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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Ezekiel 34

 

 

Verses 1-10

Ezekiel 34:1-10

Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?

The unfaithful shepherds

I. Human rulers stand in the same relation to the people whom they rule as shepherds to their flocks. Therefore the qualifications required are similar.

1. A special knowledge (Genesis 46:34). So to rule men successfully requires a knowledge of men. Christ is the preeminent Ruler of men, because He knows them--because He needs not that any should “testify of any man” whom He is shepherding for eternity (John 2:25).

2. A willingness to endure hardship for those whom they shepherd (Genesis 31:40). Shepherds of men must likewise be willing to deny themselves for their flock, even as Christ was willing to spend His nights upon the mountains (Luke 6:12) and to be consumed with labour during the day, in order to be “the Good Shepherd.”

3. Affection for the flock (1 Samuel 17:34). It cannot be dispensed with in ruling men. To love men is to understand them. To love them is to be willing to suffer for them, and must beget a correspondent feeling. The Great Shepherd had as much love for His flock as He had knowledge of them (John 10:11).

II. The rulers of Israel had lacked these qualifications.

1. Their self-indulgence had led them to neglect to feed the flock.

2. They had gone from neglect to positive acts of crime. They had taken the lives of their subjects in order to enjoy their possessions. Sins of omission lead to sins of commission.

III. The effect of the negative and positive transgressions of Israel’s rulers. “My sheep were scattered.” They were so widely sundered as to be beyond the recall of any but the Omniscient One, who alone knew the mountains upon which they were wandering.

IV. God Himself would raise up a Shepherd who would combine all the qualities needed to gather in the scattered flock.

1. The name given to this divinely appointed shepherd--David. The Messiah is called by this name in Isaiah 55:3-4; Jeremiah 30:9; Hosea 3:5.

2. His two-fold office. His Father’s servant and His people’s king (verse 24).

V. That which is intended to be a great blessing to ourselves and others, namely, power, may become the greatest curse to both. (A London Minister.)

Gospel ministers shepherds

I. Christian ministers as shepherds have devolving upon them the care of Christ’s flock. Believers are exposed to many evils, surrounded by numerous enemies, liable to many wants and diseases. To promote their comfort and safety, God sends His servants to take the oversight, and care for them as shepherd for flock.

II. Christian ministers as shepherds must feed their flocks.

1. They must do this by leading them into green pastures, etc.

2. The shepherd is to render the word instructive and consolatory, and the ordinances refreshing and edifying.

III. Christian ministers as shepherds are to watch over their flocks. To warn them against danger,--to admonish, to counsel, and to direct them into safe and plain paths. Their dangers are numerous. From the world, from Satan, from false professors, from their own weakness, etc. How necessary, then, is a spirit of holy energy, vigilance, etc.

IV. Christian ministers as shepherds are to regard especially the weak and afflicted of the flock. “Who can understand his errors?” How often is spiritual disease evident in the mind, in the heart, in the spirit, in the conversation, in the walk and conduct! Now it is for the shepherd to labour for the healing of these maladies.

V. Christian ministers as shepherds must give an account of their flocks. They are responsible to God. Application--

1. How truly solemn is the office of the Christian shepherd--the charge of souls.

2. How necessary for its right discharge are Divine qualifications and help.

3. Faithful shepherds should have the kind sympathy and aid of all the members of the Church.

4. How glorious the meeting when all the flock of God, with each shepherd, shall appear before Christ to receive His blessing, even life for evermore. (J. Burns.)

Neither have ye healed that which was sick.

Hospital Sunday

The obligation of rulers and Christians generally to care for the sick poor. The government of a great empire embraces many responsibilities--the protection of property and of life, the encouragement of art and science and every form of learning and of commerce, the maintenance of justice, the punishment of crime. We are concerned now with only one aspect of the obligation of rulers--the obligation to consider and to care for the diseased and the bruised poor. Most of the poverty and distress, most of the diseased and broken frames which are to be found amongst us are the results of vice and sin. Intemperance and immorality are fertile soils, producing plentiful harvests of mangled and agonised and loathsome bodies. Hence the necessity for adopting a policy of prevention--for establishing such legislative measures as shall check and, if possible, effectually prevent, the ravages of intemperance and vice. Prevention is better than regulation when a nation’s strength and a nation’s morals and a nation’s life are at stake. Much may be done, and much must be done, in this direction; but meanwhile, our rulers have to regard and to deal with existing miseries which have resulted, for the most part, from transgressions and sins. At this present moment there are in the great metropolis thousands upon thousands of wretched creatures, their bodies consumed by disease, or mangled and broken through accident or self-inflicted suffering. And they are poor and helpless! Unless someone aid them they must wrestle with their agony alone, they must languish and die. But the obligation to care for the sick lies not with the rulers alone. In a special manner does it rest upon the Christian Church generally. Ministers of religion should be the first to welcome a Hospital Sunday. Ah! giving for the sick, caring for the diseased and the bruised, brings its own sweet reward. To spare one pang, to bring one ray of light into a heart environed with darkness--this is worth living for. And now what we have to do is to enlarge our sympathies. Think of the multitudes of agonised mortals in the London hospitals today. Without money, those necessary institutions cannot be supported. Without money, the poor must pine away and perish. In our relation to the afflicted poor we must think of the example and precepts of our Lord. Jesus was not a philosophical theologian. He was a practical Saviour. The blind came to Him, and He gave them sight. The sick were brought to Him, and He healed them. We cannot heal the sick with a word as Christ did. But we can follow Christ in doing good ill the way open to us. What we want is the spirit of Christ--the thoughts of Christ--the purpose of Christ. In this lies the glory of Christianity. (A. G. Maitland.)


Verses 1-31

Verses 11-19

Ezekiel 34:11-19

I, even I, will both search My sheep, and seek them out.

The flock sought and found

Is the Great Shepherd to leave the stray sheep to wander and perish? or is He to pity and reclaim them? In the Crimean War there were two ways, very different from each other, in which heroic deed manifested itself. One was, by our soldiers’ indomitable courage in the field,--when brave men stood manfully to their guns, and poured the iron hail against fearful odds. That was the stern glory of carnage and destruction. The other unfolds a picture in strange and startling contrast with this. At midnight, in stiffed hospital wards, amid the light of dim lamps and moans of sufferers, a gentle form of pity flitted from couch to couch, with words and looks and deeds of mercy;--pale lips kissing the shadow on their pillows as it passed. On which of the two does the mind love most to dwell? On that field of stern desperate valour; or on these hushed corridors, away from the roar of battle, with the one hero-heart moving like a ministering angel amid the congregated crowd of wounded and dying? God’s way regarding man (with reverence we say it) was the latter. We may look to this truth, first, in its simplest aspect. The soul, as we have already noted, is ever and anon manifesting some undefined longing after its lost portion in God. But it has in itself a hopeless moral inability to return. It cannot retrace its lost way. Alas! often there is rather the plunging deeper and deeper amid the pathless wilds of ruin, till, in addition to inability, there is added disinclination to be restored to the long lost fold. The sheep, rather than return to the Shepherd, will go roaming in search of other pastures--increasing its mournful distance from the fold, and bringing it only into more perilous vicinity to the lions’ dens and the mountains of the leopards. How, then, can the sinner be reclaimed? It is manifest that by no self-originated effort can he return. If saved, it must be by another. Himself he cannot,--himself he will not save. Omnipotence alone can bring it back. It is easy enough to take the tiara of priceless diamonds, or the necklace of gold, and plunge it down in mid ocean; but it is not so easy to descend through that untraversed barrier, that liquid rampart which rolls defiant between, and get them up again. The soul, the true casket of lost treasures, by reason of its own sad principle of moral gravitation, sinks easily downward. But it is He alone who “taketh up the waters in the hollow of His hand” that cart rescue it from the depths of ruin and despair. Here, then, is the Gospel’s glorious history of the restoration of the wanderers. Marvellous condescension--unspeakable grace! He speaks in one of the verses which precede this chapter as if it were something wondrous,--something well-nigh incredible: “Behold I, even I.” The spot is still pointed out with pride, amid the rocky wilds of Dauphine, where nil eagle bore in its talons the infant which had been left smiling in fearless innocence in its cradle by the cottage door. One stalwart form after another tried to climb that giddy height for the rescue, but had to abandon it in despair. At last a fleet and nimble foot spurns all difficulties. Up she climbs, from crag to crag, until, reaching the dizzy eminence, she buries the yet living child in her bosom, saying, as a mother’s tongue in such an hour alone could say, “This my child was dead, and is alive again--was lost, and is found!” But that was a mother’s speechless affection for her offspring. As she brought her “loved and lost” back to her cottage home, and replaced it in the empty cradle, we would think it strange to hear her saying, “Behold I, even I, have done this.” Who could have done it but she? But what does the Infinite Jehovah see in us?--What claim have these sheep on this Shepherd of the universe--these sinners on their God?--None! The natural heart is a den of pollution, a haunt of evil, the nurturing home of rebellion. Not only, however, are we called to note and admire God’s grace and condescension; but to admire the sovereignty of that grace as shown in the selection of its objects. Mankind were not the only fallen family in the universe. Other sheep, not of the earthly fold, had also strayed from the Shepherd. Might we not have expected that, in resolving on the ransom and recovery of any lost ones, he would have made choice rather of a different race of wanderers? Fallen angels (the aborigines of heaven) were greater than man. Well may we pause and ponder this wondrous manifestation of sovereign grace in the salvation of sinners of the dust! Truly, indeed, this salvation of man is a story of grace. Turn the moral kaleidoscope as we may, the gleaming words still stand radiant before our eyes, “By the grace of God we are what we are.” Once more. God’s grace and compassion are further manifested in His untiring love and patience in the pursuit of the lost, till restoration and safety be ensured. In other words, we have to admire, not only His free grace and His sovereign grace, but what the old writers call His irresistible grace. “Thus saith the Lord God, Behold I, even I, will both search My sheep and seek them out.” He will not only search for them, but He will search till He discover them. “He goeth after that which was lost until He find it.” The Saviour’s love is bounded by no distance, is cooled by no difficulties, is repulsed by no obstacles. One of the noblest records of true heroism in England’s annals is of comparatively recent date; when a gallant vessel, manned with gallant hearts, vent forth amid the frowning icebergs of the Northern Seas, to search for a band of missing explorers. They sailed thither, buoyed with the faint, feeble hope that the object of their search might still be found, battling bravely with eternal winter. Alas! they went after the lost “until they found them”; but they found them with the stiffened snow and ice as their winding sheet! They brought not back the living, but only some sad mementoes and memorials of the dead. Not so is the journey, not so the pursuit, of the Great Shepherd of the sheep. His omniscient eye follows every wanderer. Those whom He has marked for His own He will, without fail, bring home. Not one can elude His pursuit, nor evade His loving scrutiny. (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)

The Divine Shepherd

I. The simile of Christ to a shepherd.

1. His character: “a shepherd” (John 10:14).

2. His employment: “seeketh out” (Ezekiel 34:11).

3. The objects of His care: “His flock” (Isaiah 40:11).

4. Their condition: “scattered” (John 11:52).

5. Then the time of gathering: “the day” (Zechariah 13:1).

6. His situation: “among them” (Psalms 132:13-14).

II. The important declaration. “I will seek out.”

1. By the word written (2 Timothy 3:15).

2. The word preached (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).

3. But always by the Spirit (Zechariah 4:6).

III. Why they are called “His sheep.”

IV. The deliverance of the sheep.

1. This implies determination: “I will” (Ezekiel 13:21).

2. It denotes contest: “deliver” (Isaiah 49:25).

3. It signifies power: “I will deliver them” (Isaiah 40:29). “All places.”

4. It also denotes great wisdom in searching and distinguishing them; simply because--

In the cloudy and dark day.

The Shepherd seeking the flock in the cloudy and dark day

I. “The lost.” We may regard the figure as descriptive of those who (by imperceptible degrees) have erred and strayed from the Shepherd’s fold and presence. Once their landscape was bathed in sunshine;--the mountain tops of God’s faithfulness were clear;--the summits of the heavenly hills sparkled gloriously;--theirs were the green pastures and still waters,--the Shepherd’s voice to cheer them, and the Shepherd’s steps to guide them. But all is gloomy now;--the storm clouds have gathered in their once serene sky. It may arise from their own sluggish unconcern;--a drowsy, sleepy, callous frame,--the result of a gradual, but ever-deepening insensibility to Divine things;--a trifling with their spiritual interests;--languor in prayer--conformity with the world--tampering with sins of omission--venturing on forbidden or debatable ground.

II. Those who are “driven away.” Some overt act has been the cause of their scattering. Look at David as an illustration. His own iniquities separated between him and his God. He never after was the joyous believer he once was. He was indeed restored, pardoned, loved;--but the memory of that sad day followed him to the grave, and mantled Iris whole moral landscape with clouds, even to the very entrance of the dark valley. And how many among the true flock of the Shepherd have to tell a similar mournful tale! Some one guilty deed has laid the foundation of weeks and months--ay, years, of spiritual alienation and distance from the fold.

III. “The broken.” How numerous are these! Some are “broken” by calamity;--penury scattering them in its cloudy and dark day. Some are “broken” by bitter disappointment; an aching heart wound too sacred to be revealed has left them bleeding and desolate, refusing to be comforted. Some are “broken” by bereavement.

IV. The sick. We might take this in a figurative sense; as descriptive of those who are sick at heart,--sad and disconsolate with the trials and sins and sorrows of death, and with the corruptions of their own natures. But why not regard it literally, an applied to those laid on beds of sickness? Many among us who inadequately appreciate the talent of health are apt also to forget and overlook this large section in God’s world;--the “poor afflicted ones,” the maimed members of the flock.

V. To one and all of these “scattered ones” the Great Shepherd comes. He has a special word of comfort for each separate case.

1. “Lost!” He “seeks” you. Though you have forgotten Him, He has not forgotten you.

2. Ye who have been “driven away,” He will “bring you again.” Ye who, like the Psalmist of Israel, have unwarily left the pastures of peace and security, and entangled yourselves in the midnight forest of danger and sin; the grace of Him who first brought you to the fold is able to bring you back again, and restore to you the joys of His salvation.

3. Broken ones! Ye who are crushed and mutilated by the thousand ills of suffering and sorrow: rejoice! That Shepherd came to “bind up” breaking hearts; His name is “The Healer of the broken hearted.”

4. “Sick!” Ye pining sufferers in earth’s great hospital! Ye bleating sheep, lying languid and helpless in the fold--He, the Great Shepherd, comes to “strengthen you.” A sick bed--where the noisy world is shut out--where its cares and anxieties and aspirations and ambitions are no longer present to hamper and harass--what a blessed season for converse with the Infinite.

