquent, that we need. If he have also fine and neat expressions, we do not despise them, nor over much value them. It is a cure that we need, and the means are best, be they never so sharp, that will accomplish it. If a hardened heart is to be broken, it is not stroking, but striking that must do it. It is not the sounding brass, the tinkling cymbal, the carnal mind puffed up with superficial knowledge that is the instrument fitted to the renewing of men’s souls. It is the illuminating beams of sacred truth communicated from a mind that by faith hath seen the glory of God, and by experience found that He is good, and living in the love of God; such an one is fitted to assist you first in the knowledge of yourselves, and then in the knowledge of God in Christ. (R. Baxter.)
Thy father was an Amorite and thy mother an Hittite.
Hieroglyphics of truth
I. Man is essentially religious. Religion in the heart of man is something that pertains to the land of Canaan. It has not been invented by man, or created in his soul by human science or culture: it is not a product of education or civilisation. It is part of man’s nature more truly than the raindrop is part of the cloud from which it falls, or than the river is part of the sea from which it flows and to which it returns. It is in the soul as fire is in the flint; as the oak is in the acorn, or as the day is in the dawn. Religion belongs to the soul, as hunger and thirst belong to the body. Hunger and thirst may not create bread, any more than the organ of vision can create light, or the organ of hearing sound; but bread and water, light and sound, would be useless without these organs. Were it not that man is essentially religious, all our preaching of the Gospel, and all our missionary labours at home and abroad, would be vain. Go with me in thought, and view the ruins of the temple of Heliopolis on the borders of Arabia, or the gigantic ruins of Luxor and Thebes on the banks of the Nile, or those of Baalbeck in the valley between the Lebanons. Whence the origin and purpose of these ancient temples? These temples, it may be said, were largely the outcome or expressions of man’s religious beliefs--superstitious beliefs, if you will. But whence the origin of these superstitious beliefs? What was their root cause? Their root cause was man’s religious nature. The word superstition means a resting upon, yes, resting upon man’s natural religious convictions.
II. May by nature is morally corrupt. “Thy father was an Amorite and thy mother an Hittite.” The Amorites and Hittites, though born in the land of Canaan, were aliens to the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants with promise; they were without God and without hope in the world. This doctrine of human depravity or moral corruption applies to all races and to men of all ranks. Sin in the soul is not the result of evil habits, as some suppose, nor the issue of a false education and corrupting companionship and circumstances. It is not a thing like cold, which a man may or may not take in certain circumstances, and which, if taken, may develop into consumption or some other disease. No. We are all horn with it. It is a constitutional malady. Apart from the doctrine of sin--original sin in the soul; I know not the doctrine of salvation, even in theory. Apart from the doctrine of man’s natural alienation from God, I know not the meaning of Christ’s mission to the world. What would be the meaning of physicians were there no human ailments? or of drugs were there no human diseases? or of bread and water were there no such things as hunger and thirst? Without sin in the soul, the Gospel could have no meaning, and the Cross could have no power.
III. Christianity is God’s remedy for man’s malady. He who at the beginning said, “Let there be light, and there was light,” now says to all men “Live.” The description given in the context of man’s state by nature, speaks of death, moral and spiritual of orphanage and great feebleness. There is a great amount of life in the world, and man is not without life. It is called natural life; but natural life is somewhat as the river Jordan, that ends its flow in the Dead Sea. Human life, at the best, is as the grass, and its glory as the flower. It does not last, and its duration is a contradiction of our supreme desires. Death is not natural to man. Man was not made to die, as some men seem to suppose, but to live; hence the fear of death makes men subject to bondage. The keynote of Christianity is life, life that cannot die. “I am come, said Jesus, that ye might have life, and that ye might have it more abundantly.” To all who hear and believe the Gospel, God says “Live.” Is there any other religion in all the world that can be compared with the Christian religion in this respect? Christianity, as a system of truth, is in harmony with the soundest deductions of enlightened reason; Christianity, as exhibited in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, is the complement of the deepest cravings, the strongest desires, and the universal wants of humanity. It makes man great with the “hopes which cheer the just.” It lifts him as from “the dunghill, and sets him among princes.” While it fosters the conviction that heaven is needed to complete his life on earth, it opens the way, and gives him health and power to reach it. It makes him hopeful, useful, and great. (J. K. Campbell, D. D.)
None eye pitied thee, to do any of these unto thee, to have compassion upon thee.
Ezekiel’s deserted infant
I. A survey of the misery of man’s estate. The verse presents to us an infant exposed to die. All the common offices that were necessary for its life and health have been forgotten.
1. At the very first glance, we remark, here is an early ruin. It is an infant. A thousand sorrows that one so young should be so deeply taught in misery’s school! It is an infant; it has not yet tasted joy, but yet it knoweth pain and sorrow to the full. How early art thou blasted, O sweet flower! From the very birth we go astray, speaking lies, and in the very birth we lie under the condemnation of the law of God.
2. The next very apparent teaching of the text is utter inability. It is an infant--what can it do for itself? Not even clay on the potter’s wheel is more helpless than this infant as it now lies cast out in the open field. Such is human nature; it can by no means help towards its own restoration. But, mark you, and this is a thought that may crush our boastings and make us hang our head like a bulrush evermore--this inability is our own sin.
3. Apparent, too, is yet a third misfortune--we are utterly friendless. “None eye pitied thee, to do any of these things unto thee.” We have no friend in heaven or in earth that can do aught for us, unless God shall interpose. Weep and lament your kinsfolk may for you, but no lamentation can make an atonement for your sins, no human tears can cleanse your filthiness, no Christian zeal can clothe you with righteousness, no yearning love can sanctify your nature.
4. Furthermore, our text very clearly reveals to us that we are by nature in a sad state of exposure. Cast out into the open field, left in a wilderness where it is not likely that any should pass by, thrown where the cold can smite by night and the heat can blast by day, left where the wild beast goeth about, seeking whom he may devour--such is the estate of human nature: unclothed, unarmed, helpless, exposed to all manner of ravenous destroyers. O Lord God, Thou alone knowest the awful dangers which prowl around an unregenerate man; what mischiefs waylay him; what crimes beset him; what follies haunt him.
5. It seems that this child, besides being in this exposed state, was loathsome. “Thou wast cast out to the loathing of thy person.” It was in such a condition that the sight of it was disgusting, and its person was so destitute of all comeliness that it was absolutely loathed. Such is man by nature.
6. We close this fearful description by observing the certain ruin to which this infant was exposed, as setting forth the sure destruction of every man if grace prevent not.
II. We are now to search for motives for God’s grace, and we have a very difficult search before us when we look to this infant which is cast out, because its loathsomeness and its being covered with its own blood, forbid us at once to hope that there can be anything in it which can merit the esteem of the merciful One. Let us think of some of the motives which may urge men to assist the undeserving.
1. One of the first would be, necessity. Not a few are placed in such a position that they could not well refuse to give their help when it is asked of them. But no necessity can ever affect the Most High. The first of all causes must be absolutely independent of every other cause. Who dictateth counsel to the Most High? Who sits at His bar, and giveth Him advice and warning, and maketh Him do according to his pleasure? Nor had God any necessity in order to make Himself happy or to increase His glory.
2. In this case there was nothing in the birth of this child, in its original parentage, that could move the passer-by. You were conceived in sin, and stained in your very birth, and there is, therefore, nothing here that could move the heart of Deity.
3. Nor was there anything in this child’s beauty, for it was loathsome. What can there be in a worm to gratify the Almighty?
4. Furthermore, as we have found no motive yet, either in necessity or the child’s birth or beauty, so we find none in any entreaties that were uttered by this child. It doth not seem that it pleaded with the passer-by to save it, for it could not as yet speak. So, though sinners do pray, yet when a sinner prays, it is because God has begun to save him.
5. Yet, further, it does not appear that the pity of the passer-by was shown upon this child because of any future service which was expected of it. This child, it seems, was nourished, clothed, luxuriously decorated; and yet, after all that, if you read the chapter through, you will find it went astray from Him who had set His heart upon it. The Lord foresaw this, and yet” loved that child notwithstanding.
III. But now consider the mandate of his mercy. “I said unto thee, Live.”
I. This fiat of God is majestic. He looks, and there lies an infant, loathsome in its blood; He stops, and He pronounces the word, the royal word “Live.” There speaks a God. Who but He could venture thus to deal with life and dispense it with a single syllable? ‘Tis majestic, ‘tis Divine!
2. This fiat is manifold.
(1) Here is judicial life.
(2) It is, moreover, spiritual life.
3. It is an irresistible voice. When God says to a sinner, “Live,” all the devils in hell cannot keep him in the grave.
4. It is all-sufficient. “Live,” dost Thou say, great God? Why, the man is dead! There is life--not in him, but in the voice that bids him live. “Live,” dost Thou say? “By this time he stinketh, for he hath been dead four days!” There is power--not in his corruption, but in the voice that crieth, “Come forth!”
5. It was a mandate of free grace. I want to lay that down again, and again, and again, that there was nothing in this infant, nothing but loathsomeness, nothing therefore to merit esteem; nothing in the infant, but inability, nothing therefore by which it could help itself; nothing in it but infancy, nothing therefore by which it could plead for itself, and yet grace said, “Live”--freely, without any bribe, without any entreaty, said, “Live.” And so when sinners are saved, it is only and solely because God will do it, to magnify His free, unpurchased, unsought grace. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The allegory of the foundling child
Though marked by a breadth which offends against modern taste, the allegory of the foundling child which became the faithless wife is powerful, and, when the details are forgotten and only the general idea kept in mind, even beautiful, as well as true. An outcast infant, exposed in the open field and weltering in her blood, was seen by the pitying eye of a passer-by. Rescued and nourished, she grew up to the fairest womanhood, and became the wife of her benefactor, who heaped on her every gift that could please or elevate. But the ways into which he led her were too lofty to be understood, and the atmosphere around too pure for her to breathe; the old inborn nature (her father was an Amorite and her mother a Hittite) was still there beneath all the refinements for which it had no taste, and at last it asserted itself in shameless depravity and insatiable lewdness. (A. B. Davidson, D. D.)
The first step for man’s salvation taken by God
I know some think that the sinner takes the first step, but, we know better. If he did, it were like the old Romish miracle of St. Dennis, where we are told that after his head was off, he picked it up and walked two thousand miles with it in his hand. Whereupon, some wit observed that he did not see any wonder in the man’s walking two thousand miles, for all the difficulty lay in the first step. Just so, I see no difficulty in a man’s getting all the way to heaven if he can but take the first step; for all the miracle lies in that first step--the making the dead soul live, the melting the adamantine heart, the thawing of the northern ice, the bringing down of the proud look--this is the work, this is the difficulty; and if man can do that himself, verily he can do the whole. But when God looketh upon men to save them, it is not because they cry to Him, for they never do and never will cry until the work of salvation is begun. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I said unto thee,. . .Live.
I. The miracle of grace performed. As everything in the Bible is a parable to an unregenerate man, so everything in Christian experience is a miracle wrought by the hand of God. What! is it not a miracle, to vanquish Satan and take the prey out of his hands--to “take the prey from the mighty and the captive from the terrible”? Is it not a miracle to unstop deaf ears? Is it not a miracle to raise the dead, and give them another, a new and deathless life and existence? Jehovah not only speaks into life at first--speaks it into pre-existence, if I may so express it--animating, quickening,--and then causing to grow, “that they may have life, and have it more abundantly”; but it is His also to speak life to the soul in the most exalted sense, consummating it in the life of glory. “Live!” I think, strictly speaking, in the literal sense of the word we can hardly be said to live till we get to the world of glory. And what some people call dying, I think is just Jehovah saying to the souls of His people, Live. We have hardly begun to live yet; here we have much to do with the old Adam nature, much to do with corruption, much to do with the things that mar our enjoyment and our life, so that we live at a “poor dying rate”; but, oh! the blessedness of that moment, when all that is earthly, all that pertains to time, shall be shaken off, and by one sweet sovereign command--one gracious, kind, paternal word--Jehovah shall say, Live; and we shall pass from our deathy clay hut to the world of spirits, and live everlastingly with Himself.
II. An epitome of spiritual experience. You may have a religion of education--and yet none of God; you may have a religion of natural feeling, natural passions--and yet none of God; you may have a religion of alarm, and be terribly frightened about going to hell--but none of God; you may have a religion of supposed joy, natural passions moved and somewhat inflamed, which perhaps may be exhibited in the style of the book you read or the eloquence you listen to--and yet none of God. All these will leave you deficient. Nothing will do but a spiritual existence. The man of the world has a natural existence, a mental existence, a rational existence, which makes him differ from the brute creation; but a real Christian has, in addition to this, spiritual existence, a heavenly life--the persons and perfections of Deity dwelling in His soul--a new creation--another, a holy, a sinless principle--the life of God--called the participation of the Divine nature. A worldling may appear like a Christian among Christians; but let him loose, and his whole heart is in the world immediately. A Christian may have to mix with the men of the world in worldly business; but let him loose, and you see in a moment that his soul has a spiritual being. This spiritual existence is the epitome of godliness. It is communicated by a word from the throne--by a touch of Jehovah’s hand, by the voice of Christ, by the whisper of the Spirit. Moreover, it is immortal. I pass on, just to notice that this spiritual existence is known by the spiritual negotiations it keeps up. If I have nothing to do for God, the devil will be sure to find me something to do for him. The very nature of life is to be active. If it be animal life, it must try to move and walk and run; if it be mental life, it must find some object to pursue, something to hear or read, something to call it forth. So with spiritual life; it must have its activity called forth into exercise.
III. The testimony of Divine prerogative. Jehovah says, “Live.” I hear nothing in this of “I will if he will”; I see nothing of proposal, nothing of overture, nothing of an offer, nothing of a condition in all this. I know there are not a few who would have us deal with mankind, treat with sinners, as if they had a power--as if they had a capacity for spiritual things--as if they had a spiritual work to perform. I confess I have little heart--I have no heart at all for this, because I never saw an instance of its success. Find me one instance in which a sinner ever began to inquire after Christ, or knew anything about a spiritual emotion, until God had said, “Live.” I will yield the point. The Son of God took this prerogative upon Himself, when, tabernacling in the likeness of sinful flesh, He went up to the widow’s son as they carried him out of the city of Nain, touched the bier, and called the young man to life again; to the no small comfort of his mother. He pursued the same course, and assumed the same prerogative, when Lazarus had lain four days in the grave. And to this hour the same prerogative is exercised by the Son of God, as well as by the Father. Moreover, of the Holy Ghost it is said, “It is the Spirit that quickeneth.” So that Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are concerned in the resurrection of the sinner, as well as (as we showed the other morning) in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. One thing more I just invite your attention to: while our covenant God exercises His sovereignty in calling sinners out of darkness into light and the dead into life, what a revenue of praise belongs to His holy name! (J. Irons.)
The life of souls the ordinance of God
How manifold, how great, are the works of our God! How curious, various, and vast are the forms of dead matter! Think of earths, stones, metals, waters, clouds, and all the same matter combined, modified in endless variety. Ascend one step higher, and think of the organised matter which constitutes the living verdure of our world. Ascend another step, and survey for a moment the countless tribes of beings animate. Who can number the birds that fill the air, to say nothing of insects? Think of the cattle of our home fields, the game of our woods, and the wild beasts of far-off deserts and forests, to say nothing of reptiles. Think too of the vaster seas and of the innumerable fishes, from the whale to animalcule. We lift our eyes to the heavens, and our earth, huge as it is, and much as it contains, is but as a particle of dust, or as a drop filling a bucket. Shoals of planets greater than ours are over our heads, and even suns stand crowded there as thick as forest leaves. What a universe! What a God is ours! But how instructive is the relation between man and the all things of God! Man has an eye to look abroad upon all, and to read all, and he has a spirit to conceive and adore the God who is over all. Indeed, the all things of our God are only the ladder which aids man to climb to the feet of God. When I think that man is not only elevated to bow with the ranks of prostrate angels at the feet of their God, but that he is the immediate minister of the high and lofty One, that the God of eternity is literally achieving His grandest purposes by the agency of man, I am struck dumb with amazement!
I. What, then, is our office? Interesting, most animating, as it would be to be the instrumental cause of awakening nature into new life and beauty, it is less animating than our real work. Sublime as it would be to go forth awakening the dead, it is less sublime than the actual ministry committed to us. But our work is so old that we forget its grandeur. So the grandeur of the universe is slighted because suns and moons and stars are stale things, and, as stale things, are sure to be deserted for the sake of a few fireworks. The greatest change in nature--that from mid-winter to mid-summer, is but a physical change, a change in the mode of matter. Matter is therefore the agent which effects this; sun, rain, and dew are the servants of God in this work. And to call forth the bodies of men from their graves is a work very inferior to that of awakening souls to the life of God. “The former work has no glory by reason of the glory which excelleth.” If our office is an office in relation to souls, then we have to do with the highest of all forms of existence. The souls of our world are desolate and dead as winter: it is the will of God that a springtime should be brought out in their history, that they should become verdant and flourishing as the garden of the Lord. Piety is ever-living verdure, and the graces of piety are never-withering flowers. Instrumentally to call forth these from human souls is the ministry committed to our hands. In a word, our ministry is a ministry of life to the dead--not to dead matter, nor to dead bodies, but to souls dead in sin.
II. There are souls dead!
1. Men are ignorant of the nature of their souls. Truly they know not what souls are, or they would perceive at once that there is no adaptation between money and souls, between sensual pleasures and souls and they would be at least uneasy that there is nothing in the wide world suited to enrich and bless the soul. Then, if souls know not their own nature, it is not too strong a figure to speak of them as dead.
2. The souls of men are not fulfilling the end of their being. Their affections are not excited; their powers are not developed; their energies are not devoted to truth, to excellence; their thoughts do not soar away in contemplation of the infinite and the eternal; their affections do not embrace the God of love; eternity is before them, but they are making no preparation; they are laying no foundation for the time to come.
3. The souls of men are strangers to the peculiar joys of their being. Every distinct order of creatures has its peculiar pleasures: insects have their pleasures, birds have their pleasures, the cattle of the field have their pleasures, and souls have their pleasures; but of all these creatures the souls of men only are alienated from, and indifferent to, their own peculiar delights. The difference between the joys of angelic minds and those of human minds consists in this, that angels are in the full and constant fruition of the proper bliss of souls; but human souls are cut off from it, if dead to this bliss; so that, without inconsistency or exaggeration, we may speak of the state of human souls under the figure of death, and of their conversion to God as a passing from death unto life. And the peculiar characteristic of the Gospel is, that it is a ministration of life to souls, immortal souls dead in sin.
III. As the servants of the Gospel, the cry of our ministry is, live! O souls! as servants of our God and your God, our business is with you. If you carry on no commerce with your Maker, if your thoughts and affections rise not to contemplate and embrace things hidden and Divine, you are strangers to the high and joyous life of souls. In your bodies there may be life, but in your souls there is death, which will become eternal death unless it be soon plucked out of your spirits. By the will of God the ministry of life is now in exercise in your presence, the design of which is to abolish death, to exterminate death’s empire without you, and to plant in its room the principles of life and immortality. But how are we to exercise this ministry? Our text cries, Live! Are we then to reiterate the cry, Live! Live! to the dying souls who may be within the sound of our voice? No; but we are to employ those means which God has instituted for the very purpose of awakening within you a life unto God. This is our ministry. We are charged by God to call upon you to repent, to sue for mercy, and solemnly declare to you that not to repent is to perish. We are to tell you that He who knew no sin died for your sins, and that, therefore, life, eternal life, is offered to you through His death. (J. Pulsford, D. D.)
Yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest Mine.
Two immutable, things
Biographies are generally interesting, if they are biographies; that is to say, if the events of the person’s life are truly told; but the most interesting biography to any man is his own life. Turn over the pages of the book of memory, and think of those first times when you sought and found the Saviour, when you repented, when you believed, when you yielded yourself up to Jesus, when He took you to be His, and you took Him to be yours. I am sure that this exercise will awaken many happy thoughts, and I feel equally certain that it will suggest many regrets; but the happiness will be good for you if it excites your gratitude, and the regrets will be good for you if they deepen your penitence. Beloved, tim time of our conversion, the time when we joyously realised that we were saved, was a covenanting time. It is a somewhat singular thing that, in this chapter, God does not say anything about Israel’s part of the covenant; He seems to pass that over as though it were never worth mentioning. So, at this time, I shall not say much about the covenant that you made with God; do not forget it, and do not forget that you have often forgotten it.
I. It was a covenant freely made.
1. It was a covenant which He made at His own suggestion, out of the greatness of His own love; for the nation of Israel, of which He speaks, had nothing in its pedigree to suggest it. There are some who do not believe in the depravity of human nature. I must believe in it if I am myself a fair specimen of human nature; and every man who has watched his own heart,, and has any idea of the sin which dwells within him, will know that his origin is tainted, that from the very first there is a tendency to evil, and only evil; and, therefore, that there is nothing in him as to his birth that can command or deserve the favour of God.
2. There was nothing in our condition to commend it. This poor child had never been washed or clothed--it was left in all its filthiness to die; there was nothing about it to commend it to the attention of the passer-by. And what were we by nature?
3. It was also a covenant freely made because there was nothing in our beauty to warrant it. Whatever there was there, was undeveloped and, worse still, unclean. And in that day when Jesus took us to Himself, and we took Him to be our Saviour, there was nothing as yet apparent of that which His grace has now wrought in us; it was totally absent then.