VI. The gracious adaptation of Christ’s dealings to the different wants and trials and necessities of His people.

1. He “seeks” the lost; and on finding them a look of love suffices to bring the conscience-stricken wanderers back.

2. He “brings again” the driven away. Those cowering in terror at their own wilful blindness and apostasy, their deep ingratitude and heinous guilt, need help, encouragement, guidance;--they need being carried in the Shepherd’s arms.

3. He “binds up” the broken; He stanches the bleeding wound with the application of tender restoratives--the balm words of His own exceeding great and precious promises. He, the Brother born for adversity, teaches the wounded spirit, and He alone can, how to “bear” in this “dark and cloudy day”; He turns the shadow of death into the morning.

4. He “strengthens” the sick--those who for years on years have been laid on couches of languishing--secluded from the gladsome light of day, on whose ears the tones of the Sabbath bell fall only to tell of forfeited privileges. They can best bear attestation how a mysterious, sustaining strength, not their own, is imparted to them, which makes them wonders to themselves.

Let us close with two practical reflections.

1. The all-sufficiency of the Shepherd’s power and love. There is no case He cannot meet. Lost ones, driven ones, broken ones, sick ones. It seems to exhaust the circle of human wants and necessities. He seems to anticipate every supposable case, so that none dare say “that Shepherd-love does not include me.”

2. This precious passage, so full of tenderness and love to the erring, the backsliding, the suffering, ends with a brief but most solemn utterance of “judgment” on the impenitent, the self-righteous, and unbelieving. “He that has rest for disquieted saints,” says Matthew Henry, “has terror to speak to presumptuous sinners.” (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)

Shadows of religious life

Night and morning are familiar types of human life in its alternation of shadow and sunshine, its chequered history of grief and joy. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” It is the law of nature and of humanity. Is it not also the law of the higher spiritual life? No doubt there are moments of rare enjoyment in the experience of a godly man; moments of special communion with the Unseen. But there are seasons, too, of a widely different complexion, when the firmament above him darkens into a hemisphere without a star, and the heart within him grows sick of the weary struggle, and he is sorely tempted, like Elijah, to fold his head in his mantle, and lie down in despair to die.

1. These shadows of religious life sometimes originate in physical disease. Very wonderful is the sympathy between body and soul. Many a life might be comparatively blithesome, but that chronic dyspepsia fills it with morbid fears and feelings. Trifling with the delicate mechanism of the human frame has brought upon many excellent people a settled melancholy, an impression that they have committed some unpardonable sin, and are absolute outcasts from God’s covenant of mercy. Let the organ be out of tune, and Handel himself could not bring good music out of it; and when the nervous organism is unstrung, it is not surprising if the secret harmonies of the soul be turned into jars and discord. Temperance, chastity, and godliness,--the “mens sana in corpore sano,”--are a wellspring of perennial cheerfulness; but without them, the fountains of real pleasure are poisoned, life loses its zest and buoyancy, and becomes little better than a funeral march to death and judgment.

2. These shadows of religious life sometimes originate in personal wrong-doing. Misconduct is the ruin of tranquillity, and may cast a pall and blight over life’s fairest prospects. He who can do a deliberate wrong without a pang of regret is more demon than man. Peter’s backsliding cost him bitter tears. David’s double crime made his children a scourge and his conscience an accusing hell. Saul’s transgression caused “an evil spirit” to enter into him, so that he sat in his palace, javelin in hand, silent, moody, and downcast. And the sin of God’s people, in like manner, may still rob them of solid peace, and make them acquainted, otherwise than by book, with Bunyan’s Slough of Despond, Doubting Castle, and Giant Despair.

3. These shadows of religious life sometimes originate in providential trials. Saint or sinner, if you are pricked you bleed; with this difference, that in the one case you possess a balm for the wound, in the other not. Insensibility would render Divine discipline a nullity. It is right to feel appropriately towards all things as they really are; nay more, such inflexion of feeling is a necessary condition of human amendment; Christianity is a nobler science of life than stoicism, for it teaches how sable and gold may both be woven into a robe of immortal radiance--how adversity, even more than prosperity, may come laden with the richest blessings.

4. These shadows of religious life sometimes originate in spiritual conflicts. No fortress on earth is so often beleaguered as the citadel of the human heart. No din of contending hosts is there--no anxious nations look on in breathless suspense--no change of temporal dynasty or statecraft or dominion is imminent; but the doom of an immortal soul is involved, and heaven and hell hang upon the final issue. The stake is tremendous, and all trifling is simply insane. The ground has to be won inch by inch, and, maybe, lost and won again. Shield of faith, helmet of salvation, breastplate of righteousness, girdle of truth, sword of the Spirit, greaves of love and peace, all bear marks of the severity of the strife. Protracted to the end of life, the battle is as arduous as it is honourable, and its wavering fortunes not unfrequently make one pensive, careworn, and disheartened. Thank God! “though he fall, he shall rise again--he shall not be utterly cast down.” An invincible Captain leads us on.

5. These shadows of religious life sometimes originate in doctrinal perplexities. It has been said that “the Bible has shallows in which a lamb may wade, and deeps in which an elephant may swim.” Unhappily, some who are not elephants venture to leave the terra firma of revealed truth, and to plunge into the bottomless sea of metaphysical divinity; and, as they cannot swim, they sink in deep waters, or flounder about like a log in a tempest, and the waves and billows go over them. Without putting a veto on legitimate inquiry, it is well to remember that “secret things belong unto the Lord”--that His eternal wisdom and kindness will manage them without human meddling--that no prying curiosity of ours can ever modify them in the least degree; and that for us the only possible solution of them is the testimony of individual character and life.

6. These shadows of religious life sometimes originate in the enigmas of Divine government. God in history, subordinating everything to His supreme will, and accomplishing through secondary agencies or otherwise His own sovereign purposes, is the basis of a good man’s creed, and the sole pledge of humanity’s regeneration. But, to man’s thinking, how often do the ways of God seem a mystery, an anomaly, or even a contradiction! Everywhere the old Titanic forces of good and evil wrestle with each other in mortal combat, and the wonder is how the strife will end. And, standing face to face with facts like these, after some six thousand years of credible history, and some nineteen centuries of Christian teaching, many a heart cries out in fearfulness and pain: “How long, O Lord, how long? Why tarry the wheels of Thy chariot? Oh, when shall the wickedness of the wicked come to a perpetual end?” Pilgrims of the night! amid all this darkness, turmoil, and misery, “rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.” (L. B. Brown.)


Verse 16

Ezekiel 34:16

I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away.

The good shepherd

In reading this verse hastily we are apt to overlook the new and very interesting idea introduced in each succeeding clause of it. Our feeling is that each clause is just meant to teach the idea of the former one in different terms. A little attention will satisfy us that this is far from doing justice to the verse.

I. The first class suggested to our notice comprehends “the lost,” of whom it is said that the Saviour “will seek them.” The language, every Gospel-hearer is familiar with, as descriptive, on the one hand, of man’s natural state of spiritual stupidity and danger, and on the other, of the tender compassion of Christ, the great Shepherd, in redeeming and reclaiming him.

II. “The driven away,” whom the Saviour tells us He “will bring again.” It implies, no doubt, like the former, that the sheep is gone out of the fold, and cannot, therefore, for the present be in a situation of comfort or safety. But does it not imply that the sheep has left the fold reluctantly? It has not escaped of its own accord. It has been “driven away” by some enemy; and, wandering now in want and fear, it longs to return to “the green pastures” where it had hitherto fed in plenty and safety. What could be more descriptive than this of the case of the backsliding Christian? Was it not thus that, by the violence of temptation, David was for a time driven away into sin, so that he lost his previous consciousness of the saving care and countenance of his God? Was it not so, too, with Peter, whom the fear of man so far overcame in a moment of weakness that he denied his Lord, and so was for a season visibly separated from the fold of Christ? Even now, is not the voice of our great Shepherd lifted up amongst us, at once rebuking our wanderings and encouraging our return?

III. “The broken,” whom He graciously promises to “bind up.” Solemn pledges forgotten, broken through, trampled on,--mercies of every description slighted and abused,--the cause of Christ dishonoured,--perhaps, through their unaccountable folly, some neighbour, some companion, if not some relative or child, hardened against the Gospel, and led away to ruin! Oh! the very thought of such aggravated sin is heart rending, and the appalled backslider can only cry out in vexation and trembling, “Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of my head, therefore my heart faileth me.” Or, in another way still, may the heart of a backsliding Christian be broken. Think of the deep wounds of adversity to which Jesus has found it necessary to subject him, as the means of putting an end to his wanderings. Now by these and similar measures Jesus may have checked the believer’s wanderings, and won back his heart. He has recovered His straying sheep, and brought it home to His fold. But oh! is it not broken, suffering bitterly under the consequences of its wanderings, and therefore needing greatly the attention and sympathy of its Shepherd? Wounded and bleeding, it must now become the object of His tenderest care, and with skilful hand must He now apply the healing balm of His blood and grace. And He does so.

IV. “I will strengthen that which was sick.” This description refers to those more secret, insidious diseases by which the shepherd’s flock is liable to be infected, and which, if allowed to take their course, may prove as fatal as any of the seemingly more alarming casualties to which the wandering sheep may be subjected. The seat of this spiritual sickness is the heart; and it will be in operation there for months, perhaps, before the symptoms of it appear outwardly, or assume a serious aspect. It may receive a check at any stage of its progress, or it may be suffered to take its course, till at last it prostrates its victim before some gross temptation, so that his case becomes an astonishment to the world, and a grief to all who respect the honour of the Gospel. This is certain, it will receive a check, sooner or later, in the case of every true Christian. “I will strengthen that which was sick.” True, it may often seem to our narrow view as if He delayed the communication of spiritual strength long after it has become every way needful. Such delay, however, undoubtedly accords with His own sovereign and, wise plan, though we cannot understand it; and so far from indicating a want of interest in the individual, or a want of power or of determination eventually “to restore his soul,” it would be seen, if we rightly comprehended the case, to indicate the contrary; just as Lazarus’s death, which could easily have been prevented, is allowed to take place, in order that the Saviour’s power and love may be the more signally displayed in His resurrection. (P. Hannay.)

Will strengthen that which was sick.

Sickness a strengthener

I. Sickness makes us contented to perform all the God-assigned tasks of life, severe as these tasks may be. When I hear people complaining of the burdens of life, and expressing a longing to die, I say to myself: They are only talking, and their words are empty words. A visitation of sickness would change their tone. A square look at death would make them satisfied to live, and to live right in the midst of the toils against which they speak. The ancients were fond of relating this tale which falls into the line of my thought. A discontented man heavily burdened was called to the task of carrying his burden to a town on the other side of a steep hill. Murmuringly he began the toil of ascent. The burden was heavy before, but it grew still heavier as he climbed. At last his discontent knew no bounds, and, disgusted and dissatisfied with his lot, he threw the burden from him and cast himself upon the ground, crying, “O death, come and deliver me! O death, come and deliver me!” Death heard the cry of the man and responded, and came to take him at his word. In the dim distance the discontented man saw the awful form coming into sight. There was a great gaunt figure, a skeleton form, sweeping toward him with tremendous gigantic strides. Instantly he leaped to his feet and laid hold of his burden and endeavoured to shoulder it. With a sepulchral voice Death greeted him: “I believe you called me; now here I am. What do you want of me?” With the look of the sweetest innocence the man replied: “It was my voice that you heard, no doubt. My burden fell off my shoulder, and I was only calling for someone to come help me restore it to its place again.” The sight and voice were enough. They were an inspiration to the man. Of his own strength he lifted his old burden, and with a positive pleasure carried it to the town over the hill. That story, whether it be fact or fiction, is true to life. We leave the sickroom, where we have looked death in the face, willing to take up the toils of life, and we find the heaviest task within the compass of our abilities a delight. Willing workers, satisfied workers, enthusiastic workers, bright-faced workers, mastering and performing the duties of life, and carrying forward the great enterprises of the age--these are the product of the sickroom. These are what the world needs. They carry in them a spirit that is contagious, and that generates faithfulness to duty in all whom they touch.

II. Sickness gives us a new appreciation of the Divine things in our lives. I knew a man who for years spent his Sabbaths in the machine shop, repairing engines, without a single desire toward the house of God. I begged him many a time to give up his irreligious life and worship with his family on the Sabbath; but to no purpose. The time came when he was imprisoned in the sickroom, and then his lament was that he had neglected the sanctuary. That man spent the first returning strength of convalescence in travelling three miles to my house, and for what purpose? That I might kneel with him at the Throne of Grace and offer prayer of thanksgiving for him. Not only is the Throne of Grace made appreciable by sickness; the Book of God also is made appreciable. The Bible of the invalid is a well-used book. It is thumb-marked--at the writings of Job; at the 23rd Psalm; at the 14th chapter of John; at the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians; at the 21st and 22nd chapters of Revelation. These closing chapters of the Divine volume are studied until the geography of the heavenly land is as well known as that of the land in which we live.

III. Sickness teaches us the value of health and the duty of looking after the condition of the body.

IV. Sickness cuts up by the roots our conceit and pride and selfishness and develops in the places of these humility and sympathy. If this be true, then physical pains bring spiritual gains. Humility and sympathy help in the making of grand men. Humanity should be willing to pay a great price for the eradication of such evils as pride and selfishness, for they are social curses and social disorganisers. Humanity should count nothing too dear to pay as a purchase of humility and sympathy. Humility and sympathy were two of the virtues that made the Christ of history the Man who inaugurated the highest civilisation of the world. That which has the power of making men Christ-men is a most desirable factor in this world. It is easily seen why man is unsympathetic. The sense of power generates independence; the sense of independence closes the avenues of sympathy. Where there is no sympathy, where there is no recognition of the mutual dependence of man upon his brother man, man becomes selfish and proud and hard. The sense of dependence is the basis of sympathy. Sickness brings the sense of dependence. A man who has to be lifted and turned by his nurse, a man who has to be fed by a spoon in the hand of another, cannot look down and despise his fellow men. There, in the hour of weakness, he learns his indebtedness to man, and his duty to make a return for benefits received by willingly giving service and kindness and interest and care and his very life. These things he is constantly receiving from others, and these things make him what he is. These things it is his duty to pass on. At a railroad station a benevolent man found a schoolboy crying because he had not quite enough to pay his fare home. He remembered suddenly how years before he had been in the same plight, and had been helped by an unknown friend who enjoined upon him that some day he should pass that kindness on. Now he saw that the opportunity spoken of had come. He took the weeping boy aside, heard his story, and paid his fare, and asked him in turn to pass the kindness on. As the train moved off from the station the lad waved his hand to his benefactor and cried cheerily, “I will pass it on, sir.” That act of thoughtful love is being passed on through our globe, nor will it stay until its ripples have belted the globe and met again. To every man who has received kindness and sympathy in the hour of his sickness and trial God is saying, “Pass these on. Remember there are hearts to be bound like thine; there are tears to be dried like thine; there are lives to be illumined like thine. Light up the lives of others.” (D. Gregg, D. D.)