II. It was a covenant entirely of love.
1. Taking our text in its connection, we learn that this covenant was a marriage covenant.
2. That it was a covenant which was meant to be entirely of love is proved by the way in which it was carried out (Ezekiel 16:9-13). This is a covenant all of love, for these are all love-tokens, love-gifts to the beloved one. Now, will you go back in thought, and recollect when you used to receive those gifts from the Lord?
3. It must be a covenant all of love which God has made with such creatures as we are, because it could bring the Lord no profit.
III. It was a most sure covenant: “I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee.”
1. The covenant which God makes with believers is intended to remain forever. It is not something which may be broken in a few hours, like a child’s toys; it is an everlasting covenant (Ezekiel 16:60).
2. In proof that He intended it to remain, He ratified it by an oath.
3. To make a covenant even surer than by an oath, men were accustomed to seal it by a sacrifice. Now, beloved, you who believe have the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, to confirm the covenant of grace.
4. I would have you notice, in our text, that the covenant is remembered by God. It is He who Says, “I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee.”
5. Yet once more, this covenant will be remembered by Him forever (Ezekiel 16:60; Ezekiel 16:62).
IV. This covenant involves very gracious consequences. “Thou becamest Mine.”
1. If God has entered into covenant with us, we have become the Lord’s. Whose were you before? The world’s? Your own? The devil’s? Well, we will not dispute with the many claimants; but now you can say, “O Lord our God, other lords beside Thee have had dominion over us: but by Thee only will we make mention of Thy name.”
2. Now, we ought to be the Lord’s more and more.
3. If that be our feeling, it will lead us practically to renew the bond of the covenant.
4. And you who have never done so, may you come to Jesus this very moment! Your only hope lies in Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God’s covenant with the reclaimed soul
In Canada they build palaces of ice in the winter time, and very beautiful things they are; but then, when spring comes where are those palaces? And in summer, the very foundation upon which they were built has melted back into the St. Lawrence. God does not make with His believing people covenants like those ice palaces; His covenant stands secure, though earth’s old columns bow. If God has promised to save thee,--as He has done if thou believest in Jesus,--He will save thee in the teeth of death and hell. Rest thou sure of this, and say with David, “He hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure.” Here is something to rest upon: “I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee.” He intended it to remain. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The moment of being possessed by Christ
“Thou becamest Mine.” Do you recollect the spot--perhaps it was your own little room--where, as a youth, you sat after having long prayed and wept? And at last you felt that Jesus was yours; and you sat still, and you said to yourself “Yes, I am His, every bit of me. He has bought me with His blood, I am His.” Do you remember those first few days in which you felt half afraid to do anything lest you should grieve that dear Lover of your soul? Then you wanted to do everything that you might please Him whose servant you had become. I remember a verse of Scripture which, as a young believer, I used often to repeat; for it was very dear to me. I daresay you love it too; it is this: “Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.” We did feel then that we were wholly Christ’s; do we feel it as much now? “Thou becamest Mine.” To come back to the marriage covenant of which the Lord speaks,--when the husband put the ring upon his bride’s finger, he said to her, “Thou hast become mine.” Do you remember when you felt upon your finger the ring of infinite, everlasting, covenant love that Christ put there. “Thou becamest Mine.” Oh, it was a joyful day, a blessed day! Happy day, happy day, when His choice was known to me, and fixed my choice on Him! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Owned by God
It is a great privilege not to be one’s own. A vessel is drifting on the Atlantic hither and thither, and its end no man knoweth. It is derelict, deserted by all its crew; it is the property of no man; it is the prey of every storm and the sport of every wind; rocks, quicksands, and shoals wait to destroy it; the ocean yearns to engulf it. It drifts onward to no man’s land, and no man will mourn its shipwreck. But mark well yonder bark of the Thames, which its owner surveys with pleasure. In its attempt to reach the sea it may run ashore, or come into collision with other vessels, or in a thousand ways suffer damage; but there is no fear, it will pass through the floating forest of “the Pool”; it will thread the winding channel and reach the Nore, because the owner will secure it pilotage, skilful and apt. How thankful you and I should be that we are not derelict today! We are not our own, not left on the wild “waste of chance to be tossed to and fro by fortuitous circumstances, but there is a Hand upon the helm; we have on board a Pilot who owns us, and will surely steer us into the Fair Heavens of eternal rest. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The adornments of Christ’s Church
It was observed of Queen Elizabeth (as of her father before her), that she loved to go very richly arrayed. Her sister Queen Mary had, at her coronation, her head so laden with:jewels that she could hardly hold it up. King Richard II had one coat of gold and stone valued at 30,000 marks. This was much, but nothing to the Church’s beauty and bravery, which yet was all but borrowed, as is said in the next verse. (J. Trapp.)
How to obtain Christ’s beauty
God’s beauty which He puts upon His people is His own moral loveliness. This attribute of Divine goodness, while enshrined in the teaching of the Word of God, is most effectively seen in the person of the Lord Jesus. It is from Him we catch it, if at all. As the sun imprints the image upon the sensitive plate in the camera when it is exposed to it, so Christ’s beauty is put upon us if we are exposed to Him by a life of communion. We do not, however, own Christ’s beauty merely passively, there must be a constant deliberate imitation of His holy example. “I must go home and deepen the colouring of my infant Hercules,” exclaimed Sir Joshua Reynolds after gazing on the beautiful sunburnt face of a peasant boy. Frequent communings with Christ make one dissatisfied with his poor copying of so beautiful a character. “I must be more Christlike” must be the great resolve as we go forth from His presence if we would own Christ’s beauty. (Charles Deal.)
The transformation grace works
John Ruskin was one day walking along the streets of London. The weather had been very wet, and the mud was plentiful and most sticky. The thought occurred to him that he would have the mud analysed to find out exactly the inorganic elements in it. This was accordingly done, and the London mud was found to consist of sand, clay, soot, and water. Musing upon that fact, it struck him that these are the very substances from which our precious jewels and gems are formed. From the sand or silica come the onyx, chrysolite, agate, beryl, cornelian, chalcedony, jasper, sardine, amethyst; from the clay come the sapphire, ruby, emerald, topaz; and from the soot is formed the diamond. London mud composed of priceless jewels! Man cannot transform the mud into those glittering points of light, but God transforms and recreates the mud of depraved humanity into the glory of redeemed and beautiful souls. (John Robertson.)
I clothed thee also with broidered work.
The clothing of God’s people
See with what matchless generosity the Lord provides for His people’s apparel.
1. They are so arrayed that the Divine skill is seen producing an unrivalled broidered work, in which every attribute takes its part and every Divine beauty is revealed. No art like the art displayed in our salvation, no cunning workmanship like that beheld in the righteousness of the saints. Justification has engrossed learned pens in all ages of the Church, and will be the theme of admiration in eternity. God has indeed “curiously wrought it.”
2. With all this elaboration there is mingled utility and durability, comparable to our being shod with badgers’ skins. The animal here meant is unknown, but its skin covered the tabernacle, and formed one of the finest and strongest leathers known. The righteousness which is of God by faith endureth forever, and he who is shod with this Divine preparation will tread the desert safely, and may even set his foot upon the lion and the adder.
3. Purity and dignity of our holy vesture are brought out in the fine linen. When the Lord sanctifies His people, they are clad as priests in pure white; not the snow itself excels them; they are in the eyes of men and angels fair to look upon, and even in the Lord’s eves they are without spot.
4. Meanwhile the royal apparel is delicate and rich as silk! No expense is spared, no beauty withheld, no daintiness denied.
5. Surely there is gratitude to be felt and joy to be expressed. Come, my heart, refuse not thy evening hallelujah! Tune thy pipes! Touch thy chords! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Thou hast also taken thy fair Jewels of My gold.
The degrading nature of sin
Manton says, “If you saw a man labouring in filthy ditches, and soiling himself as poor men do, would you believe that he was heir-apparent to a crown, called to inherit a kingdom? Who will believe in your heavenly calling when you stick in the mud of worldly pleasures, and are carried away with carking care for secular interests?” Princes should behave as princes. Their haunts should be in palaces, and not amid dung heaps. How, then, is it that some who profess and call themselves Christians are found raking in questionable amusements to discover pleasure, and many others groping amid sordid avarice to find satisfaction in wealth? What are they at to be thus disgracing the blood royal? How dare they drag the name of the “Blessed and only Potentate” through the mire? A prince of the blood acting as a beggar would dishonour not only himself but all the royal house. Nobility has obligations. Grace, which is the eminent nobility of saints, lays them under heavy bonds to act as the true aristocracy of the universe. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God ill requited for all His love
I remember William Huntingdon says in his autobiography that one of the sharpest sensations of pain that he felt after he had been quickened by Divine grace was this, “He felt such pity for God.” I do not know that I ever met with the expression elsewhere, but it is a very expressive one; although I might prefer to say sympathy with God, and grief that He should be so ill-treated. Many a man has been slandered and abused, but never was man abused as God has been. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I have stretched out My hand over thee, and have diminished thine ordinary food, and delivered thee unto the will of them that hate thee.
The tyranny of Satan
To be “delivered unto the will of them that hate us”--this seems given as amongst the most oppressive of calamities--the judgment which God, after having long striven with the unrighteousness of a nation, selects from the stores of His retributive appointments. Suppose one person knew another to be his rancorous enemy, bent on doing him every kind of injury, and causing him every kind of pain; it may be that this enemy had left the kingdom and gone to foreign parts, so that it did not seem likely that he would again cross the path of the object of his bitter dislike. But the individual himself may be called to quit his home, and navigate distant seas; and he himself, falling amongst pirates, may find that, though life is spared, liberty is gone, and that he is to be sold as a slave on reaching the land. Who can tell the anguish of his soul? The endearing recollections of his native shores crowd thickly upon him; and he thinks that not only shall he never again meet the friends of his youth, but that he shall drag out the remainder of his days in subjection to some tyrant whose delight will be to torment. Yet perhaps not so! It is a galling thing that he--a freeborn man--should stand in the slave market, exposed for sale like a mere beast of burden; but it may be that, through this degradation, he shall recover all that he has lost. He therefore waits with trembling eagerness to know who his purchaser shall be. On a sudden his eye rests on his ancient enemy; he cannot be mistaken. He knows that form; it will not allow him to doubt. Oh! that he might hide himself! But in vain! His foe has purchased him; he has paid down the demanded price. Tell me! did the man till this moment feel himself utterly wretched? Now, the case would be much the same with a community or nation as with the individual. If a nation must yield to a foreign power, it would desire that it might not be to a power by which it had always been held in dislike, and with which it had often been at war. The galling thing would be, not merely that we were subdued, but that we were subdued by those to whom we knew ourselves to be objects of inveterate hatred, and who cherished against us deep-rooted antipathy. Now, whilst these may be thoroughly accurate illustrations of our text, they are not those which cause the passage to be surveyed under its most instructive aspects. The text, when separated from its local and temporary application, may justly be considered as describing the state to which the human race was reduced when, by the first rebellion against God, it severed the links which had heretofore associated the Creator and the creature. We all admit that through the apostasy of Adam, Satan acquired a dominion over the globe which he never could have held had our first parents remained firm in their allegiance, He became, in the language of St. Paul, “The God of this world.” If it were to be said of the Jews that God “delivered them unto the will of them that hated them,” it is easy to be said of man in general that God surrendered him to the hands of the devil. Though never let it be for a moment forgotten that whilst He thus allowed judgment to fall on sin, and caused the disobedient to “eat of the fruit of their own ways,” He was providing for the emancipation of our race--arranging that His blessed Son should be “manifested” for the express purpose of “destroying the works of the devil.” And you are yet to be told the worst feature in this our natural condition. Not only are we slaves, but they that “hate” us are they that rule over us. There can be nothing darker, if we may judge from the scattered touches of Scripture, than the character of apostate angels. Fallen from the very summit of created glory, their debasement seems to bear proportion with their original eminence; and they move to and fro burning with the fiercest animosity against God, and eager for nothing but to drag down others to share their sufferings and their shame. It may have been that it was hatred to man which first moved Satan to attempt his destruction. That haughty spirit, chafed by his defeat, and furious at his own exile from happiness, could not endure to look on the purities and felicities of Paradise. Man was innocent, and that made him hateful; man was happy, and he was therefore instinctively detested. And if we may speak of man as an object of hatred to Satan whilst he held fast his allegiance, what may we suppose him now--now that, seduced into apostasy, he hath been rescued by the interference of “God manifest in the flesh”? Was the lofty angel to be passed by and this inferior being taken note of? And was it to be the result of Satan’s machinations against the inmates of Paradise that a richer than that rich garden was to open to them all its loveliness, and a deeper than the happiness they then enjoyed be placed within reach as their everlasting portion? This surely were sufficient to account for a hatred the most intense and inveterate on the part of the devil toward man! Again, Satan must hate man, so that whosoever is the servant of this chief of fallen angels is accurately in the condition described in our text; and every one of you is that servant, on whom there has not passed the great moral change of conversion. Oh! that we could bring all that imagery which was furnished by the slave market, or the horrors of an invasion, and force those who are yet indifferent to religion to recognise in it a delineation of themselves! He who really feels that the devil is both his master and his enemy is not far from embracing Christ as his Redeemer and his friend. But it in no degree alters the fact of your being ruled by one who hates you that you are blind to your condition, and not even conscious of being ruled at all: it does but make that condition all the worse. Why, suppose that when the inveterate enemy has entered the slave market, and possessed himself of the wretched being who actually quails before his look;--suppose he should speak soothingly to his victim, easing his chains as he leads him away, promising him abundance and enjoyment, and all because he knows a generous friend of the poor captive is waiting on the road, and will be attracted by a cry of disquietude or a shriek of distress;--suppose this, and you suppose precisely the policy of Satan, who, if he can only prevent a man from feeling that uneasiness which would prompt an appeal to the Saviour, is quite content to defer the season for giving swing to all his malice and wreaking all his vengeance. But that season will come. It is little, it is nothing to say that imagination is utterly incompetent to the giving to such season its due measure of horror. We pretend not to lift the veil which shrouds from human gaze the future, with its direful retribution. But we may venture to say that in the brief description of our text is condensed whatever tongue can express, or thought compass, of the wretchedness which must be the portion of the lost. We do not attempt to carry the description further; we have adventured thus far only in hopes that the terrors of the future may scare some of those who, if they were this instant to die, must have these terrors for their own. Why shrink ye from our picture of the man sold to be a slave--a slave to his bitter enemy, who has long sought opportunity of indulging all the vengeance of a fierce and implacable nature? Wherefore are ye moved by this imagined wretchedness? Wherefore is the cheek pale, and wherefore the blood cold, as you fancy that you hear the clanking chain and the stifled cry, and behold the oppressor grinding down the captive? Wherefore is it? Because there is a consciousness which you cannot repress, of being in the power of one who hates you. This is supreme misery in itself, and such a finishing stroke to all others as leaves nothing for imagination to add. It is, indeed, to one who hates you that you are making yourselves slaves in following the course which the God of this world prescribes to the children of disobedience. That the devil hates you witness what he has already done to make mankind wretched. Witness a devastated earth; witness every grave; witness every tear. He was a murderer from the beginning; and to his foul machinations we owe all our woe. Oh! shall it then be that you will so live that, when you come to die, there will remain nothing but that you go down to the prison house of woe, to experience all the terribleness of the saying--a saying from which the most hardened amongst you instinctivley recoils when it is exhibited as brought to pass on earth;--the saying that when God has a vast vengeance to inflict, and a vast retribution to exact, He appoints for the guilty--what:--that they be “delivered unto the evil of them that hate them?” (H. Melvill, B. D.)
How weak is thine heart, saith the Lord God, seeing thou doest all these things.
The weak place
Three great errors of the day will stand corrected if due attention be paid to our text.
I. That a man’s life may be irregular and yet the man’s heart be good. Here is a man who has little or no sense of practical honesty. He thinks the very least of getting into debt without the slightest probability of ever being able to discharge his liabilities. He lives in a superior house, lives in luxury, his family dress well, give entertainments, etc. But they never trouble about paying anybody; they will fail and begin over again, that they may do the same trick. Now, people will say of such an one: “Yes, he is sadly wanting in prudence, in discretion, in management; but really, he is as generous, good-hearted a fellow as ever lived.” But, in fact, he is nothing of the sort. Content to feed on the fruits of others’ industry, he is essentially false and cruel. Another of these good-hearted fellows is the man who won’t work. People say of him, “What a pity! He has a fine disposition, he ought to have been born a gentleman.” The fact is, he has made a blackguard of himself, whatever he was born; he has not a fine disposition, but, a base disposition; he lacks all that independence, self-reliance, courage which are the very essence of noble character. Another of these deceivers is the specious fellow, wanting in social purity and honour. People will speak regretfully of the escapades, the gallantries, the scandals, of what are termed the gay Lotharios; but these scoundrels are chided as if their infidelities and libertinism were simply on the surface, and, despite their licence, they are reckoned as honest, kind men of the world. Not so. Such men are profoundly selfish, cowardly, bloodguilty. Or take many intemperate men. People say: “Fine fellow; only, his own enemy.” But that will not do. Breaking the heart of his friends, killing his wife, reducing his family to shame and wretchedness, he is altogether destitute of the qualities of honourable men. Evil conduct may assume the aspect of innocence, gaiety, greatness, but analyse it and it shall be seen to be mean, base, low, cowardly, ignoble. How weak, corrupt, vile is thine heart, seeing thou doest all these things.
II. That a man’s life may be irregular and yet the man’s heart be strong. This is the second error to be corrected by our text. There is really weakness in all sin, most pitiful weakness no matter how cunningly it may simulate strength. Take a passionate man. He feels strong, he looks strong, his language is strong; but in truth he is weakness itself. No matter how in his wrath he affects the god, he is the mere sport of the wind. The very word “passion” signifies the passivity of the man--not that he is the actor, but that he is being acted upon. The calm, patient man is the strong man. Take the ambitious man. He seems strong-natured, strong-willed, but real strength is wanting. A man like Napoleon seems a very incarnation of strength, but the fretfulness displayed by him on the rock of exile betrayed his essential weakness. Take a discontented man. People are ready to think that the complainings of such are signs of a large, powerful genius which frets at narrow conditions; but it is not so. Emerson says: “Discontent is the infirmity of the will.” And this view is fully borne out by Paul: “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content . . . I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Contentment is a question of strength. Take a selfish man. He is restless, daring, aggressive, assertive, grasping, and may easily be accounted a man of superior force; but one of the greatest preachers of our age has just shown us that the mightiest of all energies is the energy of unselfishness. Take a man of great animal appetites and indulgences. He thinks himself a bold, strong man, and many are disposed to think this type manly; but that is not the view of the prophet: “How effeminate is thine heart, seeing thou doest all these things.” Carlyle says truly: “Crabbedness, pride, obstinacy, affectation are at bottom want of strength.” The revelation of divinest strength lies in overcoming wickedness, and he who is overcome by wickedness is in soul dyspeptic, paralysed, crippled, impotent.
III. That a man’s life may be irregular and yet the man’s heart be neutral. The third error corrected by the text. Without saying, perhaps, that a man who leads a bad life has a noble heart, or a strong one, many are prepared today to say that the man’s heart has nothing to do with his conduct whatever. The fault is not in the thoughts, affections, will, at all. The source of man’s conduct is boldly affirmed to be his organisation; the man has an inborn character from which he cannot escape, his general constitution determines his personal conduct. And the circumstances of the man complete the ring of necessity in which he moves. Now, in opposition to this, the text declares the heart to be originative, the prime source of mischief. The conduct of Israel in entering into alliances with Egypt and Babylon and Nineveh is not condoned on the ground of Israel occupying a peculiar geographical situation, which rendered such alliances politic and necessary in the view of worldly wisdom; nothing is said of the peculiar geographical position, but the conduct of Israel is referred at once to their lack of true faith, of noble will, of inward loyalty to their covenant-keeping God. So today God does not excuse our bad conduct on the grounds of the nature we inherit, or the events which influence us, but He attributes to the individual a full, solemn responsibility. It is false; we are not waifs and strays, the sport of winds and currents: we are ocean steamers throbbing with a mysterious independent energy; we can set winds and waves at defiance, we know in which direction lies our path, we can turn the helm whithersoever we list, and if we make shipwreck we are not blameless, as an empty bottle driven on this shore or that, but we are found guilty and condemned by God and man as men at the wheel are found disobedient, as captains are found asleep, as pilots are found drunk or presumptuous. The great need then is the renewal of the human heart. Society needs regeneration before it will permit any considerable reconstruction. Seek in the Church to strengthen the conscience, to purify the life--that is our first grand work. And as to the individual, the defects of our life must be cured in the defects of our spirit. (W. L. Watkinson.)
A half-and-half man, a half-and-half creed, will never meet with violent opposition or enmity from the world. Even what might be called a three-quarters man will escape without very much harm. It is the out-and-out Christian, and the out-and-out creed that the world hates. Making compromises is an old trade of Satan’s. It is one at which he shows consummate skill; he is wilting to be large and liberal; he will concede far more than at first sight anyone would suppose; in fact, he will go so far as to say, You may be nine-tenths Christ’s if only as regards the remaining tenth you will agree to be mine. The man of God must nail his colours to the mast, and not listen even for a moment to any terms upon which those colours are to be struck. (P. B. Power.)