Verses 17-22

Ezekiel 34:17-22

I judge between cattle and cattle.

Selfish scramble and Christian service

It presents to us the scene, far too often enacted in human life, of a selfish scramble--a scramble for position, for money, for power, for enjoyment. We find this in business, in professions as well as in trade and commerce, in art, in politics, in pleasure, and, it must be admitted, sometimes in the sacred sphere of religion. Of this selfish scramble we may remark--

I. Its essential sinfulness.

1. Self-elevation is right and good. To make the most of our powers and opportunities; to rise by honest, patient industry, and to walk along the high level of honourable usefulness--this is admirable.

2. Emulation is allowable and helpful. The boy who has no ambition to reach the top of his class, the manufacturer or tradesman who does not care to make or to sell the best possible goods, is not likely to accomplish much. But a selfish scramble, in which we only care to secure our own comfort or enlargement, and do not care at all who is stranded or last, in which we present such a picture in life as that given in the text of cattle in the field, is ugly and evil. And if it seems thus to us, how much more guilty must it appear to Him who is Love itself, who lives to love and bless--how hateful and offensive must it be in His pure sight!

II. Its indurating influence. The struggling cattle in the field are no worse for their heedlessness, or even for their violence. They suffer no spiritual harm; they do not rise and fall, in a moral sense. But we do. He who is living the life of selfish scramble is losing all the finer and nobler elements of his nature, is sinking to that base condition in which his own wants and tastes are everything to him and all else is nothing.

III. The contrast of Christian service. We look at the life of our Lord, and we find Him positively declining to use His power to turn the stone into bread, though He must have sorely needed food (Matthew 4:4); refusing to accept the opportunity of self-aggrandisement at the expense of the sacrificial mission on which He came (Matthew 4:9); compelling all things to give place in order that He might give food to the hungry, and healing to the sick, and hope to the abandoned, and rest to the weary. Let us use those powers which we have from God, that we may follow where Christ is leading. (W. Clarkson, B. A.)

The Divine discrimination

I. The objects of the Divine discrimination.

1. He will judge between the Church of God and its enemies, the genuine professors of religion and its opposers.

2. He will distinguish between the hypocrite anti the sincere believer. Counterfeit graces will bear no comparison with sterling piety, when exhibited in the light of heaven, though for the present they may obtain a surreptitious currency.

3. A distinction will likewise be made between saints and saints; for the Lord shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that He may judge His people. According to the talents they possess, the improvement they make of them, and their process in the Divine life; according to the strength or weakness of their graces, the honour or disgrace which their conduct reflects upon religion,--such will be their sentence from the supreme Judge, who will reward every man according to his works.

II. The manner in which these various characters shall be distinguished.

1. Judgment sometimes signifies the same as discernment. In this sense God judgeth all men; He knoweth their inward principles, as well as their outward conduct and behaviour. He is not influenced by prejudice, or liable to mistake.

2. It implies correction, or judging in a way of punishment. God is a light to Israel, but a consuming fire to their enemies. Or if He sees fit to correct the former, it shall be in measure; He will not punish them with severity, though He does not leave them altogether without chastisement.

3. Though the Lord often makes a wide distinction between the righteous and the wicked in the present life, yet He will do it more effectually and more awfully in the last great day. (B. Beddome, M. A.)


Verse 23

Ezekiel 34:23

Even My servant David; he shall feed them.

The Davidic ruler

The meaning cannot be that David would in person revive and reappear. It is more doubtful whether the prophet means that the line or family of David would again occupy the throne or that a single person would be king. It is possible that this question was not strictly before his mind; it is the character of the ruler that he thinks of. The Oriental mind hardly distinguishes between an ancient personage and one who appears in his power and spirit; when it compares it identifies. The new prince over the people will be David, the servant of the Lord. Both the person and the reign of David were idealised. He was not in general terms but in truth the man after God’s own heart. His rule was not merely extensive; it was universal. He gave the people victory and secured them peace--he was a leader and commander of the people. Such shall be the king of the restored community when Jehovah is indeed the God of Israel. (A. B. Davidson, D. D.)


Verse 25-26

Ezekiel 34:25-26

I will make with them a covenant of peace.

God’s covenant with His people, and their assured safety in the wilderness

I. The King’s charter. Observe, the text does not say, “We will make a covenant with one another,” God and man; it says, “I will make them a covenant”; originating in the electing love of God.

II. The exercise of the royal prerogative--“I will cause the evil beasts to cease out of the land.” Satan cares not how many churches or chapels are built, provided the things of the King’s charter are never talked of. But, says Jehovah, “I will cause the evil beasts to cease out of the land.” Hell’s powers are vanquished. Who is He that said, “He spoiled principalities and powers, and made a show of them openly”? Who is He that is said to have “destroyed death, and him that bad the power of death, that is, the devil, and thereby delivered them, who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage”? Who is he of whom it was predicted, that He should “bruise the serpent’s head”? Even the second Person in the glorious Trinity, who in this covenant of peace became Himself the peace of the Church.

III. The position, which this King’s dominion occupies in His world in “the wilderness.” What is “the wilderness”? A place haunted by every description of evil beast; a place uncultivated, trackless, and dangerous. If you can picture to yourselves, for a moment, what that wilderness was to the tribes of Israel literally, you may draw the inference, and a very fair one, that just such the world through which we pass is to a believer spiritually. It is a wilderness; but God has a Church in it, and that is the mercy. Of Christ it is said, that He was “with His Church in the wilderness.” He had, then, His Church in the wilderness, His spiritual family; and so He has now,--a Church, a little flock, an encamped land, a chosen family, brought out of Egypt by miracles of grace, and travelling towards Canaan, the constant object of His love. Such is the portion of the Church--in the wilderness.

IV. The precious promise of tranquillity. Though the Church may occupy a position so frightful, so fearful, so alarming as that I have described, the text says, “they shall dwell safely.” What protection! And they shall “sleep too”; that is, they shall rest. Mark these two things

1. In these woods, solemn as they are,--and really they are more affecting than any language can describe,--they are encompassed with Deity--with all the attributes of Deity--encompassed with angelic guardians--encompassed, as we read in the Psalms, by the Angel of the Lord. Jesus encircles His Church with His own perfections and attributes. He guarantees her security in the wilderness; and this accounts for her dwelling safely.

2. Mark one thing more; they were “to see the salvation of God.” If you get a fair sight of it you will “stand still.” Faith’s telescope will not bear much shaking about; and if you have a fair view of the salvation of God you will “stand still.” He works best when we do nothing; He displays His glory most when we most feel our need of it. He shines abroad, and even “rides upon heaven for help” when we cannot crawl on earth to ask for it. (J. Irons.)

Peace possible under all circumstances

If you have Christ in your heart, then life is possible, peace is possible, joy is possible, under all circumstances and in all places. Everything which the soul can desire it possesses. You will be like men that live in a beleaguered castle, and in the courtyard a sparkling spring, fed from some source high up in the mountains, and finding its way in there by underground channels which no besiegers can ever touch. (A. Maclaren.)

I will make them and the places round about My hill a blessing.

God’s gracious engagements with His Church

I. The description given of God’s Church. “My hill.”

1. The term denotes--

2. But this is described as God’s hill.

II. The promises made to it. “I will cause the shower to come down,” etc.

1. The promise is general. Protection, provision, comfort, and prosperity, all included.

2. The promise includes abundance. “Showers of blessings.” Bounty of God infinite (2 Kings 4:1; Malachi 3:10).

3. The blessings are to be seasonable. “Shower in his season.” Not before necessary, not when it is too late; but at the crisis of need, etc. (Psalms 107:1-43.)

4. The blessings are to promote a happy influence on all around. The Church is to spread the savour of grace through the whole earth.

Application--

1. Do we dwell in the Lord’s holy hill? (See Psalms 15:1-5.)

2. Congratulate the children of Zion. Let them be joyful, etc.

3. Invite sinners all around to come and join themselves to the people of the Lord, etc. (J. Burns, D. D.)

The hill of Zion

I. An interesting place. The most interesting in the whole universe, and connected with the most pleasing, delightful, affecting associations. Consider wherein the Church resembles Mount Zion.

1. In point of elevation and grandeur. Believers are raised up together with Christ, and made to sit together with Him in heavenly places. They follow out sublime designs far above this world; and they are animated by lofty aspirations.

2. A mountain is an object of visibility and attraction. So is the Church; it stands not in a valley, but on a hill, visible, and calculated to excite attention. It is also an object of attraction. It occupies a conspicuous place, and millions have been attracted by it and drawn. It points upward to the skies.

3. A mountain is a place of strength and stability. So is the Church. It is not founded upon the sand. Century after century has passed away; empires have arisen and fallen in close succession; but this Hill of Zion remains in all its strength and glory.

II. An encouraging promise.

1. Its nature. “A blessing.” In this everything is included. It is not nominal, but real, solid, and substantial. The blessing God gives is suitable, sweet, sufficient, free, and lasting. It includes protection from evil, enjoyment of good, peace, prosperity.

2. Its abundance. “Showers of blessings.” This is like the Great Master. Ask as a sinner, He gives like God;--not a scanty portion, not drops, but showers (Deuteronomy 32:2; Psalms 72:6; Malachi 3:10; Romans 10:12). Think of the infinitude of God, and of the infinity of His love--and think of His power!--He is able to do exceedingly abundantly.

3. Its seasonableness. “And I will cause the shower to come down in his season.” We do not know the time when deliverance will come;--often out in our judgment of things, and imagine that all things are against us. Providence is like a piece of machinery, the wheels of which are to our view perplexing, and which we cannot understand.

4. Its extent. “I will make them,” etc. Oh! to be made a blessing! What an honour!--to be a blessing to the Church, to the cause of God, and to the generation in which we live. (E. Temple.)

The Church of Christ

I. Christ’s Church is to be a blessing. The object of God, in choosing a people before all worlds, was not only to save that people, but through them to confer essential benefits upon the whole human race. The Gospel was sent that it might first bless those that embrace it, and then expand, so as to make them a blessing to the whole human race.

1. Here is divinity. It is God the everlasting Jehovah speaking: He says, “I will make them a blessing.”

2. The personality of the blessing. “I will make them a blessing.” “I will make each member of the Church a blessing.” God never makes useless things; He has no superfluous workmanship. I care not what you are; you have somewhat to do. And oh! may God show you what it is, and then make you do it, by the wondrous compulsion of His providence and His grace.

3. The development of Gospel blessing. “I will make them a blessing”; but it does not end there. “And the places round about My hill.” Religion is an expansive thing. When it begins in the heart, at first it is like a tiny grain of mustard seed, but it gradually increases, and becomes a great tree, so that the birds of the air lodge in the branches thereof. A man cannot be religious to himself. What are the places round about our hill? I think they are, first, our agencies; secondly, our neighbourhood; thirdly, the churches adjacent to us.

II. God’s people are not only to be a blessing, but they are to be blessed.

1. Is it not sovereign, Divine mercy, for who can say “I will give them showers” except God?

2. It is needed grace. What would the ground do without showers? You may break the clods, you may sow your seeds, but what can you do without the rain! Ah! you may prepare your barn, and sharpen your sickles; but your sickles will be rusted before you have any wheat, unless there are showers. They are needed. So is the Divine blessing.

3. It is plenteous grace. It does not say, “I will send them drops,” but “showers.” “It seldom rains, but it pours.” So it is with grace. If God gives a blessing, He usually gives it in such a measure that there is not room enough to receive it.

4. It is seasonable grace. “I will give them the shower in its season.” There is nothing like seasonable grace. There are fruits, you know, that are best in their season, and they are not good at any other time; and there are graces that are good in their season, but we do not always require them. A person vexes and irritates me; I want grace just at that time to be patient. I have not got it, and I get angry; ten minutes after I am ever so patient; but I have not had grace in its season.

5. Here is a varied blessing. “I will give thee showers of blessing.” The word is in the plural. All kinds of blessings God will send. The rain is all of one kind when it comes; but grace is not all of one kind, or it does not produce the same effect. God sends showers of blessings. If He gives comforting grace, He will also give converting grace; if He makes the trumpet blow for the bankrupt sinner, He will also make it sound a shout of joy for the sinner that is pardoned and forgiven. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

There shall be showers of blessing.--

Showers of blessing

The word “blessing” belongs strictly to the vocabulary of religion. In prayer there is no petition which a Christian man so naturally offers for himself as that God should bless him, and when he is thinking affectionately of others, he naturally asks God to bless them. Even as he takes his daily bread, he invokes on it a blessing. What does it mean? Take the simplest case of all--that to which I have just alluded. Why, when we are about to partake of food, do we ask a blessing on it? It is an acknowledgment that, in addition to the natural property of food to sustain the bodily strength, there is needed a certain superintendence and favour of heaven to maintain the health of the body, and that Divine wisdom and strength are necessary to make a good use of health when we have it. In the same way when, in the morning, we ask God to bless the work of our hands during the day, as in Scripture He often promises to do to those who ask Him, it is an acknowledgment that, along with our skilful planning, and our conscientious performance, there is necessary a something else which we cannot define but which we refer to God, to give us good success. Men of the world call it good luck, but men of God and the Word of God call it God’s blessing. Even in temporal things there is a large element of unspeakable value for which there is no true and reverent name except the blessing of God. But it is in the spiritual domain that this word has its true scope. If in religion there is any reality at all, then it is the grandest of realities. It is not only an essence which can sweeten and enhance all the elements of life, but it is in itself so valuable that he who possesses it is rich though he be stripped of all the other possessions which are the accepted badges of happiness. It is the pearl of great price, which a man may well sell all he has to buy. It is the blessing of God, and we have only in silent and lowly awe to take it when it comes.

I. The copiousness of God’s blessing. “There shall be showers of blessing.” If the blessing of God is so essential to human welfare, it may be asked why so few are possessors of a thing so precious? It is not because it is difficult to get at. If the will and love of God could have free course there would be showers of blessing. The obstacle which hinders is in ourselves. Have you never, when enjoying any of the simple pleasures of nature, reflected with surprise on how little they are taken advantage of? There is not in nature a sublimer sight than the rising of the sun. There is no other which can suffuse the mind with deeper peace, yet multitudes live and die without ever seeing this great sight once; and the average man does not see it a score of times in a lifetime. The blessing of God is like this. It is so near, and yet it is so far on account of our negligence. What a peace, for example, is bred, and what a cool, firm grasp on life is given by the practice of spending a short time with God in prayer, and in the study of His Word, before beginning the work of the day. Yet how few cultivate this source of blessing. We are not straitened in God: we are straitened in our own hearts.