Pride, fulness of head, and abundance of idleness.
The conflict in a luxurious age
1. We must be on our guard against the suggestions of pride and self-complacency, by endeavouring to form as humble an estimate as possible of our own powers and works. We cannot better the world but by bettering ourselves. We cannot put down the pride of the generation in which we live, but we can mortify our own.
2. In regard of that danger which arises to the soul from living in plenty and abundance, we can regulate ourselves in our use of meats and drinks and personal indulgence, practising at certain times a holy moderation and abstinence, that we be not overcome of such delights. And as a safeguard to ourselves in this matter, let us remember the poor. It may be said that in our nation no sooner is a case of real suffering made public than contributions flow in on all sides; and yet do our public prints reveal, almost daily, abuses of the very law by which we provide for poor and indigent persons, which ought to bring to our remembrance more keenly than it does that cumulative sin of Sodom and her daughters, “Neither did she strengthen the hands of the poor and needy.”
3. In regard of the disposition to abundance of idleness, which is increasing, I believe, daily, to which all the incidents of our national prosperity minister, and which must in the end issue in the disturbance of our tranquillity, it is not that you here can do anything to stem that torrent of self-indulgence which is flowing in upon us, especially in the lowest orders, whose tastes are the coarsest, and whose wills through ignorance are the most perverse; but you can resist the tendency to it in yourselves; you can endure this hardness at least, of girding up your loins to do the work which God has appointed for you in the world, as men who believe that it is their duty, required of them by the laws of true religion and sound morality. (T. L. Claughton, M. A.)
The bread of idleness demoralising
Honest work is the best employment for fallen man; and the bread of idleness breeds trouble in those that eat it. This is often illustrated in the luxuriant affluence of tropical vegetation. “Mr. Dilke believes that the banana plant is one of the greatest curses of tropical countries, because it will support life with no labour. It grows as a weed, and hangs down its bunches of ripe tempting fruit into your lap as you lie in its cool shade. The terrible results of the plentiful possession of this tree are seen in Ceylon, at Panama, in the coast lands of Mexico, and at Auckland in New Zealand. At Pitcairn’s island the plantain grove has beaten the missionary from the field; there is much lip Christianity, but no practice to be got from a people who possess the fatal plant. The much-abused cocoanut cannot come near it as a devil’s agent.” Such are the results of eating the bread of idleness. (R. A. Bertram.)
Idle and aimless living
Some time ago I read in a paper of a gentleman being brought up before the magistrate. What was the charge against him? “Nothing very serious,” you will say. He was found wandering in the fields. He was asked where he was going, and he said he was not going anywhere. He was asked where he came from, and he said he did not know. They asked him where his home was, and he said he had none. They brought him up for wandering as what? a dangerous lunatic. The man who has no aim or object in life, but just wanders about anywhere or nowhere, acts like a dangerous lunatic, and assuredly he is not morally sane. What! Am I aiming at nothing? Have I all this machinery of life, making up a vessel more wonderful than the finest steamboat, and am I going nowhere? My heart throbs are the pulsing of a divinely arranged machinery: do they beat for nothing? Do I get up every morning, and go about this world, and work hard, and all for nothing which will last? As a being created of God for noblest purposes, am I spending my existence in a purposeless manner? How foolish! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Prosperity tests character
The soundness of a vessel is not seen when it is empty, but when it is filled with water, then we shall see whether it will leak or no. (Manton.)
It is in our prosperity that we are tested. Men are not fully discovered to themselves till they are tried by fulness of success. Praise finds out the leak of pride, wealth reveals the flaw of selfishness, and learning discovers the leak of unbelief. David’s besetting sin was little seen in the tracks of the wild goats, but it became conspicuous upon the terraces of his palace. Success is the crucible of character. Hence the prosperity which some welcome as an unmixed favour may far more rightly be regarded as an intense form of test illustrations and meditations. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The folly and danger of pride
I. The sinfulness and danger of pride.
1. Pride is, as far as we know, the first sin that ever was committed. It seems to have been the leading transgression in the defection of fallen angels.
2. Pride renders persons, in a special manner, hateful and abominable in the sight of God (Proverbs 8:13; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5).
3. Pride is productive of other sins. Hence springs covetousness (Habakkuk 2:5), persecution (Psalms 10:2), strifes and quarrels (Proverbs 13:10).
4. Pride is a destructive sin. It is a presage of the ruin of those in whom it reigns (Proverbs 16:18). It produces shame (Proverbs 11:2). Sodom (Genesis 19:24-25). Haughty Pharaoh and his hosts (Exodus 14:27-28). Haman (Esther 7:10). Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:32-33). Herod (Acts 12:23).
II. Some remedies against it.
1. Endeavour to acquire the knowledge of your own meanness and sinfulness, and of the holiness and majesty of God; for by comparing yourselves with Him you will sink into nothing in your own esteem.
2. Be persuaded of the excellency of humility, the grace opposite to pride, and “be clothed with it” (1 Peter 5:5).
3. Consider well the examples of humility set before you in the sacred Scriptures. Abraham, Jacob, David, Agur, Paul, and many others; yea, the holy angels fall down before the throne in lowest adoration; but, above all, the example of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:5).
4. Understand that all your natural and acquired abilities are the gifts of God. Talents intrusted to your care and management (1 Corinthians 4:7). (Pulpit Assistant.)
I. Idlers are generally careless. It is said that a stitch in time saves nine. But the idler seldom takes the stitch in time. He is careless in his habits, careless over his soul, and careless about everything. An idle man thinks any way of doing a thing will do if it gets done. He has not sufficient interest to take pains with his work. Whatever you do for Christ, do it well; because God sees your work. He not only looks on the work of stupendous magnitude which is being done by an angel; but He also sees you at your post of deacon and helper and teacher and visitor.
II. Idlers are often sinful. Experience proves this. An English proverb tells us that, “An idle brain is the devil’s workshop,”--and it is confirmed by an old Latin proverb, which says, “Evil thoughts intrude in an unemployed mind as naturally as worms generate in a stagnant pond.” Let me show how idle Christians become sinful. You join a church, but that is all you do for Christ; you never speak a word to the perishing, never visit the sick. Your soul is an empty spiritual house, which the devil uses as a purified workshop where he invents sinful thoughts and wicked actions.
III. Idlers are always miserable. Another old English proverb tells us that, “The used key is always bright.” But the key which hangs on the nail soon becomes rusted. And your soul will soon rust unless you employ it in good work. Do not allow yourself to be even for only half an hour without finding something useful to do.
IV. Idlers soon tire of work. Some people only pray when they are compelled by misfortune. They soon tire of what is to them the task of prayer. An idle prayer gets nothing; it is like a rusted sword.
V. Idlers always mean well.
VI. Idlers are often of a kindly disposition. They are too lazy to be angry. But they are always ready to do a good turn, if it does not last too long. Christians belong to a life-saving institution. What would you think of the lifeboat men if they sat smoking their pipes the shore when there was a wreck crowded with human beings at the entrance of the harbour? Christians, there are human wrecks about! Come to the rescue! (W. Birch.)
Of the various evils to which mankind are subject, few steal upon the soul with such fatal security, and deprive us at once of dignity, of happiness, and virtue, as Idleness. To active crimes that annoy the peace of others, even the most hardened sinner is forced to be awake; but against the still, corroding vices of the heart, that chiefly affect ourselves, we are seldom guarded, except by the voluntary exercise of our own reason, or the friendly admonitions of others.
1. If we look up to the great Creator, as to the source of all perfections, and contemplate His wisdom and His goodness in His works, we shall find that no living example of Idleness or inactivity is ordained by His Providence. All seem “working together,” and gradually fulfilling some wise and beneficent purpose, which He has appointed. While the face of nature presents us with this general scene of action, shall man remain, in contradiction to the will of heaven, in the rest and sloth of Idleness? Nothing could degrade him more in that scale of being in which he was intended to hold so distinguished a rank. There are active duties allotted to every human being; and the fulfilling of them with cheerfulness and diligence should form no inconsiderable portion of our happiness. While some are assiduously providing for their own household, by following their respective avocations, others may be engaged in laudable attempts to extend the boundaries of science, and to increase the comforts of social life;--while many are anxiously employed in protecting the helplessness of infancy, and in forming the manners of childhood, a few, whom fortune has placed above these humble duties, might fill the offices of state with advantage; and, by their industry, their virtues, and their wisdom, greatly contribute to the general welfare.
2. In a state of indolence are engendered many evils and many sorrows. Among the lower classes of the community Idleness is productive of misery and guilt in every varied form. The ties of every duty, indeed, will be but slightly felt by him who gives himself up to Idleness. His predominant vice gradually undermines his principles, and spreads licentiousness through his character. If a man of this description have a family, all bred up under the contagious influence of his vices, it is impossible to tell how far and wide the stream of corruption will spread. So much is Idleness to be dreaded in its consequences when it infects the poor. If we consider those of middle life, who might be said to possess the object of Agur’s prayer, and to have “neither poverty nor riches,” we shall perceive the same vice diffusing its miseries. Under the pleasing delusion of comfort and of ease we may observe some quitting the active scenes of life, which habit had rendered familiar, and almost natural, in pursuit of happiness in retirement. But it is not every mind that is formed or prepared for the enjoyment of solitude. A languid discontent and a peevish neglect of ordinary comforts soon lead to sensuality and excess of every kind. Self-indulgence is the last idol of the heart; and the short remnant of life is often divided between the feebleness or pain of disease and the stupors of intoxication. To those who may not be in danger of gross and sensual vices, Idleness still brings with it distresses that ought to be dreaded. If temptation from the body should be resisted, it seldom fails to fasten on the mind. The human frame is so constituted as to require frequent alternations of action and of rest. The animal functions cannot be properly performed without them; and how these affect the mind is well known. It may be remarked, however, that even excess of labour is not so injurious as excess of ease. Idleness, indeed, completely disqualifies us for every rational enjoyment. One chief pleasure in human life is the blessing of repose after fatigue; or the relaxation of amusements, either solitary or social, after labour. But these, to the idle, are like food to one whose appetite is already cloyed.
3. Let me earnestly exhort you, therefore, to guard against a vice, whose pernicious influence is so extensive, and whose consequences ought to be so much dreaded. Whatever be your situation, reason and religion will point out to you some scheme of duties appropriated to it, which it should be at once your interest and pleasure to fulfil. Life abounds also with such frequent opportunities of doing good, or improving time, that no part of the small portion which remains should be squandered away in trifles; for, next to the vice of Idleness, is that of employing time amiss. It is fortunate, indeed, for the generality, that many of the active duties are forced on them by necessity: for those who have it in their power to do what they please, always do the least; and soon find the ardour of voluntary pursuits gradually subside, till it is wholly lost in a passion for pleasure, or the love of ease. (J. Hewlett, B. D.)
Neither hath Samaria committed half thy sins.
The sins of one people may be greater than the sins of another; all sins are not equal, nor all sinners equally guilty. Jerusalem’s sins exceeded Samaria’s and Sodom’s; they were not half so great sinners as she was. The more mercies any people enjoy, the greater are their sins if they answer not those mercies. Christians’ sins will be found the scarlet and unparallelable sins.
2. Comparing of sins and sinners together, makes great sins seem little and great sinners seem righteous. Great things when they are exceeded by greater in view, they seem little; a great house is nothing to a great rock, a great mountain or city; a great river is nothing to the ocean; so a great heap of sins is as nothing to a greater; what is a cartful of dung to a great dunghill? And as it is in quantities, so in qualities: some poisons are so poisonous, so strong, that they kill immediately; others, though more in quantity, yet are longer in producing such an effect, and in comparison they are no poisons; so some sins and sinners compared with others, are as none. Luke 18:14, the publican went down to his house justified rather than the Pharisee: this Pharisee compared himself with the publican, and thought himself righteous; but the publican in comparison of him was righteous. Take heed therefore of comparing yourselves with others who are worse and greater sinners than you, and from thence of framing a righteousness to yourselves notwithstanding. Sodom and Samaria were less sinners, more righteous than Jerusalem, yet you know how God dealt with them, and destruction will be the end of all those who trust to such righteousness.
3. Great sinners see not, or forget their own sins, and are apt to censure, judge, and condemn others who are less sinful than themselves, and especially when they are under the hand of God.
4. It is a shame for those who are guilty of the same or greater sins to judge others.
5. Sin brings shame. What a shame was it to Jerusalem that she was a greater sinner than Samaria, than Sodom; that she did such things as made the daughters of the Philistines ashamed of her (verse 27). Shame is the lackey that waits upon sin, and causeth the conscience to blush as well as the face (Proverbs 14:34): sin is a reproach to nations.
6. Shame in itself, or as it accompanies the judgments of God upon sinners, is a burdensome thing. “Bear thine own shame,” reproach, disgrace.
7. Sinners must bear the judgments of God, and the shame that is due unto them, whoever they be. “Thou also,” even thou Jerusalem, “bear thine own shame.” (W. Greenhill, M. A.)
Degrees of sin
He that will not be persuaded to leap down from an high chamber at once, cometh willingly down by the stairs; and yet the declining degrees of his winding descent make it not less downward to him, but less perceived of him. His leap might have brought him down sooner; it could not have brought him down lower. As I am then fearful to act great sins, so I will be careful to avoid small sins. He that contemns a small fault commits a great one. I see many drops make a shower; and what difference is it whether I be wet either in the rain or in the river, if both be to the skin? There is small benefit in the choice whether we go down to hell by degrees or at once. (A. Warwick.)
Shame ever attendant on sin
Manton says: “The conscience of a sinner is like a clock, dull, calm, and at rest, when the weights are down; but when wound up, it is full of motion.” Sometimes God winds up conscience in this life, and then it works vigorously, and strikes the time of day in the sinner’s ears. Shame attends his sin, and he trembles in secret, A dreadful sound is in his ears, and like the troubled sea he cannot rest. This is far better than a dead calm. Alas, in many cases the clock runs down, conscience is again still, and the man returns to his false peace. Of all states this is most dangerous. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
That thou mayest . . . be confounded in all that thou hast done.
The humiliation of success
The argument of this passage is very original. The prophet reaches past all limitations to the universal grace of God, and not so much by way of revelation as of inference. He has spoken of Israel’s past--how like a newborn child it was thrown out, the prey of any passer-by. God’s mercy found it, and reared it to strength--filling all the years with His goodness, but the nation answered with disloyalty, wanton and flagrant. In spite of chastisement and in spite of grace she sought the lowest; and in Ezekiel’s day, stripped of wealth and power and land, a disgraced and abandoned people, Israel seemed to have come back to where she was in the beginning when God found her. Is the story to be repeated without alteration? Ezekiel looks at the nations around, kindred in blood and language and custom, partners also in sin, and he sees that either all must perish together or all must come in together. And as he knows that God cannot cast off His people, his instincts of justice assure him that in bringing Israel back God must bring Sodom back, the most sunken and the most execrable of the race, and yet not so sunken as Israel. Sodom and Samaria, and such as they, must be pardoned for the sake of a city worse than themselves. It is substitution upside down. If there is room found in God’s mercy for Jerusalem, there must be for Sodom, and Sodom may come covered by the blackness of Jerusalem’s guilt. Our text is one point in the conclusion; it is the humiliation of success. Jerusalem brings in her train the evil cities in a day of jubilation--a day of the growth of the kingdom of God; but she herself is humbled, because everything reminds her of her sin. I wish to speak of the sobering and humbling quality of even the smallest success, which makes it a means of grace to those who enjoy it aright.
1. From the greatness of the work itself. Whatever view we may take of human nature, it must seem to us a great work to bring a man to God--to establish in him a new kingdom of desire and hope, so that he whose heart was narrow now regards the world with Christ’s eyes. That is a great work. It is the beginning of hope, the beginning of usefulness, and it is the end of sin. And constantly this great work is done by men: an impulse is given, a word spoken, a truth pressed. The more personal in this sense the impulse is, the deeper is the humiliation of the originator of it. He feels how little he has done, how feebly he has spoken; he has only flung words at One radiant idea of which he caught sight, and which he has not expressed. His work, he knows, has been so erring, so partial, so spasmodic, and God has sent this reward. On the one side, you feel how simple and how near such results are, that but for your indolence and inexpectancy they might have been more than they are; on the other, you know that, simple as they are, they are by the diameter of worlds out of your reach. It is not I that live, but Christ who lives in me; it is not I who work, but God. But whilst we cast upon God the burden, we must not miss the purifying efficacy of success. Of course, it is God who works; but it is also you or I. It is your idiosyncrasy, your peculiarity of temper, your happy knack which accounts for the immediate result. And it is just as you do set all you have against this result that you see the want of measure between them, and you are ashamed because of all you have done, in that you are a comfort to men.
2. Seeing self in another. We wish for men that they might see themselves as others see them, which is one inference of self-deceiving. We do not know how our qualities look, for custom and self-love blind us. We scarcely suspect how much alike we are until we think a man speaking in a certain way is describing us, whilst probably he is describing himself. The story is told of a ruffled baronet who complained to George Meredith of having been put into his “Egoist” as the egoistic hero. “I had no thought of you; I thought of myself--of us all,” is the answer reported. And as we do not know our likeness to men we turn from, we do not know our own ugliness. In this very chapter Ezekiel exhibits a thought of this kind. The Jews pointed with loathing at Sodom; the name of it had become proverbial, because God had blotted it out. It at least is worse than we; we may fairly shrink from that as a lower depth of which we know nothing, to which we have no proclivity. And the prophet says, What was the sin of Sodom? (verse 49). Behold this was its iniquity--pride, fulness of head, and prosperous ease, and she did not strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. There is nothing exceptional in it, nothing in Sodom which is not in you, he says. You meet with an ignorance, wilful and self-complacent; you struggle in another against that spiritual stupidity to which every worldly advantage is apparent, and to which none but a worldly advantage can be demonstrated. You find your efforts for some man thwarted by his intense sensuality, or by his doubleness and suspicion. You cannot advance, you cannot outwit his cunning or convince him of your sincerity. That stagnant and slumberous humour you cannot awake. To that pure animalism it is hopeless to speak of the glory of Christ. It is painful, disappointing, wearisome; but you come to know in striving with them what these things mean--sensuality, sloth, anger, envy: to many of us they are the too severe names of pleasant vices. But when for some man’s good you set yourself to free him from them, you realise the ugliness, the tenacious and wasting energy of them. And at the same time you see yourself. It is myself I am fighting in that man: these are my faults. It is in that real dealing with men that we come to understand the humour of a saint who could say of an abandoned criminal, There, but for the grace of God, am I.
3. It is a discovery of the meaning of the grace shown to us. When habit has made a certain level of conduct easy, or when our past shows no heights or depths, we may easily imagine, that the work of grace was not very great in us. We were almost born Christians, born and baptized and bred in Christian homes, with ample knowledge and wise restraint and sedulous training. Not far from the kingdom of God at any time, we were lightly and easily brought within it. In strong contrast is another life, gone far astray, full of heat and passion, in which the lights burn sullenly: a man lost to decency, to hope, to God--what have you to say to him whose life has run in so orderly and honourable a course? Out of the depths he looks with some faint gleam of hope to you as you talk of Christ. What can you say to him? I never was very bad, and God has mercifully pardoned the little wrong there was: is that all you know? The occasion widens your heart. You want to help him, and that eager desire sends your thoughts back into God’s dealing with you. For the first time you know your sin; it was very great--the Pharisee’s sin an isolating, loveless self-complacency--and God came to me. Then you can say in answer, Your sin is not mine wholly; our lots have been different, and our temptations, and our falls; but God abundantly pardoned me, and He will pardon you. (W. M’Macgregor, M. A.)
In that thou art a comfort unto theme--
How saints may help the devil
I. The acts of many of Christ’s followers have been the cause of justifying and comforting sinners in their evil ways.
1. The daily inconsistencies of the people of God have much to do in this matter.
(1) The covetousness of too many Christians has had this effect. “Look,” says the worldling, “this man professes that his inheritance is above, and that his affection is set not on things on earth, but on the things of heaven; but look at him: he is just as earnest as I am about the things of this world; he can drive the screw home as tightly with his debtor as I can; he can scrape and cut with those that deal with him quite as keenly as ever I have done.”
(2) Another point in which the sinner often excuses himself is the manifest worldliness of many Christians. You say yon are crucified to the world, and the world to you: it is a very merry sort of crucifixion.
(3) Look, too, at the manifest pride of many professors of religion. What., then, do worldlings say? “You accuse us of pride; you are as proud as we are. You the humble followers of Jesus, who washed His saints’ feet? Not you; no, you would have no objection, we doubt not, to be washed by others, but we do not think it likely that you would ever wash ours. You the disciples of the fishermen of Galilee? Not you; you are too fine and great for that. Accuse us not of pride; why, you are as stiff-necked a generation as we ourselves are.”
(4) I might mention another sad fact with regard to the Church which often stings us sorely,--the various enmities and strifes and divisions that arise.
2. Now, it is my mournful duty to go a step further. It is not merely these inconsistencies, but the glaring crimes of some professed disciples, that have greatly assisted sinners in sheltering themselves from the attacks of the Word of God. Every now and then the cedar falls in the midst of the forest.