II. Its timeliness. “I will cause the shower to come down in his season.” This refers to the well-known fact that in Palestine rain fell only at certain seasons of the year. It was of the utmost consequence that at these seasons it should not fail. If it did not come, the drought meant loss or even ruin to the husbandman; but if it came copiously, it caused the fields to rejoice with abundant crops and made glad the heart of the husbandman. No doubt our text refers, in the first place, to this temporal blessing, but it has also a wider scope; blessing of every kind may be said to come in its season. God is not, indeed, bound to times and seasons, and sometimes His blessings come when they are least expected, resembling, in this respect, the sudden showers of rain to which we are accustomed in our own variable climate. But, as a rule, the blessing comes in the time of need, when the hearts of men are sighing and crying for it. Are you expecting a blessing today? Is your heart longing for it? Then this is a promise for you: “I will cause the shower to come down in his season.” You may be very near a great blessing which would change your spiritual existence from an invalid, backsliding condition into a life of joy, of power, and unfaltering progress. I once asked a friend why a mutual friend of ours, though a man of many accomplishments, did not succeed in the pulpit. “Well,” said he, giving a slight crack of finger and thumb, “he just wants that.” Yes, that was exactly it. It is this something extra, this little more, that makes everything exceptional and excellent. And many of us are just needing this to make us holy, happy, creditable Christians. Why should you not be baptized with power?

III. The diffusiveness of God’s blessing. “I will make them and the places round about My hill a blessing.” The happiness of some people is rather to be pitied than envied, because they are made happy by such questionable things. But blessedness is derived from a pure as well as an inexhaustible source. Yet this is not the best result of the blessing of God--that those on whom it falls are themselves blessed. It is a far nobler thing which is promised in our text, “I will make them a blessing”--they shall be the means of making others blessed. From of old this has been the noble prerogative of the people of God. In Christianity this element has come to the very front. What is it to be a Christian? Is it to be blessed? is it to be filled with the peace, the joy, the life, the power of God? No, it is to be so filled with these that the vessel runs over, and all that are round about get the benefit. This is a text to try our Christianity by. Has the sound of the Gospel not only reached us, but sounded out from us, as a testimony which has arrested and awakened others? It is a severe test. But some can stand it. There are Christian souls which move through the world surrounded with a halo of blessing. There are Christian homes which radiate happiness. There are Christian congregations which you cannot enter without feeling that the power of God is there, and streams of blessing flow out from them over the city, the country, and the world. (J. Stalker, D. D.)

Showers of blessing

I. This communication is needed by the world.

1. Contemplate the vast portion of the world, which is still destitute of the presence and the power of true religion.

2. Contemplate the tardiness with which true religion is now advancing among men.

II. This communication is promised by God.

1. The promise of God defines the nature of this communication. It consists in the influences of the Holy Spirit, made to affect the hearts and the consciences of men by the truth, which the Gospel embodies and displays.

2. The promise of God has also defined its extent. There are to be “showers”--impartations commensurate with the existing need, and designed absolutely and entirely to extinguish and terminate that need.

3. The purpose of God has also defined its results. “There shall be showers of blessing.”

III. This communication, which is needed by the world, and which is promised by God, must be sought by the Church.

1. The Church must seek for this communication by the removal of worldly confortuity.

2. The Church must seek for this communication by the cultivation of union and fraternal love.

3. The Church must seek this communication by the employment of vigorous and zealous exertions, in the practical distribution of the truth, which has been affirmed to be the instrument, through which the Spirit of God is to descend in blessing upon the world.

4. The Church must seek for this communication by the offering of fervent and importunate prayer. (J. Parsons, M. A.)

Showers of blessing,

This blessed promise may be claimed by--

I. The believer.

1. In the joy of the morning. “Songs in the night,” but blessings for the morning. A blessing is added strength.

2. In the heat of the noonday. As a reminder of Providence, and a remembrancer of the God who promised that the “sun shall not smite thee by day,” these cooling showers shall come.

3. In the weary evening. Do doubts assail, do fears annoy? Do sorrows gather, do tempests rise? There shall be showers of blessing, and “dewy eve” will be a time of surcease from grief and labour, turmoil and care, and He will give “His beloved sleep.”

4. In the desolate night. After all friends have gone, after even friendly twilight has withdrawn herself, in that “dark and lonely hour,” they shall fall upon him to season his meditations or perchance to lull to repose his wearied and inflamed orbs.

5. Ever, there shall be showers of blessing for the believer.

II. The backslider.

1. In the hour of thoughtfulness. When he considers his relations to God, and how strained they are.

2. In the hour of remembrance. The blessed “Remembrancer,” the good Spirit of Truth, will bring forsaken joys, discarded delights, and vanished experiences to his memory.

3. In the hour of penitence. Is it not recorded that “God resisteth the proud but giveth grace to the humble”? and humility is twin sister to penitence.

4. In the hour of return. When the prodigal son returned, the tears which bedewed the cheeks of reconciled father and repentant son were indeed showers of blessing.

III. The sinner. Blessed showers will come when--

1. He feels his need.

2. Loathes himself.

3. Cries to God.

4. Trusts in the Saviour. (J. B. Esenwein.)

Showers of blessing

I. All temporal and spiritual blessings, like showers, descend from above.

1. “Showers” am abundant. The great Creator does not give the rain stingily, but opens the windows of heaven, and pears down His blessings upon the dry and thirsty land. So spiritual blessings come upon the thirsty and longing hearts of men.

2. “Showers” are repeated and continued; for season after season descend the early and the latter rain, and by repeated showers the earth brings forth and buds, and gives seed to the sower and bread to the eater. So in the history of the Church, and of every individual believing soul, there has been given grace for grace, that there might be progress from strength to strength in the journey Zionward.

3. “Showers” are gratuitous; they come down freely from the clouds, without money and without price. We could not purchase them, for the silver and the gold belong to God, as well as the cattle upon a thousand hills. So all spiritual blessings are free; indeed, they are priceless, as well as peerless.

4. “Showers” are suitable; as they fall upon the earth they make it soft, and drop fatness into the soil, and become the occasion of beauty and bountifulness. So the blessings that crown our lives are suitable to our needs and adapted to minister to our well-being and joy. Especially is this true of spiritual blessings.

5. “Showers” are gentle. How softly, as a rule, they fall, feeding the roots of the mightiest trees, and yet not wounding the leaves or blossoms of the tiniest flowers. How gently our temporal blessings come to us, how softly the light streams over the earth to gladden our eyes, and how gently the tide of health flows into our system, to make us strong and fit for our ever-recurring toils of life. And the blessings that refresh our spirits and revive our faith, they fall gently upon us while we pray and praise, and nestle upon our hearts while we engage in Christian work and worship.

II. Temporal and spiritual blessings, like showers, require the cooperation of man; or the design with which they descend from above will be frustrated. We must cooperate with Providence in the temporal blessings sent us, or they will not answer the end designed. The human and the Divine must work hand in hand. This is equally true of the Church and of individual souls. God sends down “showers of blessing,” but there must be preparation for them and cooperation with them; then the wilderness and solitary place shall be glad, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose. Showers come when the land is thirsty, and when the vapours from the earth have ascended and formed themselves into thick clouds; and “showers of blessing” will come upon us when our hearts are thirsty, and cry out for the living God; when our prayer-like clouds of incense have ascended to Heaven for the downcoming of the Holy Ghost. (F. W. Brown.)

Showers of blessing

1. Here is sovereign mercy--“I will give them the shower in its season.”

2. Is it not sovereign, Divine mercy?--for who can say, “I will give them showers,” except God? There is only one voice which can speak to the clouds, and bid them beget the rain. “Who sendeth down the rain upon the earth? Do not I, the Lord?” So, grace is the gift of God, and is not to be created by man.

3. It is also needed grace. What would the ground do without showers? You may break the clods, you may sow your seeds, but what can you do without the rain? As absolutely needful is the Divine blessing. In vain you labour, until God the plenteous shower bestows, and sends salvation down.

4. Then it is plenteous grace. “There shall be showers.” It does not say, “I will send them drops,” but “showers.” So it is with grace. If God gives a blessing, He usually gives it in such a measure that there is not room enough to receive it. Plenteous grace! Ah! we want plenteous grace to keep us humble, to make us prayerful, to make us holy; plenteous grace to make us zealous, to preserve us through this fife, and at last to land us in heaven. We cannot do without saturating showers of grace.

5. Again, it is seasonable grace. “I will cause the shower to come down in his season.” What is thy season this morning? Is it the season of drought? Then that is the season for showers. Is it a season of great heaviness and black clouds? Then that is the season for showers. “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.”

6. And here is a varied blessing. “I will give thee showers of blessing.” The word is in the plural. All kinds of blessings God will send. All God’s blessings go together, like links in a golden chain. If He gives converting grace, He will also give comforting grace. He will send “showers of blessing.” Look up today, O parched plant, and open thy leaves and flowers for a heavenly watering! (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Showers of blessing sent from God

I. The blessings bestowed on the peculiar people of God are blessings of unspeakable value.

1. Their origin, and the glory and the grace of their author (James 1:17; Ephesians 1:3).

2. The price paid for their purchase (1 Peter 1:18-19; 2 Corinthians 8:9).

3. Our indispensable need of them (Revelation 3:17).

4. The peculiar and transcendent happiness which the possession of them ensures (Revelation 3:18; Psalms 4:7; Philippians 4:7; 1 Corinthians 2:9).

II. The precious blessings bestowed on the people of God are incalculably numerous.

1. Can you calculate the number of showers that fall to refresh, to fructify, and to bless the earth, in the course of the revolving seasons? nay, I will ask further, can you calculate the number of drops of which each shower is composed? Then may you calculate the number of blessings bestowed on the people of God.

2. Can you tell how numerous, or, rather, innumerable, the wants of God’s people are?

III. The blessings peculiar to God’s people are all most opportunely bestowed. “I will cause the shower to come down in his season.” To the young, to the middle-aged, and to the old, they come just as their various and peculiar circumstances render necessary. To the poor, to the afflicted, to the tempted, and to the dying, how seasonable are the supplies of all those blessings especially requisite for them! The promise in each individual case is fully and happily realised (Deuteronomy 33:25).

IV. The blessings bestowed on God’s people are all the result of Divine agency.

1. Who but the blessed God could have devised that wondrous plan of grace, by which the blessings of the everlasting covenant are secured to His people? (Romans 3:24-26; Romans 11:33.)

2. Who but a Divine person could have paid the price by which these blessings have been purchased? (Romans 8:3; Romans 8:34; John 1:1, compared with verse 14.)

3. The actual application of these blessings, too, is all of God (Philippians 2:13). Who gives the new heart? (Ezekiel 36:26.) Who gives pardon? (Isaiah 43:25.) Who sanctifies them? (Exodus 31:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:23.) Who completes the work of their redemption? (Philippians 1:6; Revelation 3:21.)

Application--

1. It is no presumption to expect great and manifold blessings from the great and manifold grace of God (Revelation 3:21).

2. What a happy people must the people of God be! (Deuteronomy 33:29.)

3. To God alone we should ascribe the glory and praise of all our blessings (Psalms 115:1).

4. We should be encouraged, from the receipt of common mercies, to expect special blessings from God.

5. The wickedest of men may yet be blessed of God (Isaiah 55:1-3). (A. Thomson, D. D.)

Conditions necessary for showers

An Irish gentleman remarked in my hearing that he had always noticed that when it rained there were clouds about, and so all the air was in right order for the descent of rain. We have noticed the same, and it so happens that the clouds and general constitution of the atmosphere have much to do with the value of moisture for the herbs. It is no good watering them in the sun, the circumstances do not benefit them. So with revivals. Certain things done under certain circumstances become abundantly useful, but if you have not similar circumstances, you may use the same machinery, but mischief instead of good will follow. Begin yourself with the Master, and then go outward to His service, but plans of action must be secondary. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verses 27-31

Ezekiel 34:27-31

Shall know that I am the Lord, when I have broken the bands of their yoke.

The yoke removed and the Lord revealed

But do not all men know that God is the Lord? They should know it, for He is clearly to be seen in the works of nature. But man by wisdom knows not God. But do not all know God in this land--this land where there is so much Gospel teaching? Alas! no. You know the report of God which you have heard with the hearing of the ear; but that is a small matter unless it leads to something higher. Those who know the Lord know that He is still the I am that I am, unchangeable in all respects; and we know that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, is the same God who revealed himself at Paran, and came with sound of thunder at Sinai. It appears from the text that there is a process by which God’s own people are brought to know the Lord. This process takes place when He breaks the bands of their yoke. Then they know that the Lord is God. It is clear, therefore, that He must, first of all permit His own chosen, for a wise purpose, to come into bondage. I do not commend the bondage; it is a thing to be deplored; but, as Augustine once cried out, “Beata culpa!” “Happy fault!” when he saw how sin had made space for the wonderful display of Divine grace, so I venture to say, “Blessed bondage, which gives an opportunity for our God to come in and set His children free, and by thus breaking the bands of their yoke to teach them that He Himself is the Lord.”

I. It is not difficult to show that the lord breaks the bands of the yoke of His people, for the yokes which they wear at different times are many, and, in the breaking of each one of these, they learn that He is the Lord.

1. You cannot forget the first yoke of which you were conscious. It was a yoke of iron; but you had worn it for many years without feeling it. A spark of Divine life dropped into your bosom, and then you began to perceive that a yoke of sin, of guilt, of condemnation under the law, was firmly fixed upon your neck. Happy is the hour when the Lord breaks that yoke. He alone can remove it, but He does it most effectually, and then we know that He is Jehovah our God that brought us out of the house of bondage. To emancipate a soul from the thraldom of sin is a labour worthy of a God, and to His liberating hand be glory forever and ever.

2. Then the awakened soul begins to be conscious of a second yoke. More or less, according to temperament and circumstances, and so on, but still in each case somewhat, we feel the yoke of natural corruption and inbred sin. The moment we become Christians an inward battle begins. You may presume that sin is completely dead in you, but it laughs while you are boasting, and before long it will make you weep to think that you were so readily deceived. The Lord can break this yoke also, and tear away each one of its bands. Very joyful is the deliverance, and when it comes the text is abundantly fulfilled.

3. Another yoke which the Lord’s people have too often borne is that of a perpetual tendency to unbelief. Many about whose interest in Christ nobody who knows them can have any doubt at all, whose Christian consistency is beyond all question, whose prayerfulness, whose love of the Word of God, whose simple, child-like trust in Jesus Christ is manifested to everybody except themselves, are nevertheless in heaviness through anxiety as to their state. May the Lord bring up such brothers and sisters out of their prison, and then shall they know that He is the Lord when He has broken the bands of their yoke.