3. How often do the people of God comfort sinners in their sins by their murmurings and complaints.
4. Perhaps the greatest evil has been done by the cold-heartedness and indifference of religious professors.
II. The consequences of this evil.
1. How often have you and I helped to keep sinners easy in their sin, by our inconsistency!
2. Do you not think that very often, when a sinner’s conscience has been roused, you and I have helped to give it a soporific draught by our coldness of heart?
3. Is it not possible that often sinners have been strengthened in their sin by you? They were but beginning in iniquity, and had you rebuked with honesty and sincerity, by your own holy life, they might have been led to see their folly, and might have ceased from sin; but you have strengthened their hands. “So-and-so is not more scrupulous than I,” says such an one; “I may do what he does.”
4. Nay, is it not possible that some of you Christians have helped to confirm men in their sins, and to destroy their souls? It is a masterpiece of the devil, when he can use Christ’s own soldiers against Christ. But this he has often done.
III. Bring out the great battering ram, to bear against this vain excuse of the wicked.
1. What hast thou to do with the inconsistencies of another? “To his own master he shall stand or fall.” Thou wilt be punished for thine own offences, remember, not for the offences of another. Man! I conjure thee, look this in the face. How can this help to assuage thy misery? How can this help to make thee happier in hell, because thou sayest there are so many hypocrites in this world?
2. But besides, thou knowest well enough that the Church is not so bad as thou sayest it is. Thou seest some that are inconsistent; but are there not many that are holy? There would be no hypocrites if there were not some true men. It is the quantity of true men that helps to pass off the hypocrite in the crowd.
3. Then again, I say, when thou comest before the bar of God, dost thou think that this will serve thee as an excuse, to begin to find fault with God’s own children? The rather this shall be an addition to thy sin, and thou shalt perish the more fearfully.
4. But come, man, once again: I would entreat of thee with all my might. What! canst thou be so foolish as to imagine, that because another man is destroying his own soul by hypocrisy, that this is a reason why thou shouldst destroy thine by indifference? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Comfort to Sodom
What is the meaning of this text? Jerusalem is said to have been a comfort to Sodom and Samaria; and this is mentioned as if it were a fault. Are we not bidden to love even our enemies, and to do good even to them that hate us; and can it then be wrong to be a comfort even to the worst of mankind,--even to Samaria and Sodom? Yes, in such a case as this it is wrong to be a comfort to a bad man or a bad city; because in such a case it is the very reverse of a kind turn to be a comfort to them. It is doing harm to them, and not doing good to them, to be a comfort in this particular way. For Jerusalem had been a comfort to Sodom and Samaria, in such a manner as had encouraged them in their sins. Now, I am sure you will all readily see that there is a great and important principle suggested to us by the text. You know, every Christian is solemnly bound to do all he can to make other men Christians. The knowledge of the Gospel is not a thing which a man may have, and without blame keep to himself. And just as blessed and happy a thing as it is to bring another soul to the belief of the Gospel,--so wretched and wicked and fearful a thing is it when a man who bears the Christian name lives in such a way as positively encourages those around him to contemn and disbelieve Christianity.
1. There is one obvious way in which professing Christians may do this, which we mention only to pass it by, in the hope that none of us who bear even the Christian name are so sorely and shamefully guilty. This is the way in which we understand from the prophet that Jerusalem was a comfort to Sodom; and that was, by being actually as bad as Sodom itself. Would not every swearer and drunkard and liar in the parish quiet his conscience, with the reflection that he was no worse than that wicked professor of religion? Would not such a man be a comfort to all the Sodoms and Samarias in the district? It is easy to say, and it is true to say, that religion is a thing that must be judged of on the ground of its own merits, and quite apart from the conduct of those who profess to believe in it; yet, illogical as it may be, foolish and wrong as it may be, the mass of mankind will always encourage themselves in sinfulness when they find professing Christians going on in sin.
2. If any sincere Christian is present in a company where what is sinful is said or done, and if he permits it to pass without remark, or even appears tacitly to approve it, I do not see how he can clear himself from the charge of having been “a comfort to Sodom.” The apparent approval of one true and earnest Christian--even the very humblest in worldly rank--will have more influence to comfort the wicked man,--to keep his mind easy, and his conscience asleep,--than the loudest declarations of his own wicked associates that he is a fine fellow and has done nothing wrong. And I am not forgetting the restraints which the usages of civilised society impose upon our telling a man to his face what is our opinion of his conduct. The Christian is not called upon to go up to a man and tell him that he is a bad man, merely because he thinks he is one. There is a silent, unobtrusive disapproval, by which the humblest may be a check upon the highest; there is a silent, unobtrusive disapproval, expressed without words or demonstration of manner, one can hardly tell how, which even the most hardened sinner will find it very hard, very uncomfortable, to bear.
3. Another way in which a Christian may so act as to encourage and comfort an irreligious man in his godless ways is by seeking his society and acquaintance; showing him that you think him a congenial spirit, and that you feel it pleasant to be with him. How can he think,” the unbeliever will judge,--“How can he think that I am going to hell! Is it possible that he should like to be the companion of my walks,--to interchange thought and feeling with me,--to discuss great questions with me,--perhaps often to jest and laugh with me;--and all the while believe and know that, as sure as there is a God above us, I am going down to hell!” Don’t you see now what eternal damage you who are Christians may do an unbelieving neighbour? Let them feel that you dare not make those too dear, from whom the grave must part you forever! See that you be not a “comfort” to them!
4. I go on to mention, as a way in which Christians may encourage and countenance ungodly men in their doings,--the cherishing a worldly spirit,--being as eager for worldly advantage, and as unscrupulous as to the means by which it may be attained, as men who make no Christian profession. And, alas! my friends, how much of this them is among professing Christians! Do not many who bear the Christian name show that they are far more eager to get on in life than to prepare for immortality? Is there not as much vanity and pride and grasping at gain and self-seeking and contemptible worshipping of rank and wealth,--even when completely dissociated from worth and goodness,--among many professing Christians and Christian ministers, as in any class of men? The sharp bargain made by the communicant may do worse than levy an unfair tax upon his neighbour’s pocket: it may damage his neighbour’s soul! It may set him up to “go and do likewise!” It may lead him to think that there is no difference between the Christian and the worldly man at all!
5. I shall mention just one way more, in which a Christian may incur the condemnation pronounced in the text: this is, by never in any way warning his neighbour that he fears or knows he is not a Christian. I daresay some of you have some idea that it would be intruding into the priestly office were you to set yourselves to the work of bringing souls to Christ. But if you saw a friend manifestly stricken by fever or consumption, would it not be your duty to warn him, although you are not a physician? If you saw a friend drowning, would it not be your duty to try to save him, although you are not a member of the Humane Society? If a man be really in earnest about religion he will never bear the sight of a human being whom he daily sees and talks with going to eternal ruin, without a word of warning or advice! It is possible enough he may not like to listen to your warning words; it is possible enough you may make yourself an annoyance and a discomfort to him: he may think you are his “enemy, because you tell him the truth”; but oh! better, better that than to be a comfort to one to whom comfort is the anodyne that will drug to death, to whom comfort is the stream that will bear on to perdition! I have heard of one who on his deathbed said that if, as he humbly trusted, he had been led to yield himself to his Saviour, and so to find hope in death, it was by the simple and solemn warning of one in whom simple earnestness and heartfelt piety gave force to the words of early youth, unsophisticated and sincere. (A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)
I will establish My covenant with thee.
God’s pardoning mercy
I. The way in which God reveals His pardoning mercy. “I will establish My covenant with thee.” The covenant of grace is the grand repository of the redemption of man. It comprehends all the items, all the particulars of Christ Jesus our Lord, in His person, His name, and all the characters and offices He has fulfilled in the work of man’s redemption--which holds up all the effects of that work, all the fruits of that love, all the blessings of that redemption, and withal tracing it in all its refined ramifications to the covenant of grace.
II. The character in which He thus reveals it. “Thou shalt know that I am the Lord.” Thus to know the Lord is to know Him as a covenant God--to know Him as a God in Jesus Christ. God out of Christ is a consuming fire--I dare not approach Him but in Christ. I find Him to be a God of sympathy and compassion, because I find God in my nature is the very High Priest who intercedeth for sinners. God in my nature can be touched with the feeling of my infirmities, and knows how to sympathise with me. It is in this character as God in Christ that He reveals the blessings of His salvation.
III. The effect that is produced on the heart by this pardoning mercy. “That thou mayest remember, and be confounded,” etc. If there is not a more pure or a more exalted motive to obedience than the love of God, there is not a more powerful motive to walking in the ways of God, than the assurance of His pardoning love and mercy. How quickly does it excite the attention of a poor trembling sinner to hear the sound of mercy, when he knows that that sound comes from God who can pardon! (J. Holloway.)
The lasting covenant
I. What this covenant is, as revealed to a people among the Jews in the youthful period of that nation. Now, then, “nevertheless,” notwithstanding all this heathenism, “I will remember My covenant with thee in the days of thy youth.” The covenant was made with a people among the Jews in the youthful time of that nation. First, in the 3rd verse of the 12th of Genesis, the Lord said to Abraham--and that was the infancy, the commencement of the nation,--“In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed”; which is afterwards explained to mean that in Jesus Christ shall all families of the earth be blessed. That is God’s covenant. Now, just look at the suitability of this. It is in Christ Jesus. What is it that we need? Why, the very first thing that every man needs is a Saviour. We are by sin lost. And so, in the very first chapter of Matthew, “Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” Here, then, this covenant is nothing else but a positive engagement on the Lord’s part to bring about eternal salvation. He has done that. And how suited this is! suited not only in itself, but in its manner--that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved”; that is, brought to see what Jesus Christ is as the Mediator of this covenant. Let your confidence be in His person, in His righteousness, in His atonement, and in the promises that are by Him; and if you can do nothing else but go on from time to time with “Lord, save me; Lord, have mercy upon me; Lord, look upon me; Lord, teach me; Lord, direct me”;--if you have these desires, together with an acquaintance with the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom the blessings are, then thou wilt not be lost, for “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
II. How this covenant is an everlasting covenant. The covenant the Lord made with the Jews, that He was to be their God, and that they were to have the land of Canaan, and the great advantages of national distinction, as described in the Word of God--Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and many other places--they were to continue to enjoy all these on the ground of their conformity to that covenant; they were to continue in the purity of it. But instead of this they forsook God’s covenant, threw down His altars, the altar of sacrifice and the altar of incense; and the next thing, of course, was to slay those prophets and ministers that preached even this national covenant. There was no righteousness belonging to that temporal covenant that was eternal, and that could therefore perpetuate the covenant. There was no sacrifice in that covenant that could take away sin, and that could consequently perpetuate that covenant. If the people apostatised, or gave way, then everything was gone. But here the Lord says, “I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant.” Here is a testamentary will wherein God has willed everything by Christ Jesus. Now, Jesus Christ has brought in everlasting righteousness, for His righteousness is everlasting, and this perpetuates the covenant. This covenant and the promises cannot fail while Christ’s righteousness remains what it is; and as His atonement is perfect, and He has perfected forever all them that are sanctified, here it is the covenant is perpetuated. It must remain.