4. Some Christians are also loaded with a yoke through great trouble. If we knew what they have to suffer in business, suffer in body, suffer in the domestic circle--if we knew the weight they have to carry, we should very often communicate to them words of comfort, whereas now, through our not knowing, they are left unheeded, and there is little or no Christian sympathy manifested. Ah, dear brother, it may be that you have been made to carry a very heavy yoke for years, but when the Lord shall break the bands of your yoke then shall you know that He is the Lord.

5. many yokes which God’s people bear they cannot break themselves. The Lord often puts His people on purpose into positions where there is an end of the creature, where all carnal hope fails, where you look all around and not a single ray of light gladdens your weary eye till the star of Bethlehem breaks forth, and heralds the morning. But let us recollect that though yokes be very many, and some of them are such that we cannot possibly break them off, yet there is no yoke but what the Lord can readily enough take from His people. One of His saints of old recorded his experience in these words, “Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O God, and Thou heardest me.” His experience is that of all the captives who trust in the Lord.

6. We may expect the Lord to break the bands of our yoke. Christian, He is bringing you low, He is stripping, you, He is casting you into the mire, He is beating you small as the dust of the streets, and all because by this means He will make you see your nothingness, and will cause you more fully to appreciate the splendour of His grace, and the all-sufficiency of His power. Knowing this, faith may help us to rejoice in tribulation at the moment it arrives, saying, “Here is my Father’s black horse come to my door to bring me a new token of love from Him.”

II. When He does this then they know Him to be the Lord. Here we come to personal experience. Beloved, when we have great deliverances from bondage then we begin to see the Divine attributes displayed.

1. You all believe God to be very powerful, for you have heard His voice in the thunder, and seen His might in the tempest; but when you have been brought into very deep distress, and God has brought you out of it with a high hand and an outstretched arm, then you have said, “Now I see His power. No hand but His could have moved that burden, and He has done it.”

2. You must also have seen with wonderful vividness the attribute of wisdom. You have been all in a snarl. You have done your best, and you have made things worse. You have gone for advice, and the advice has perplexed you. You have looked in all directions, and the more you have looked the less hope you have seen; and then, on a sudden, God’s finger has seemed to be put out, and all the knots have been untied, and His Word has been fulfilled,--“I will make the crooked places straight and the rough places plain.”

3. The Lord’s love also is clearly revealed in our deliverances.

4. When the bands of our yoke have been broken it is often in answer to prayer, and because that liberty has come in answer to prayer, we have exclaimed, “Now I know the Lord.”

5. So, again, we know Him from another reason: the special hand of God is often seen in the breaking of the yoke of His people--the special hand. There was a very large sum of money to be paid for the building of the Orphanage, and I was up with certain friends at Regent’s Park--dining at the house of one of our brethren. I there mentioned that I was short of some £2000 to meet an account which would very soon be due, but that I was sure that God would graciously give it, for it was His work and He would supply its needs in answer to prayer. We were discussing as to whether it was not rather bold to speak too positively about answers to a prayer of such a kind, and while we were still discoursing there came a telegram from the Tabernacle to me, saying, “A person unknown has called and left £2000 in banknotes for the Orphanage.” I read the telegram to the friends assembled, and their gratitude and astonishment abounded. My dear old friend, Dr. Brock, who is now with God, said, “Put down your knives and forks, and let us bless the name of the Lord”; and he stood up and poured out his heart in a most wonderful manner in devout thankfulness to the Answerer of prayer. We all heartily joined in that act of devotion. The Lord was there; we felt His presence as much as if it had been a sacramental supper, for the Lord had drawn so near to us. If someone had said to us just then, “Well, you know, this is a coincidence, a mere coincidence,” we should have laughed, and I for one should have said, “It is a very blessed coincidence, and I hope it will go on coinciding; for truly it coincides with the promise and with my faith in God.” The devil does not give his followers such coincidences. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The elect produced on men by the displays of kindness from God

I. The import of this exceeding great and precious promise.

1. It ensures deliverance from the grievous oppression of cruel, inveterate, and powerful enemies. As it respects ourselves, we are to regard the promise as having a chief reference to the deliverance obtained, or to be obtained, for us from our spiritual foes. It is, accordingly, thus applied (Luke 1:74-75). All genuine saints have the happiness to enjoy “the glorious liberty of the children of God” (John 8:36; 2 Timothy 2:26; Romans 6:14; 1 John 5:4). To spoil our enemies, to break the bands of their yoke, and thus to deriver us from their wretched dominion, was one grand design of the mission and mediation of the Son of God (Isaiah 61:1). It is the grand object He has still in view, by the preaching of the everlasting Gospel (Acts 26:17-18); and the blessing thus promised is of infinite importance.

2. It ensures abundant supplies for our support. Both the bodies and the souls of God’s people have been bought with a price; and both, therefore, shall be supplied with abundance of nourishment. That single promise secures all (Isaiah 33:16). He who feeds the ravens when they cry, will not surely suffer His redeemed people to be in want of any kind (Psalms 34:9-10).

3. It ensured to the Israelites great happiness and continued security in their inheritance. Canaan was typical of heaven, which accordingly is, in reference to it, denominated “another and a better country, even an heavenly.” Here, then, it is implicitly promised to all true Israelites, that they shall ultimately have heaven for their inheritance--that is the land in which they are to dwell; and how great is the glory of that land! Surely the people of God shall be safe when there (Revelation 21:4). How great, and boundless, and endless, the happiness of the inhabitants! (Revelation 7:14-17.)

II. The religious improvement to be made and to which the accomplishment of the promise was to lead. “They shall know that I am the Lord.”

1. It would lead the Israelites to acknowledge the existence and the providence, the glory and the grace of Jehovah, Jacob’s God.

2. It would lead them more and more to admire and love, to worship and obey, the Lord.

Application--

1. What think you of promises like these? What would you think of promises from some great man, ensuring temporal abundance, or temporal riches? But if you have any spiritual discernment, will you not much more value promises of infinitely better things, especially as coming from God?

2. To whom do you look for the supply of all your wants?

3. What improvement do you make of the kindness of God in the dispensations of His providence and grace?

4. The enemies of Israel, and of Israel’s God, must perish forever. (A. Thomson, D. D.)


Verse 29

Ezekiel 34:29

I will raise up for them a Plant of renown.

The eternal Plant

The symbolism of the Bible forms one of its most interesting and conspicuous features. As children are oft-times taught the alphabet by the assistance of pictures, so ancient Israel, living amid the dim shadows of patriarchal and mosaic times, were instructed in the A B C and rudimental principles of religious worship and godly knowledge and obedience by the help of types, prefigurements, symbols. Ezekiel every now and then swells out in organ strains of grand poetic utterance, calling into use the wealth of nature’s imagery to embody and symbol forth the wonderful creations of his inspired and sanctified genius. And strange, yet glorious to say, all this wealth of biblical imagery, either directly or indirectly, points to and finds its higher actualisation in “the Christ,” who is the “Alpha and Omega” of Scripture. We speak not here of Jesus the “Rose” or Jesus the “Lily”; of Jesus the “Star” or Jesus the “Sun”; of Jesus the “King” or Jesus the “Servant”; of Jesus the “Foundation” or of Jesus the “Stone of Stumbling”; of Jesus the “Branch” or of Jesus the “Tree of Life”; but of Jesus the “Plant”--the Eternal “Plant,” the “Plant of Renown”--of renown among men, angels, seraphs, God! In thought, memory, and love, let us gather around this “Plant” to meditate, admire, adore.

I. Jesus is an aromatic “Plant.” He outbreathes an aroma which fills heaven with ecstasy, and saves earth with its teeming population from moral putrefaction and death. Christ is an eternal perfume. Angels and archangelic ones drink it in as flowers drink in the solar ray. And whenever on human soil He is scented for the first time, it creates an insatiable desire in the soul to daily and hourly drink at this fountain of sweetest odours.

1. The Bible would have no fragrance were it not for Christ. It would be mouldy and mildewed, antiquated and repulsive, without the aroma of this Plant.

2. Preaching would have no refreshing and soul-saving odour without this Plant. It might have persuasive rhetoric, and convincing logic, and charming elocution, and faultless learning, and elegant diction--yea, all the graces and glories of finished composition; nevertheless, devoid of the aromatic odours of the “Lamb of God”--the one Mediator for and only Saviour of a fallen world--it would be nothing more than “a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal,” or a message surcharged with the “savour of death unto death”!

3. Prayer, too, would have no effect without the perfume of this Plant. There might be fluency of utterance, beauty of sentence, multiplicity of words, glowing creations of thought, minute descriptions of want, and oratorical outbursts of desire and request; but unless fragrant with the incense of Jesu’s blood, and death, and intercession, it will be but a bundle of “vain repetitions,” or a jingle of unmeaning terms, unacceptable to God, and unbenefiting to us.

4. Heaven would have no fragrance but for Christ. Fie is the all of heaven! The music of its songs, the brightness of its skies, the health of its atmosphere, the splendour of its sceneries, the vitality, and glory, and wonder of its inhabitants--ay, the nectar of its unwithering flowers, the eternal perfume of its homage, worship, service, adoration!

II. Christ is a medicinal Plant. His “leaves are for the healing of the nations.” He is the “balm of Gilead,” the “balm for every wound,” the “cordial for every fear.” A wonderful variety of medicinal virtues is characteristic of this unique Plant. While as a grand specific for the world’s sin it is one; yet, for the Church’s manifold ailments it is a repository of all that is needed, suited, effectual. If you suffer morally from had appetite and “indigestion,” so that you do not relish the means of grace or the ordinances of the Church, and loathe the food with which God’s servants try to feed you, through its not being dainty enough, or too much spiced, or not cooked to your taste--make application to Christ and He will speedily effect a cure. Or if you suffer from soul “dyspepsia,” which makes you peevish, discontented, morose, and querulous in the church and in the family and in the business, so that you are an unwholesome sample to the world of our glorious Christianity--come to Christ and tell Him all and He will send you healthy and happy away.

III. Jesus is an unwithering Plant. Not only evergreen, ever-verdant, ever-fresh, but eternally enduring. The frosts of time cannot nip it; the roll of centuries cannot fade it; the heat of a myriad persecution--suns cannot scorch it; the blasts of all storms, and the blights of all winters, and the changes of all seasons, and the sweep and swing of all eternities, cannot sear, shrivel, wither it! In two of its ingredients--qualities--it stands in sublime and unapproachable isolation, namely, immutability and eternity. It is immutable, because eternal from necessity, and eternal from necessity because uncaused and infinite.

IV. Jesus Christ is a universal Plant. In other words, a Plant in every place, being omnipresent; and a Plant for every sinner’s appropriation, being suitable and sufficient. None can monopolise it, any more than they can monopolise the sunlight, the rain, the dew. It is the property of all in general, but of everyone who believes in particular. He is “the Saviour of the world.” He is for “the healing of the nations.” “All men are to be blessed in Him.” As the old sun shines on every shore, so this Plant shall cast its healing shadow over every land, and drop its “sovereign balm” in every receptive heart, and be renowned by all languages and peoples. (J. O. Keen, D. D.)

The plant of renown

I. Its nature. There never was such another. The plant has two perfectly distinct natures. In the language of the Song of Solomon it is both “white and ruddy.” Each of those two natures is complete in all its attributes. Christ was perfect God, and at the same time perfect man.

II. Its beauty. Every believer will acknowledge this. Feeling how exactly suitable the Lord Jesus is to meet your every want, you admire all that concerns Him.

III. Its fruitfulness. The Lord God, who in the beginning gave to man every tree for meat, has given us Christ for the same purpose. Other trees have only one species of fruit, but this produces twelve manners of fruits: fruits for every season: fruits for prosperity; fruits for adversity; fruits for every occasion that can possibly arise; fruits for newborn converts; fruits for those of riper experience; fruits for fathers and mothers in Israel; fruits suited to every individual whom the Holy Spirit leads to Christ.

IV. Its permanency. Its branches will be ever stretching forth, the glory of Paradise. Its leaves will never lose their healing virtues. Its fruits will be as delicious ten thousand ages hence, as they will be in the very commencement of your future eternity. No one that takes shelter beneath its branches will ever be compelled to flee from under it.

V. Its fragrancy. In whatever sanctuary He is preached, how fragrant is He there! In whatever book He is set forth, how fragrant is He there! The leaves of that book all smell of myrrh, aloes, cassia, and all manner of sweet spices. How fragrant, too, is any house which is the abode of even one of the Lord’s redeemed people! How fragrant is any parish, any country, where believers are multiplied, walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost!

VI. Its shadow. There will come seasons when you will find the hot winds of severe afflictions beating so vehemently upon your heads, that, without Christ’s supporting grace, you will be brought to your wits’ end, and will be at the point to die. Oh, that you would see how sad is your condition compared with that of Christ’s people in their trials and difficulties!

VII. Its celebrity. In one respect this plant resembled others. In its origin it was tittle accounted of. In His incarnation, humiliation, and death, He was comparatively despised and rejected; but springing up, in His resurrection, ascension and heavenly glory, He has become greatly renowned, and is daily made more so by the spreading of His Gospel throughout all nations. I conclude by a two-fold admonition.

1. Feed upon this plant yourselves.

2. Make it known to others. (C. Clayton, M. A.)

Christ the Plant of renown

I. Some plants are renowned for their rareness. Anything that is rarely to be met with in this world is all the more valued, because it is uncommon. If it be really valuable in itself, it is prized not merely because of its intrinsic excellence, but doubly prized because it is rare. Now, in this respect, Christ may well be called the Plant of renown. He is the only-begotten and well-beloved Son of God. In every view Christ is rare and precious. To be convinced of this, think not merely of His original glory, nor of His mysterious person; but think also of what He is and has done for His people. Truly we must say, He is the unspeakable gift of God--a gift that stands out prominently from all the other gifts of our heavenly Father--a gift with which no other can be compared--yea, with whose infinite value the united value of all other gifts together is not to be put into the balance. As to His love, if we try to speak of it, we must close by saying, that it passeth knowledge. As to His sufferings, if we try to describe them, we must admit that they exceed all our conceptions, and that there never was any sorrow like unto His sorrow. As to His riches, if we try to reckon them, we must end with the confession that they are unsearchable riches. As to His excellence, both in Himself and as the Saviour of His people, if we try to speak of it, we must admit, after all illustrations and comparisons, that it is unparalleled and inconceivably great.

II. Some plants are renowned for their beauty. Some for the gorgeous richness of their colour; others for the delicate paleness of their hue--some for the elegant, form and loveliness of their flower; others for the stately and majestic appearance of the plant itself. And most assuredly Christ may in this respect be called the Plant of renown. In Him we see every variety of colour and shade, which, combined, constitute the perfection of beauty. The most lovely sight which this world ever saw was the character of Jesus. Everything which pure and holy beings can admire, is to be seen in Jesus. View the graces separately, and you see each of them perfect in Christ--humility in His becoming a man--meekness in bearing insults--gentleness in administering reproofs--patience in enduring sufferings--devotedness to His Father’s will, which made Him say, that in the doing of it He had meat to eat which the world knew not of--devotion, which wearied not of whole nights spent in prayer--benevolence, which knew no bounds in the bestowment of blessings--heavenly-mindedness, which made Him, though in the world, not of it. These graces shine each of them gloriously in the character of Jesus, and all of them combined constitute that perfect excellence which saints and angels shall admire forever.

III. Some plants are renowned for their fragrance. Sweet smelling flowers and fragrant plants are felt even here to be most delightful and refreshing; but in the East, there are plants of such rich fragrance, as we can have no conception of at all in these northern climes. To pass a garden of aromatic herbs, when the gentle breeze causes the sweet spices to flow forth, is perfectly delightful to the weary traveller. And in this respect, too, Christ may be called the Plant of renown. What a sweet savour there is about all the graces and excellencies of Christ! You cannot come to the contemplation of His character without feeling that you are breathing a pure and holy atmosphere, grateful as the spicy breezes of the East to those who are faint and weary. The death of Christ is an offering and a sacrifice to God of a sweet smelling savour, and the Lord is well pleased for His righteousness’ sake, seeing He hath magnified the law and made it honourable. And anxious souls feel that it has a delightful fragrance, when their hearts are cheered, and revived, and comforted, as they behold the Lamb of God taking away the sins of the world. Never was weary traveller, when like to faint under the burning rays of an eastern sun, so revived and refreshed by the spicy breezes, as poor souls, ready to faint under a burden of sin, and amid the trials of the world, are refreshed and cheered by the sweet savour that there is in Christ.

IV. Some plants are renowned for their healing virtue. It is a proof of the goodness and benevolence of God that, while this world, in consequence of the Fall, is filled with disease and pain, there are medicinal plants whose application has a healing efficacy. And in this respect, as well as those already mentioned, Christ may be called the Plant of renown. From the Saviour on the Cross there flows a healing virtue to cure all the diseases of our souls. The blood and grace of Jesus are the precious balm. It is balm extracted from the wounded Tree of Life--from the pierced side of Immanuel; and it is effectual in curing the envenomed bite of the old serpent, the devil in mortifying the wounds which the arrows of conviction have made in our souls, and in completely healing the loathsome disease of sin.

V. Some plants are renowned for the shelter they afford from the scorching rays of the sun. Even in our own climate it is often most refreshing, when oppressed with heat, to recline under the shade of a spreading tree. And how much more delightful for an eastern traveller to come to a shady tree, under whose wide-spreading branches he may lie down upon the cool ground and rest himself! Flow delightful for the eastern shepherds, when they have conducted their flocks to the place of rest at noon, to lie down and rest themselves in the shade! But, oh, how infinitely more delightful for the poor sinner to sit down under the shadow of the Plant of renown! The branches of the trees of Paradise were no covering to guilty Adam, but under the shadow of the Tree of Life the awakened sinner may lie down and take quiet rest, assured that the wrath of God will never reach him any more.

VI. Some plants are renowned for the excellent fruits which they bear. This is a quality for which the plant here spoken of is renowned; for the consequence of its being raised up to God’s people is, that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land. If it be delightful to a weary traveller to lie down at noon under the cool shade of a spreading tree, it is especially so when the tree is laden with mellow and delicious fruit, which the traveller may pluck and eat for the quenching of his thirst. In this respect, every believer finds Christ to be the Plant of renown, and it is while he feeds upon Christ by faith that he is no more consumed with hunger in this batten land. (John Laird.)

Christ as a Plant of renown

.--

I. He is renowned in His stately beauty. He towers high above all the trees of the great forests of the world, and His branches, adorned with lovely foliage, spread out in all directions over all. Christ is the incarnation of the highest moral beauty; He is altogether lovely.

II. He is renowned for His wonderful fruitfulness. He is the Tree of Life, His fruits are for the healing of the nations. His fruits are sufficient to feed and bless all hungry souls. Who of all the children of men ever accomplished one-thousandth part of the good that Christ has accomplished?

III. He is renowned for His remedial virtues. He has a sovereign “balm for every wound,” He “binds up the broken-hearted,” He is the “Great Physician.” He is a cure for guilt, for fear, for remorse, and for all the disorders of the mind.

IV. He is renowned for His great durability. All human plants wither, decay, and pass away; but He continues unchanged through the centuries. (Homilist.)

Jesus, a Plant of renown

The Creator has implanted love for the beautiful in our hearts for very wise and beneficent purposes; not that we may be like the briar, creeping along the ground, nor like thorns or nettles, pricking and stinging those who are brave enough to touch us; nor like the poppy, very showy and vain, but very empty and weak; and certainly not like the thistle, full of ill-will to everybody that shall take hold upon us. I think God wanted to show us of His great love to us; for if He had not loved us, He would never have thrown, in their variety, fragrance, and beauty, such proofs of His love all around us. And further, He intended to teach us to imitate the flowers, to try and be beautiful and fragrant, kind and pleasing, and not to live so much for ourselves as to impart joy to others. To an attentive listener, the flowers and plants are quite eloquent as they preach to us the graces and virtues of religion. The flowers are ever speaking to us of Jesus. Isaiah prophesied of the coming of “A root of Jesse”; Solomon called the Lord Jesus “The lily of the valley and the rose of Sharon.” So theft if when we next go into a garden we will only think, we shall meet with things to lift up our minds and affections to Jesus.

I. Why Jesus is the “Plant of renown.”

1. His great beauty. It is impossible for us to say what Jesus was personally, that is, His physical appearance; nor can such a subject concern us much. Many who show little or no physical beauty reveal high intellectual and spiritual worth, and if we look at Jesus through this channel, we shall soon find that He was the most beautiful plant that eyes of man ever looked upon. No one ever said such beautiful things as Jesus. Whether He was on the sea or on a mountain apart, whether at a marriage feast or at a funeral, whether surrounded only by His beloved disciples or by the inquisitive eager multitudes, whether at home with His parents, in the house of Martha and Mary, on the Mount of Olives, or even hanging on the Cross, no one ever uttered such beautiful sayings as He. He was, for beauty, the “Plant of renown,” if we look at the character Fie possessed. No passion marred it, no sin spotted it, no darkness eclipsed it, no sorrow dimmed it, nor did any combination of forces impair or weaken it,. Then His worthiness to be called the “Plant of renown” is seen if we call to mind the beautiful deeds He accomplished. It was a beautiful thing for Jesus to leave His home and glory in heaven, and to come to suffer and bleed and die for us. And how full was that life of beautiful acts! Nazareth and Capernaum, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, Bethany and the Mount of Olives, all say His life was crowded with deeds most beautiful; and therefore Ezekiel was quite right when he said that Jesus was a “Plant of renown.”

2. If we examine His marvellous strength we shall find another right, or title, to the figure. There are some things exceedingly beautiful, but they are so weak that we are afraid of damaging if we only touch them. Had not Jesus been as remarkable for His strength as for His beauty, He would have been destroyed by the rough elements that surged around, and wasted their strength upon Him. The world put forth its energy to destroy this Plant; its prejudice, its envy, its malice, its hate, its unbelief, its authority, and its allurements were all brought forward to destroy Jesus; but His strength was superior to all, and so He said, “I have overcome the world.” Satan, he who overcame the first Adam, and who since the victory then won has weakened, broken, defaced, and destroyed many and many beautiful plants,--Satan brought his great power to bear upon Jesus, the “Plant of renown”; but here he was foiled and defeated. So strong was Jesus that he overcame the devil And what for strength this “Plant of renown” was, it still remains. Not the roll of nineteen hundred years has at all impaired it; neither in root, nor leaf, nor flower has it suffered any decay. This Plant is a strength-giving Plant. Jesus has power to comfort the sorrowful, to help the helpless, to guide the perplexed, to release the prisoner, to make bold the diffident, and to cause the barren to be fruitful. Yes, “He is mighty to save, and He travels in the greatness of His strength.”

3. His healing properties. I can’t think there are many people who would refuse to have in their possession a plant which could cure all their maladies, or turn their maladies into blessings. Certain I am that if any gardener could exhibit such a plant for sale, he could have almost any price for it, and then be utterly unable to meet all demands. Now, Ezekiel’s “Plant of renown” is a plant of this character. And yet--oh, marvellous to relate!--men, women, and even young people, are seldom eager to possess it.

4. Jesus is the “Plant of renown” because of the fruit He bears. Perhaps if you were to search very minutely and very long, you might meet with a boy who does not care for plants because of their beauty, or with a girl who thinks little of them because of any healing virtue they may have; but I don’t think any searching would find boy or girl who would care nothing about any fruit you might mention as produced by plants. The possessors of this Plant have Christ formed in their hearts, and they bring forth fruit unto holiness,--“they grow in grace,” and are “pure in heart.” No plant, then, for beauty, strength, healing power, and fruit, can compare with Ezekiel’s “Plant of renown.”

II. Where Jesus is this “Plant of renown.” “Everything in its place,” is a capital maxim. There are places where we might as well search for sunshine at midnight as for this “Plant of renown.” I shall not ask you to look for this Plant in the writings of infidelity, for if it could be found there, it would only be that it might be insulted and, if possible, destroyed. I shall not ask you to search for it in the multitudinous volumes of light, fictitious literature with which we are almost deluged; such a soft has neither depth nor richness sufficient for this Plant.

1. Jesus is a “Plant of renown” in the Bible. I want to compare the Bible to a conservatory; and I think we shall find it the very best conservatory the world has ever seen. Let us go inside, for our fathers many years ago opened wide the door, and now we are quite welcome to enter. How beautifully it is fitted up, and what an assemblage of colour and fragrance, what unspeakably rare plants are here; and all preserved in excellent order. But now just listen; what can it be these plants are all saying? “We have no root of ourselves, no beauty underived, no fragrance our own, no fruit naturally, no life independent; for all these things we are dependent, and dependent only, upon Ezekiel’s ‘Plant of renown.’“

2. Jesus is a “Plant of renown” in all the intercourse held between man and God.” Who has not heard of “the missing link”? Jesus is the only missing link of union between God and us. God’s character is one of holiness, justice, truth, and love; man’s character is one of sin, injustice, falsehood, and hate. Oh, what can bring the two together? Heaven and earth combined, proclaim, “Jesus of Nazareth, the Plant of renown.”

3. Jesus is a “Plant of renown” in the hearts of God’s people. The moment Jesus enters the soul, all sickness and darkness, all parchedness and blight, entirely disappear, and, with the “Plant of renown” right in the centre, the heart becomes like the garden of the Lord.

4. Jesus is a “Plant of renown” in the history of the entire world. What a great deal that history will have to say about His coming into and His growth in our world; about the influence of Jesus in all cottages and palaces, in all courts and camps, and in all counsels, whether of Churches or of States. How that history will show, in characters of living light, His value as Redeemer, Saviour, Friend, and King. How it will ascribe to Him preeminence in all things--in virtue, truth, goodness, grace, sanctity, glory, and everything else that is lovely and of good report; ever presenting to Him the homage and love of a glorified and saved Church, out of all nations, and peoples, and tongues under heaven.

5. Jesus will be the “Plant of renown” in heaven. Gabriel, Michael, the whole company of the angelic world, cherubim and seraphim, are all like so many plants of rare excellence; but no plant in heaven like Jesus. Think, too, of the plants that have gone from our garden plots here, from our homes, and from our hearts. All gone: we see them not, we hear them not: the Master hath called them. But whilst they were here they were “plants of the Lord’s right hand planting,” “trees of righteousness.” Then what, after years of holy culture and constant growth, must such be in heaven? Who now shall estimate their beauty or worth? But high above and far beyond all others in heaven, will be the Lord Jesus, the “Plant of renown.”

The Plant of renown

I. The glory of the Saviour, as intimated by the metaphorical designation here given to Him--“a Plant of renown.”

1. The glory that surrounded Him, even amidst the greatest depth of His humiliation.

2. His triumphant resurrection from the grave, and His exaltation to honour and glory at His Father’s right hand.

3. The triumphs of His Gospel, from the earliest period of its proclamation to the present day.

4. The Divine predictions of His millennial glory on earth, and His perpetual reign in heaven.

II. The agency of God the Father in securing all this glory to the Saviour. Jehovah is the Speaker; and He says, “I will raise up a Plant of renown” (verse 23).

1. God the Father called the Saviour, and set Him apart to His work.

2. God the Father sent our Saviour into our world clothed in our nature.

3. God the Father qualified Him for His work, and assisted Him in it.

4. God the Father, as a proof of His love, and as the reward of His services, gave Him all that renown which He had acquired.

III. The blessedness of Christ’s people, in consequence of His elevation to glory, or renown for their sakes.

1. In consequence of the work and exaltation of Him who is here denominated “a Plant of renown,” His people shall be at once freed from want, and blessed with abundance.

2. In consequence of the work and exaltation of Christ, His people shall be at once freed from shame, and loaded with honour.

Application--

1. Give glory to God for raising up for you a Plant of renown.

2. Live constantly by the faith of Him who was once greatly humbled, but is now highly exalted for your sakes.

3. Days of darkness and distress will to believers be succeeded by days of joy and triumph.

4. Use the means of making the Redeemer more renowned.

5. All must be exposed to want and eternal ruin who have no connexion with Christ as the Plant of renown. (A. Thomson, D. D.)

The Plant of renown

I. Premise a few things concerning this blessed Plant.

1. What is here ascribed to Christ, is not to be understood absolutely of Him as God, but officially--as He is Mediator and Redeemer.

2. This Plant is but small and little in the eyes of a blind world.

3. However contemptible this Plant of renown is in the eyes of a blind world, yet He is the tallest plant in all God’s Lebanon.

4. This blessed Plant of renown was cut down in His death, and sprung up gloriously in His resurrection.

5. All the little plants in the garden are ingrafted in this Plant of renown.

II. He is a renowned Plant. He is renowned in heaven, and He is renowned on earth, and will be so (Psalms 72:17).

1. He is renowned for His antiquity.

2. He is renowned for His beauty. The glory of a God is in Him Is there any glory in His eternal Father? Why, that glory shines in our Immanuel in the very brightness of it (Hebrews 1:3).

3. He is renowned for His verdure, for His perpetual greenness. Other plants are fading.

4. He is renowned for His virtue. We read in Revelation 22:1-21, “That the leaves of the tree of life were for the healing of the nations,”--that tree of life is the very same with this Plant of renown; the leaves of this Plant are for the healing of the nations; and we that are ministers are come this day to scatter the leaves of this tree of life, of this Plant of renown; try if you can get a leaf of it applied and set home upon your souls; depend upon it, there is virtue in every word of His.

5. He is renowned for His fertility: He is not a barren Plant; He would not be renowned if He were barren; He brings forth all manner of fruit every month; yea, I may add, every day, every moment. There is the fruit of His incarnation; there is the fruit of His death; there is the fruit of His resurrection; there is the fruit of His ascension; there is the fruit of His intercession, and sitting at the right hand of God; there is the fruit of His prophetic office; there is the fruit of His priestly office; there is the fruit of His kingly office; there is the fruit of His appearing within the vail; there is the fruit of what He did without the vail, and without the camp. Oh, what fruit is here!

6. He is renowned for His scent, and pleasant savour (Song of Solomon 1:2). The believer finds a scent about Him, he draws a savour from Him. What is the design of us ministers but to cast abroad His scent; and it is by this we win souls.

7. He is renowned for His shadow (Song of Solomon 2:3). Oh, sit down under His shadow, and you will find shelter there against all deadly; whatever blasts come, you will find safety there; would you be shadowed from the king of terrors, death is a terror to many. Oh, if you would be shadowed against the awful terrors of death and God’s vengeance, get in under this shadow, and you are safe.

8. This Plant is renowned for His stature; He is a high Plant, He is a tall Plant. You see the heavens above you, but they are but creeping things in comparison of Him; but this glorious Plant, “He is the high and lofty one that inhabits eternity,” you can never see His height.

9. This Plant is renowned for His extent, not only for His stature, but He is a broad Plant. He was planted in the first promise in Paradise, He spread through the Old Testament Church, He came the length of filling the land of Judaea, but at length this Plant has spread among us, and oh, that I could spread Him among you!

III. The raising or upbringing of this Plant.

1. He was raised up in the counsel of God’s peace from eternity.

2. He was raised up in the first promise to Adam and Eve.

3. His actual manifestation in the flesh, when, in the fulness of time, He appeared.

4. This Plant was raised up, even in His death.

5. This Plant was raised up in His resurrection from the dead. For in His resurrection from the dead He was “declared to be the Son of God with power, by the Spirit of holiness.”

6. This Plant of renown was raised up higher in His ascension into heaven, when He was set “down on the right hand of the Majesty on high,” after He had, by Himself, purged our sins.

7. He is raised up likewise in the revelation of the everlasting Gospel.

8. This Plant of renown is raised up in the day of the Church’s reformation.

9. This Plant of renown will be raised up at His second coming.

10. This Plant of renown will be raised up in the songs of the redeemed through endless eternity.

IV. For whom is it that this Plant is raised up? He is raised up for mankind sinners, not for angel-kind sinners, and every mankind sinner that hears tell of Him should lay claim to Him (Isaiah 9:6). As the firmament is for you, if you will open your eyes, so the Sun of Righteousness is for you, if you will open your hearts to Him: for the Lord’s sake do not refuse Him, or else it will not be telling you; you will rue it to eternity.

V. Why is He raised up?

1. He is raised up as a Redeemer to set the captives of the mighty at liberty.

2. He is raised up as a Mediator of the new covenant, to make peace between an offended God, and offending rebellious man, He “makes reconciliation for iniquity” (Daniel 9:24).

3. He is raised up as a Surety, to pay the debt of a company of broken divers, and to bind Himself under a bond to satisfy justice for their crimes, and that He should reduce them to obedience to their offended Lord. Hence He is called (Hebrews 7:25).

4. He is raised up as a renowned Healer, a non-such Physician. He has opened up a medicinal well (Zechariah 13:1) that washes from sin and uncleanness, and, whatever be your malady, we invite you to come to this well, and wash and be clean.

5. He is raised up as a Witness to tell the truth, or as a Prophet to reveal it.

6. He is raised up as Leader unto the people, to show us the path of life, and to lead us into it, and, by His leading, He causes the wayfaring man to walk without erring,--“I will bring the blind by a way they know not,” etc.

7. He is raised up as a Commander unto the people, as the Captain of salvation, to fight our battles for us, and to head the armies of God’s Israel in their way to glory. And, by His skill and conduct, He makes them all conquerors, yea, more than conquerors, etc.

VI. Application. Is it so that Christ is a Plant of renown, raised up by Jehovah? Then--

1. See hence the iniquity and wickedness of these men who study to derogate from the glory of this renowned Plant.

2. See hence how to know a true and faithful minister of Christ. He will have a smell of the Plant of renown about him, whether he be in the pulpit or out of it.

3. See hence whence it is that believers flock to Gospel ordinances, where they can get them dispensed by those that bear Christ’s commission to dispense them. It is the smell of the Plant of renown that draws them thither.

4. See hence why God the Father is called a Husbandman. He is so called with reference unto His raising up this Plant of renown (John 15:1).

5. See hence the regard that God hath for His Church upon earth, as His own garden. Why, He plants this Tree of Life in her, by which she became a new paradise:

6. See hence the excellency of Christ, in His Person, nature, offices, and appearances.

7. See what makes a land or a church pleasant, a Hephzibah or a Beulah unto the Lord. If the Plant of renown and His interest be thriving in a land or Church, it makes her “beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth,” etc.

8. See when it is that a Church loses her beauty and glory, and makes defection. It is when Christ loses His Savour among her ministers and professors.

9. See hence how a person may know whether matters be right or wrong, whether he be thriving and prospering in grace, or if he be decaying and going backward. Is the Plant of renown rising or going back with you? If He be rising, then--

10. If Christ be the Plant of renown, raised up by His eternal Father, may it not be for matter of lamentation that the Plant of renown is in so little request among us at this day, and that there is such a plucking away of the glory of this blessed Plant?

11. Is it so that Christ is a Plant of renown raised up by Jehovah? Then let all that bear the name of Chris, especially you who have been entertained at His table, and tasted of His special love and goodness, study to answer God’s design, in raising up for us this Plant of renown.

The Plant of renown

Christ is frequently spoken of as a tree, a branch, a root, a stem, a rod, a lily, a rose. But the word plant has a signification somewhat different. What we plant we cultivate, sow the seed maybe, watch the growth, and tend in its maturity. And the plant here spoken of would refer to the human work and human nature of our Lord, arranged and developed by Divine wisdom.

I. The seed was sown in the eternal counsels of God. We know that the purpose existed before the world was formed. There was the sowing of the plant.

II. The growing. The plant started above the soil when man fell. Its green leaves showed themselves when the promise was given as to the seed of the woman which was to bruise the serpent’s head.

III. The developing. In teaching, symbol, ritual, prophecy, the light gradually dawned.

IV. The blossoming. When Christ came visibly into the world, He “blossomed like a rose.” His words were as fragrance. His acts of mercy and love beautified the earth, and filled all nations with their beauty.

V. The fruit bearing. The plant flowered, and apparently withered when Christ was put to death. But out of that very fact we see the result of ripened seed--“The flower abideth alone, except it die,” and Christ’s death caused the seed to be scattered abroad, which should cause the whole world to bloom. The seed of life, joy, hope.

VI. The honour giving eternal glory. “A Plant of renown.” It is not a mere passing, fading, temporary, useless growth. It is renowned for its beauty--the essence of the Father’s glory; for its usefulness--the covert and shelter of all people; for its continuance--it shall never fade; for its fruitfulness--it shall nourish all mankind. Happy is the man who finds shelter and rest in Him. (Homilist.)

The Messianic conception in the prophets

The attempt is sometimes made to trace a gradual development and enrichment of the Messianic idea in the hands of successive prophets. From that point of view Ezekiel’s contribution to the doctrine of the Messiah must be felt to be disappointing. No one can imagine that his portrait of the coming King possesses anything like the suggestiveness and religious meaning conveyed by the ideal which stands out so clearly from the pages of Isaiah. And, indeed, no subsequent prophet excels or even equals Isaiah in the clearness and profundity of his directly Messianic conceptions. This fact shows us that the endeavour to find in the Old Testament a regular progress along one particular line proceeds on too narrow a view of the scope of prophecy. The truth is that the figure of the King is only one of the many types of the Christian dispensation which the religious institutions of Israel supplied to the prophets. It is the most perfect of all types, partly because it is personal, and partly because the idea of kingship is the most comprehensive of the offices which Christ executes as our Redeemer. But, after all, it expresses only one aspect of the glorious future of the kingdom of God towards which prophecy steadily points. We must remember also that the order in which these types emerge is determined not altogether by their intrinsic importance, but partly by their adaptation to the needs of the age in which the prophet lived. The main function of prophecy was to furnish present and practical direction to the people of God; and the form under which the ideal was presented to any particular generation was always that best fitted to help it onwards, one stage nearer to the great consummation. Thus while Isaiah idealises the figure of the king, Jeremiah grasps the conception of a new religion under the form of a covenant, the second Isaiah unfolds the idea of the prophetic servant of Jehovah, Zechariah and the writer of the 110th Psalm idealise the priesthood. All these are Messianic prophecies, if we take the word in its widest acceptation; but they are not all cast in one mould, and the attempt to arrange them in a single series is obviously misleading. So with regard to Ezekiel we may say that his chief Messianic ideal (still using the expression in a general sense) is the sanctuary, the symbol of Jehovah’s presence in the midst of His people. At the end of chap. 37, the kingdom and the sanctuary are mentioned together as pledges of the glory of the latter days. But while the idea of the Messianic monarchy was a legacy inherited from his prophetic precursors, the Temple was an institution whose typical significance Ezekiel was the first to unfold. It was, moreover, the one that met the religious requirements of the age in which Ezekiel lived. Ultimately the hope of the personal Messiah loses the importance which it still has in the present section of the book; and the prophet’s vision of the future concentrates itself on the sanctuary as the centre of the restored theocracy, and the source from which the regenerating influences of the Divine grace flow forth to Israel and the world. (John Skinnier, M. A.)

No more consumed with hunger in the land.

Education true and false

What a tempting thing it is to try to put right some of the evils of the world by short and easy methods! To check some of the waste of natural wealth which keeps falling away. To take drastic measures for supplying the wants of the starving, and to cut, off occasion from those who misuse the privilege of plenty! To drain off vice into channels of virtue; to make the weary to lie down, the sufferer to rejoice, the ignorant to know, the oppressed to go free! We are tempted to think that it is, after all, only the involved complications of a novel, which a word of explanation and a mere handful of advice can rectify at once. And so, from time to time, people have descended, and do descend, into the arena of the world, whether sent by God directly, or by the prompting of their own heart. Reformers, statesmen, theorists, philanthropists, each with their schemes of regeneration, amelioration, or progress. But, alas! a great number in the end find that they must retire, baffled by the almost superhuman wrong-headedness of mankind; and perhaps feel that an interference, well meant, has only complicated a problem which was sufficiently difficult before. Now, one of the most imposing panaceas for regenerating society (and rightly so) is education. Education means, I suppose, a drawing forth of the human powers by instruction, by training, by discipline, by rewards, by punishments, by fostering care; education, says the popular voice of utilitarian England, means furnishing a child with useful knowledge. “See the waste of material going on in the world, teach him how to use the advantages which come in his path; see the evils of intemperance and vice, show him the beauty of morality; see the political errors of former years, educate our masters in the thin principles of political history; see the squalor and penury and extravagance which is all around us, teach them thrift.” “And what about religion?” Here we are told that there are so many hundred religious sects, and so much disputing, that it is a question which can be approached only with difficulty. It is one of the darkest blots in the religious world in England at the present day, that whereas the Church, the true mother yearning for all her children, is yet willing to give up the child to the mother that claims it, rather than that the child should be taught undenominationalism or no religion at all; there are found those who are not ashamed to betray their lack of true motherly feeling for the little ones of Christ’s flock, by crying out in all the bitterness of sectarian partisanship, “Let the child be neither mine nor thine, divide it.” Let it be taught no religion at all, let it be brought up on that desiccated, sterile, lifeless inanity known as undenominational religion--a supposed “residuum” of Christianity left from the contentious controversies of the sects, “to which no one has any particular objection,” except the few who are allowed a separate treatment of unusual favour, and the Roman Catholics who are far too wise to be taken in by the offer of a stone which has not even the appearance of bread. The blasts of sectarian controversy ought to be kept away from the education question altogether. In the first place, is it right, is it fair, either to secular or to religious education, practically to divorce them, and to allow the child to see and draw his own conclusions from the fact that the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge are planted by different hands? The State ought not to be willing to part with religious teaching, and the Church ought not to be willing to part with secular teaching. They form one sacred responsibility. Again, is it fair that Sunday, the day of religious worship and real recreation, should be made a day of slavery to the child already overpowered by a burden of ever-increasing educational requirements? The question which we are being called upon to decide is really the question as between religious and irreligious education in the long run; between education and that which can only lay claim by sufferance to that name. It has its promise. It, too, says, “I will raise up unto you a plant of renown.” A great future is in store for an instructed nation. “Ye shall no more be consumed with hunger”; material progress, intellectual progress, lie at the feet of an enlightened people; “ye shall not bear the shame of the heathen any more”; ye shall be emancipated from the swaddling bands of an effete superstition. Yes, but the response is inadequate; the uneducated passions rise up in rebellion against the educated reason. There are certain powers within which do not bow to reason. Vice in its rebellious fury, dishonesty, greed, idleness, these are not to be tied down with the two ropes of a mere intellectual education. God puts before the children in our schools a plant of renown--something higher than the example of a successful tradesman, or a provident saver, or a moral improver, or an example of self-help. God puts before each of our children--high and low, rich and poor--a plant of renown, a high and holy example of One who grew up before Him as a tender plant; who knew the sorrows and needs and joys of childhood, the trials and griefs of opening boyhood, the hardships and the triumphs of manhood, and the mystery of death Can you suppose for an instant the perfect man, Jesus Christ, dividing off His life into the sharp division of the religious and useful? His work was religious, and religion ran up into His work. It is an immense thing for children to have an enthusiasm, to read the lives of heroes, of inventors, of philanthropists, of self-elevated men. But of how far greater importance is it to have a life always put before them, in all its supernatural bearing, a life to which they may cling in prayer and praise, a life which shines through the pages of the Bible, as the sun through some painted window, mere lead and glass without it. There is a time when mere useful knowledge ceases to satisfy; there is a hunger for a comforter, for peace, for truth, for a Saviour, for a very present help in trouble. There is a hunger for God. Ah, how sad to think of our great philosopher, with his keen, magnificent intellect--no Atheist, as he himself has told us, because he had never been taught to believe in God, and therefore could not reject Him. With natural affections apparently stamped out of him, with a life written by his own hand, which has in it no mention of a mother’s love; yet, strange to say, humanly speaking, sacrifices his life and health at the grave of one whom he loved with an affection which had satisfied his longing, only to leave the pang of a separation behind it, and leave him beating against the bars of death unillumined by a glimpse of eternity. Are we to send our children into the world where there is the famine of uncertainty and doubt and the shadow of death, with the hunger for peace and comfort and pardon unsatisfied; without showing them where alone the food can be found which will still the craving? If we part with our children, we are parting with the young blood of the Church. The Spartans were asked in a day of humiliation to hand over fifty children to be hostages to the enemy, and the answer was, We would rather give you a hundred of our best men. They may succeed where we have failed, they may conquer where we have been beaten, and live to retrieve our honour. So I would say, we would pinch and starve, if necessary, other things which seem almost necessary to the well-being of our parishes--our very beauty of worship itself,--but we will keep our children in our hands. When they are ours we know what to do with them. When we part with them, we part with them to that which is at the best a doubtful future, and then we are parting with the young blood of the Church. The teaching of the Church is something definite. Undenominational teaching, we fear, cannot grapple with the reproach, the famine, and the sin which leaps upon a fallen world. (Canon Newbolt.)


Verse 30

Ezekiel 34:30

They, even the house of Israel, are My people.

Israel’s privileges

I. The distinctive appellation here given to the persons addressed--“the house of Israel.”

1. They were a people closely connected with each other. They belonged to the same house, or family. As the descendants from the same progenitor, they were, in a peculiar sense, brethren. The same is the case, though in a different sense, with those to whom the promises in the text are now made, in regard to their spiritual import. These persons, as genuine believers, are of the same house, or what the Apostle calls--“the household of faith.” They are brethren; and God Himself is their Father.

2. As “the house of Israel,” the persons to whom the promises in the text were originally addressed were a people highly privileged. But the people of God, under the present dispensation, are more highly favoured still. They too have been chosen by Him to be His peculiar people. They have a fuller and a far more glorious revelation of His will, and, both as it respects their present position and their future prospects, they have indeed “a goodly heritage”

3. As “the house of Israel,” they were bound to the discharge of peculiar and very important duties. More still has been given to us; and therefore are our obligations to duty, if possible, more imperative. The Israelites were bound to love, to worship, and, in every other view, to serve the Lord; and so unquestionably are we.

4. Notwithstanding all this, “the house of Israel” had, previously to the time here referred to, departed grievously from the Lord, and wrought great abominations. Alas! the parallel here in regard to ourselves holds in a way that may and ought to fill us with shame and confusion of face. But where sin abounded, grace is often made much more to abound.

II. The import of these promises as made to the persons so characterised.

1. There is here a promise of the continued presence of the Lord to be with them as their God.

2. It is here promised that the Lord will recognise the people addressed as being in reality His own people. The people of God are His peculiar property in consequence of the price paid for their purchase (1 Peter 1:18-19). They are further God’s people, in consequence of being closely, vitally, and immutably united to the person of His Son (John 17:21). They are His people, besides, in consequence of having been subdued and won to Him by the powerful and gracious operations of His Holy Spirit (Psalms 110:3). But, on the other hand, they are characterised and treated as the people of God in consequence of their own voluntary choice and covenant engagement to be “for Him, and not for another.” They are accordingly blessed with all needful blessings as the people of God (Ephesians 1:3).

3. It is here promised, that they shall have a pleasing conviction of their peculiar blessedness in enjoying the presence of the Lord, and being recognised by Him as His people.

4. The accomplishment of this promise, implying, as it does, such honour and blessedness, is as certain as the truth of God can make it.

Application--

1. Inquire to what description of people we belong.

2. Well may the saints of God “be joyful in glory.”

3. All must be wretched and miserable who are not the people of God (Isaiah 57:20-21).

4. Those who are not now the people of God may yet have that honour (Hosea 1:10). (A. Thompson, D. D.)


Verse 31

Ezekiel 34:31

And ye My flock, the flock of My pasture, are men, and I am your God.

Man’s destiny

Every breath of the autumnal wind brings down hundreds of faded leaves: they lie thick under the fast baring trees in thousands. Perfect in form, wonderful in construction, beautiful in hue, they are crushed down in myriads under every passing foot of man or beast. And what is the fall of one leaf among so many? Yet we are told by those who have studied the vast distances and proportions of this marvellous universe,--the fall of our world from the sphere of creation would be but as the fall of a leaf in the midst of a great forest. And our text does not even concern itself with the earth in its entirety, but speaks only of the members of the race that inhabits it, creatures of a moment, dying fast as the leaves of the autumn wood, and swept like them to decay.

1. “The Lord God.” This holy name meant much to the devout Israelite in Ezekiel’s time. The Jew had been taught to ascribe all around him--from the tiny herb on the wall to the cedars of Lebanon, from the raindrop against his easement to the blue waters of the Mediterranean that washed the shores of his beloved land, from the minute insect on the leaf to the lion roaring for his prey, from the lowest among the people to the majestic figure of a Moses or an Elijah--to the power and will of the Lord God. “For Thy pleasure they are and were created” was a fundamental article of his faith. And he associated with the holy name the conception of the Lawgiver. Yet what was his knowledge of the power and majesty of the Lord God compared with that we now possess? The power, the wisdom, and the greatness of the Lord God as creator have been magnified a thousandfold by the scientific research of later days. And certainly the discoveries of science have tended to magnify the idea of Law. We meet it everywhere, inflexible, unbending, supreme. If, then, it is dominant in the physical universe, and certain to justify itself upon the disobedient, must not we, who acknowledge the God of the Israelites, feel what an argument we thus have for the fact that the moral law is equally stern and unyielding in its demands on our obedience? Thus are we prepared to understand our need of the Gospel, and to comprehend in some degree the absolute necessity, of the perfect obedience and of the great Atonement which is set forth in the life and death of Jesus Christ. The first duty required of man--the initial duty, if he is to receive blessing and acceptance, is that he should bow down in humility and adoration before the Lord his God.

2. He, then, the High and Holy One that inhabiteth eternity, is the speaker. And looking down upon this little globe, a mere speck in His vast universe, He says of its inhabitants, “Ye My flock, the flock of My pasture, are men, and I am your God.” And what has science to tell us of man? It has been busy with his origin, with his capabilities and his destiny, and every step in its progress has tended to do away with any special dignity as connected with our humanity. We are asked to believe that by a gradual process man has been developed from the lowest scale of organism to his present state of physical and intellectual power; we are told that all the researches of science go to prove that the difference between his mental capabilities and those of the higher animals is one of degree, not of kind; we are confidently assured that as they die so he dies. Science can find no trace of the spirit of man that goeth upward, and it can only pronounce upon what it sees, and the lofty conceptions of man’s immortality it dismisses to the region of dreams.

3. And has our experience a more flattering tale to tell of human capabilities and destinies? A few years of bright hope and vigour, a narrow span of time which is utterly insufficient to fulfil one half of man’s aspirations and purposes, a training which is suddenly arrested, an education broken short, a sharp discipline of sorrow and pain--and then the darkness and decay of death. Man’s very work outlives him. The labours of his brain and hands have a vitality beyond his own. If we look at man morally, have we greater reason for speaking of his dignity? There is much that we may call noble, but how much that is unutterably mean and degrading! There is a gradual advance in civilisation and outward refinement, but the thin veneered surface covers a depth of moral defilement and evil.

4. Yet it is of man, of whom science and experience have but a mournful tale to tell, that the Lord God says, “Ye, the flock of My pasture, are men, and I am your God.” And this is surely the point to which we are brought. Talk as we may of the dignity and destiny of humanity, we search in vain for any real proof of it till we come to the Revelation of God’s Word. The Bible, which throws the clearest light on man’s weakness and sin, exalts him to a height above all we could hope or desire. It marks out man from the rest of creation by the fact that he is capable by grace of hearing God’s voice, of following after and of loving Him. The Lord takes one of the tenderest relations of pastoral life when He says, “Ye are My flock”; and in the fulness of time we have the clear explanation of these words in those of Christ Jesus our Lord, “I am the Good Shepherd: My sheep hear My voice and follow Me.” He who believes that this world has been trodden by the human steps of the Son of God, that His prayers have ascended from it, that He shed His blood to redeem it, that He shared our humanity even unto death, and lives again at God’s right hand, can receive with joy unspeakable the marvellous promises of the destiny of those who are Christ’s. The love of God becomes a reality, life earnest, restoration to holiness possible. (D. Reith, M. A.)

God’s care for men

I. The Divine method in creation shows this. In so far as we know creation generally, and the earth in particular, this is the case. Scientific research has landed us near impassable gulfs between period and period, genus and genus, species and species; and a still wider gulf between matter and mind, which the Creator’s hand alone can span. By the impetus of His will God has sent forth matter and life, travelling through immeasurable distances, and they exhausted their strength. Then another breath of inspiration from Him sent them still further; and from stage to stage they have come to our own day, which appears to be the consummation of all the former processes; we will not say that it is the last, because a new heaven and a new earth are in prospect. And why do we mention these things? Because that the highest steps yet taken by both matter and life known to us are seen in the constitution of man. Call it evolution, but it means development; call it discovery, but it is as old as Genesis. It is a grand truth that an unseen hand has guided the steps of matter and life through countless ages to find a resting place today in the being of man.

II. The care of God for men is exhibited in the circumstances of life. We sometimes speak of the subordination of all things to the wants and wishes of mankind. When we do this we look through the spectacles of authority. When, however, we regard all these provisions and arrangements as the outcome of that supreme desire in the Divine heart to care for the flock, we have a higher and a clearer vision of the being of man. Man never appears so great and noble as when seen in the light of eternal love. Provision and preservation are the two handmaids which attend to his wants. A glance at man’s creation satisfies us that he received a fitness to ascend, by degrees of discipline, into union with God. This fitness needed resources in order to expansion,--Yea, we say pasture for the flock. All things yield their fruit, and even themselves, for the service of mankind. “The earth hath He given to the children of men.” No less clear is the hand of God seen in the preservation of His people. He is a wall of fire around them; their sun and shield. The guardianship is so complete that not a moment of time, or an inch of space, is devoid of its presence.

III. The care of God for men appears more distinctly in the appointment of the Good Shepherd. The tender care of Jesus Christ was exclusively shown to mankind.

1. That care arose from His heartfelt love to men. It was not mere pity excited by their wants, or commiseration engendered by their helplessness and misery, but affection for their very being. When the Saviour saw the sheep of the lost house of Israel without a Shepherd scattered over the mountains, torn of wild beasts, and no one caring for their life, His compassionate nature was necessarily moved. But there was below that a love which sprang from the old relationship--they were the children of the heavenly Father.

2. The extent of the care of Jesus for men appears in a life of effort, and a death of sacrifice on their behalf. He sought men. He went after them as the shepherd goes after his lost sheep. There were others who searched, some for riches, others for knowledge, others for power, and others for fame, but He sought out men--not the tatters of sin which covered their life, but themselves. He Unsealed the fountains of their being, and made streams of devotion flow God-ward.

IV. Let us be imitators of him. Let those to whom God has given light flash it on their fellow creatures who live in gross darkness. Be ye leaders of men, to go before the sheep and show them the better pasture. Defend the helpless against oppression. Show charity to them for whom Christ died. To receive Christ into our heart is a glorious state, but to give that Christ to the world is a grade higher. (T. Davies, M. A.)

A call to the Lord’s own flock

I. I shall notice first, what the text rather suggests than declares, namely, our profession towards God.

1. That we avow Jehovah to be our God. The God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob is the God of believers to this day. We do not wish to have any other God, although in these days the carnally wise have set up another. This effeminate deity now occupies the place once given to Apollo or Venus, and he is as much a false god as they were.

2. That we are His people. Our song is, “My Beloved is mine, and I am His.” To glorify God in our spirits and in our bodies, which are alike redeemed, is our reasonable service. In Jehovah is our trust, our joy, our glory.

3. Our joyful confidence in our Immanuel--God with us. Leave out the word am, which is in italics, and you get it, “God with them.” What is this but “God with us”? Has there not been a Divine nearness between our souls and Christ since that first day when we touched His garment’s hem and were made whole?

II. Our proof from God. If God work among us, then shall even our adversaries say, “Jehovah-Shammah,” the Lord is there. A tree is known by its fruit, and the rule applies even to God Himself.

1. The first mark is the gathering in of the scattered (verse 11). Conversion is the sure sign of the immediate presence of the Lord. Glory be to His name, His hand is stretched out still for miracles of grace.

2. A second token of the Lord’s presence is the feeding of the flock. The Holy Spirit seems to lay great stress upon that (verse 15). Have not your Sabbaths been times of holy festival? Has not the King Himself banqueted with us? At the communion table have we not been transported with such joys as can never be excelled until we behold the Chief Shepherd face to face?

3. Another token of the presence of the Good Shepherd is the healing of the sick; I mean the spiritually sick, for there is this promise given, “I will seek that which was lost,” etc. It is a rare joy to restore such as have been overtaken in a fault. The God of our salvation hath devised means to bring home His banished, and therefore He is still in the midst of us. Glory be to His condescending love!

4. A further Drool of the presence of God in a church is when the Lord Jesus Christ is greatly honoured; for here it is written, “I will set up one shepherd over them,” etc. If your faith rested anywhere but in the glorious person and finished work of the Son of God it were a worthless faith. If He be indeed the Lord of whom we are the loyal subjects, then the Lord our God is with us, and we are His people.

5. A further evidence of the Lord’s presence with a people is found in their prevailing peace of mind. “I will make with them a covenant of peace,” etc. Do not many of you realise that deep peace, the peace of God which passeth all understanding, so that you are free from all fear, and happy amid grievous poverty and trial?

III. Our description by God.

1. God calls His Church His flock. A flock is the shepherd’s treasure, it is his living wealth; but it is also the shepherd’s care, it is his constant anxiety. A true Church is therefore a very precious thing, it is not a mere human society banded together for certain objects, but it is a community which God Himself hath formed, and over which He doth watch with an unsleeping eye.

2. Observe that it is added, “The flock of My pasture.” There is a different idea here. It shows that God’s people are not only peculiar in other things, but they are peculiar in their feeding. You may know a child of God by that which his soul lives upon. God’s people know their Lord, and they know the kind of food which He gives them. They know the truth from a lie. They will have nothing but clean provender, and the more evidently it comes from the great Shepherd’s own hand the better it is to them.

3. It is a very singular thing, but it is added, “Ye My flock, the flock of My pasture, are men.” “Ye are men”: then God knows what kind of persons we are, whom He has loved with an everlasting love. We are Adams, not angels. God’s people are but men; yet they are men and not brutes. There are in human form many who are hardly so good as brutes; but the saints are gentle, compassionate, and gracious. God’s people are true men: when the Spirit of God is in them they quit themselves like men; they come to the front and bear the brunt of the battle.

4. But then He adds this blessed assurance, “And I am your God.” God is not a man, that He should lie; nor the son of a man, that He should repent. I hear that poor soul seeking after God, say, “Oh, but I am so unworthy.” Just so. The Lord knows it. He says you are men. But then He is not unworthy; he is worthy to receive honour and power Divine, for He is our God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezekiel 34:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/ezekiel-34.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, September 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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