III. The note of time. Now, when you are brought to receive this covenant, there is a certain temper of mind. “Then thou shalt remember thy ways, and be ashamed.” Saul of Tarsus, before he was brought to this covenant, remembered his ways and was delighted. (J. Walls.)
That thou mayest remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more, because of thy shame.
The heart full and the mouth closed
I. Review the blessed condition into which every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ has been brought by the sovereign act of God’s mercy. The Hebrew word which here sets forth forgiveness and pardon properly signifies to cover a thing with that which adheres and sticks to the thing covered; not with dry dust or leaves, which could be easily removed, but with glue or pitch, so that the thing hidden cannot easily be brought to sight again. O believer, God is pacified towards you, for your sin is covered; it is put away, all of it, and altogether. Since you have believed in Jesus Christ your sin has not become dimly visible, neither by searching may it be seen as a shadow in the distance, but God seeth it no more forever. God is pacified towards His people, for all that they have done, altogether pacified, for their sins have ceased to be. And this is not occasionally true, but always true, not only so in happier moments, when we enjoy a sense of it, but always, whether we have a sense of it or not. At all times, in the dark as well as in the light, in down castings as well as in upliftings, the Lord is pacified towards His people. I would to God that the Lord’s people grasped this more fully, and lived in the power of it more completely. May God grant we may! There is peace, there is nothing but peace, between my soul and God. Oh, what a joyous thought this is! Grasp it, Christian, and let your spirit exult in it. And all this, remember, is written in our text concerning a people who had plunged into wondrous sins. The greatness of the sin reveals the greatness of the redeeming sacrifice, and the direful nature of the disease declares the infinity of that Physician’s skill who is able to put it all away.
II. What we have learned in the process of reaching this peaceful standing.
1. First, we have learned salvation by a covenant. The thought is charming, for we were lost by a covenant. Here, then, was the way to restore us again. As we sinned representatively, it was possible for us to satisfy the law by a representative. Here was the opening for the way of salvation. By a second covenant head man may be redeemed, and therefore Jesus Christ comes, the second Adam, and God makes a covenant with Him, which covenant runs thus--“If He will bear the penalty of sin--if He will keep the law, then, all that are in Him shall be delivered from every sin, and the righteousness of the second Adam shall be imputed to them, and they shall be loved and blessed as if they were righteous.” Oh, matchless mystery of love!
2. The next thing we have learned while reaching our happy condition of peace with God is the lesson that Jehovah is indeed God. “Thou shalt know that I am the Lord.” To be saved in a way that makes us know that God is God is to be taught aright. That God is God is easy to say but hard to know.
(1) I have learned His justice, and if ever I hear men talking about the injustice of everlasting punishment for sin, I have found no echo in my conscience to that observation, because, if I could be lifted up into God’s place, I feel that the very first thing I should have to do would be to eternally condemn such a guilty thing as I myself have been and am. I feel it.
(2) I have also been made to learn His sovereignty. This I know, that He is God, and doeth as He pleases with His grace.
(3) And oh, how we have to learn His power. “Who but Thyself could have chained my imperious passions and broken the iron yoke from off my neck?”
(4) Above all, we learn that precious word, “God is love”; but there is no understanding it until you are actually broken down under a sense of sin, and are led to see that your sin deserves the hottest hell.
3. We have learned ourselves. To remember and to be confounded--that is not comfortable. Who likes to remember and be confounded? Once you could have found twenty excuses, and had your choice out of them; but now that the Lord has forgiven you, you cannot find one, and as you turn them all up--those old excuses of yours--those fig leaves of yours, with which you once hoped to cover your nakedness, you despise them, and think you never saw such flimsy things.
III. The silence which is forever induced. “Thou shalt never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame.” If any man who believes himself to have been moral and sinless will only begin to look at the reasons why he has been so innocent, and search himself, he will often discover that inside all that purity of his there has been a mass of pride, self-conceit, self-seeking, indifference to God, and every detestable thing. When the Lord shows the man all this, and casts him down into the ditch till he abhors himself, and then cleanses him in the precious blood till he is pacified towards Him, he will never open his mouth about that matter any more. Neither will a man who has been cleansed in this way open his mouth any more against Divine sovereignty. He is the man above all others who loves to hear of God as absolute. He knows how gracious, how strong, how truly good He is. So, also, this way of salvation shuts a man’s mouth as to all murmuring and complaining against God upon any score whatever; for, saith he, “If the Lord has pardoned me, let Him do what He wills with me.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Humiliation and reconciliation
I. The first doctrine in our text is that of humiliation. It is no small mercy for us that we are allowed to distinguish between the voice of God’s law and the voice of God’s gospel. Hence the Apostle Paul saith, “We know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” Now, the humility here that clothes us with confusion of face and with shame in our own estimation, this humility is a real internal grace of the Holy Spirit, and not a mere put-on thing. It is not a mere humility of manner, though that is very good and useful in its place; but it is a vital, real humility, arising from what is felt within. Now, the law of God is spiritual, always spiritual. Are you? The Christian cannot, he dare not, say that he is always spiritual; but thank God he is not under the law, but under grace, where the spirituality of One who is perfect is set to his account. But to the natural man we say, The law is always spiritual, you are always carnal; the law is always holy, you are always unholy; the law is always good, you are always evil; the law is always just, you are always unjust; the law is always upright, and you are always as deceitful as the devil. Your heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. When thou seest the law to be thus spiritual, thou wilt remember thy foolish ways, how thou hast sinned against the Lord. You have not one reason to assign why the Lord should show mercy to you, or show you any favour whatever. Now, can you say this is the case?
II. The reconciliation. Now, “what the law saith it saith to them that are under the law.” Satan is our enemy; sin is our enemy; take both these in one. Without sin being put away by Jesus Christ, and Satan conquered by Jesus Christ--without this everything is against us; but when this is done, things then are made to take that wonderful turn that everything is in our favour by faith. Those of us that know thus our condition, we do most solemnly, most firmly and understandingly, and we can say lovingly, sincerely, and decisively, believe in what Jesus Christ hath done. We see by what He hath done all the sins of which we are the subjects put away, and we are delivered from them all. We are no longer reckoned sinners, but saints; no longer reckoned enemies, but friends--“Abraham My friend”;--and so the Lord’s people are the seed of Abraham, and are God’s friends by faith in what Jesus Christ has done. And so great is the change He has wrought that now the Lord doth not behold iniquity in Jacob, nor see perverseness in Israel. (J. Wells.)
The effect of God’s mercy on, the renewed soul
I. The extent of man’s wickedness.
I. Give a brief summary of the chapter; mark how this image was applicable to Judah and Jerusalem; to us also it may be applied.
II. The exceeding riches of God’s grace; vile as the Jews had been, He promised to restore them to favour. This promise is no doubt to be extended to us.
II. The effect of this grace upon every soul of man. It is thought by some calculated to puff up pride and conceit in all who receive it. But this is--
1. Contrary to reason;
2. Contrary to fact. Remember--
(1) Your covenant mercies;
(2) Your covenant engagements. (C. Simeon, M. A.)
The silence of penitents
This is plainly a prophecy of the way in which the remnant of Judah shall be saved in the last days after the fulness of the Gentiles has come in. Some believe it to mean that in the awful times of Antichrist the Christian Jews shall be the heroes of the faith and the bulwark of the Church. Others have seen in the chapter the reunion of Christendom. However interesting these interpretations may be, we cannot overlook the extraordinary language of the last verse, which points out the frame of mind appropriate to the redeemed Jew, or whosoever shall stand for the figurative Jerusalem in those final days of this world. It is being confounded, and never cloning the mouth, because of shame. There can be no doubt that we are all too much disposed to underrate the exceeding shamefulness of wilful transgression against the light. There are those, indeed, who would eliminate the exercises of penance altogether from the Christian system. They hold that to expect a man to do penance for his sins after they have been forgiven him by our Lord is to take away from the perfection of His atonement, to limit the possibilities of His grace. But there is also to be considered the temporal punishment due for sin that justice may be satisfied and the world governed righteously. What right-minded soul does not yearn to make up in such wise as it can for past acts of coldness and disobedience? Suppose a son that has been estranged from his mother for years, has neglected her, thought hardly of her, perhaps spoken against her. And then after a long season he is brought back to her again, to find her poor and old and wellnigh helpless, going down to the grave uncared for and unloved save by strangers. The old love of early life comes back to him. Now he counts nothing too hard to do for her: he watches her day by day to find out in what small ways he may lighten her heavy burden and brighten her few remaining years. He knows this does not make up for the past,--only her dear pardon so generously given can do that; but it is all the reparation he can make, and he strives with his whole nature to make it. In like manner the true penitent knows that he cannot give back to God the love and obedience withheld so many years as one might pay back the money he had stolen; but at least he can show that he truly grieves for those years of sin, and has the heart to undo them had he but the power. When, therefore, we consider the relation of love in which we stand to Almighty God, and the duty of obedience which we know so well, we must acknowledge that only ignorance or thoughtlessness can make the penitent all full of joy without intermingling of pain. There is also another aspect of the matter. This consciousness of one’s own shame, which belongs to the life of true penitence, must materially affect our judgments of our fellows. If when we are most earnest and stern voiced in rebuking our fellows we could be suddenly brought face to face with the words of this text, do you think we should not be silenced by them? What are we that we should sit in judgment upon our fellow men? Have we not sinned as grievously as any of them; or if not outwardly, when our greater light and opportunities of grace are taken into account, is there much in our favour? This is by no means to say that we ought not to denounce sin, and to stand out for the very highest type of Christian living. We are to be absolutely inflexible in maintaining in all points the doctrine of Christ our Lord. But when it comes to passing judgment upon individual sinners, let us not lose sight of the solemn words put by God in the mouth of the prophet concerning penitent Jerusalem. How can the Christian who has any vivid consciousness of his own past speak uncharitably of his neighbours and sharply condemn their failings, not making allowance for their circumstances and temptations; ay, often not even considering his own probable ignorance of some of the facts about which he so sternly speaks? What if our Master had judged us as we judge and had not pardoned us instead? Even when we have learned in some measure to control our tongues and lips, how often do we find rising up in our souls the self-righteousness of the Pharisee. What a hateful thing it is! How unlike the spirit of our gracious Master? Is there no way in which it may be conquered, and banished from our souls? I think there is a way. It is that of daily calling to mind, and that not perfunctorily but very thoroughly, the many evil things in our past lives of which we have repented and for which we have received God’s pardon. (Arthur Ritchie.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezekiel 16". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany