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The Outlook of the Optimist
To this doctrine which our text embodies might be given the name of prophetic optimism. There is an optimism that is temperamental. And then there is a very shallow optimism that is happy because it. is half blind. I need hardly tell you that prophetic optimism is never based upon deliberate ignorance. It is based on the fact that underneath all change are the arms of the everlasting God.
I. This same feature this strong and virile optimism is found in the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, but the changes He wrought in it, and the new application He gave it, are a striking example of how He fulfilled the prophets. To Ezekiel, the basis of optimism is God's sovereignty; but to Jesus, the basis of optimism is God's love. To Ezekiel, the brighter future is for Israel, but in the teaching of Christ it is for one wandering child. It is because God is our Father and we are His children, that He will do better unto us than at the beginning.
II. I am quite aware that in actual experience the message of our text seems often contradicted. If our text had said, I shall make thee happier than at thy beginnings, there might have been some ground for quarrelling with Scripture; but our text says, I shall do better for thee, and that is a very different thing.
Think of the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a signal instance of the fulfilment of this promise in the teeth of much that seems to contradict it. We recognize that the straight road to kingship was through the misery and woe of Calvary.
III. Notice too that here, in the sharpest manner, the leadership of evil differs from that of God. It is one strange mark of everything that is evil, that its tomorrow leaves us worse than yesterday. The truth is that sin would have no power save for the fact that its beginnings are very sweet. Had it been harsh or repulsive at the outset, the world would never have needed a Redeemer.
IV. I like to think, too, that our text holds good of all the social relationships of life when these are based on God. It is not only to us as individuals but to us in the tender comradeships of earth, that God says, I will do better unto you than at your beginnings.
Let us never forget that our whole life is really a beginning. To me life is inexplicable and meaningless unfair, unequal, unbalanced, and unjust unless we are to carry on elsewhere the task which here with such toil and tears we have begun.
G. H. Morrison, The Unlighted Lustre, p. 244.
References. XXXVI. 11. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxvi. No. 2125. XXXVI. 16, 17. T. Guthrie, The Gospel in Ezekiel, p. 1. XXXVI. 17. Ibid. pp. 24, 44. XXXVI. 18, 19. Ibid. pp. 63, 83. XXXVI. 23, 24. T. Guthrie, The Gospel in Ezekiel, pp. 141, 155, 171. XXXVI. 24. Ibid. p. 190. XXXVI. 25. Ibid. pp. 211, 231. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii. No. 1921. XXXVI. 25, 26, 27. T. De Witt Talmage, Sermons, p. 138. XXXVI. 25-31. S. Baring-Gould, Sermon-Sketches, p. 70. XXXVI. 25-38. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, Ezekiel, p. 19.
A New Heart
I. The Great Gift. The heart is the nature in the sacred terminology of this text. God promises a new inner nature to His people.
1. This is a needed gift. The heart is the root and fount of all things. With what finality and power our Lord described the fundamentality of the heart! 'out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, railings'. And the Bible is equally thorough in all its teachings. Always its deep solicitude is concerning the heart. Hence all manner and types of heart are described in Scripture: a 'wicked heart,' a 'pure heart,' a 'true heart,' a 'broken heart,' a 'clean heart,' a 'perfect heart'.
We see, too, the deep necessity of this gift when we realize our sinfulness. In this very verse, God delineates our heart as it now is. He describes it as a 'stony' heart. Bishop Lightfoot in pathetic apostrophe speaks of 'my sullied heart,' and he speaks for us all.
2. A new heart can only come as a Divine gift. 'I' will give you it, saith Jehovah.
And what a precious gift this is! In a new heart lies the secret of a wealthy inner life. All generous impulses, all sublime ideals, all lofty and strenuous purposes depend upon a new heart.
The secret of a noble outer life lies here also. All outflowing of goodness is from this fountain alone.
3. It is an assured gift. God speaks without reservation. He says He 'will' give it, and He will give it 'you '. It is assured to all who desire it.
II. The Great Giver's Mode of Bestowing this Gift.
1. God delights to give by promise. Faith is God's stern and imperative and constant demand. To faith and faith alone His riches come. And yet faith itself is His gift so entirely do we live under grace.
2. God gives this glorious gift instrumentally. He gives a new heart by means of prayer.
God gives this gift by the Holy Spirit. He says in the following verse, 'And I will put My spirit within you'. When we are 'born again' we are born of the Holy Spirit.
God gives this gift by means of His Word. But God also uses His Word as preached as an agency for the imparting of this gift. This is the supreme purpose of preaching.
Devout reading is often used of God for the giving of a new heart.
All the means of grace are sanctified of God to the same noble purpose.
By very varied means God fulfils His Word and gives His people a new heart. Do not limit the Holy One of Israel to what are accustomedly called the means of grace.
Dinsdale T. Young, The Travels of the Heart, p. 253.
References. XXXVI. 26. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv. No. 212; vol. viii. No. 456; vol. xix. No. 1129. Bishop J. Percival, Sermons at Rugby, p. 169. Canon Fleming, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xli. 1892, p. 219. T. Guthrie, The Gospel in Ezekiel, pp. 255, 276, 295. XXXVI. 26, 27. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii. No. 1046. R. E. Hutton, The Crown of Christ, vol. ii. p. 75. XXXVI. 27. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v. No. 251; vol. xxxvii. No. 2200; vol. liii. No. 3048. T. Guthrie, The Gospel in Ezekiel, pp. 822, 339. XXXVI. 28, 29, 30. Ibid. p. 381.
This I found my Soul's desire, even to cast itself at the foot of Grace, by Prayer and Supplication. But, oh! 'twas hard for me now to bare the Face, to pray to this Christ for mercy, against whom I had thus most vilely sinned. 'Twas hard work, I say, to offer to look Him in the face against whom I had so vilely sinned; and, indeed, I have found it as difficult to come to God by prayer, after backsliding from Him, as to do any other thing.
Bunyan, Grace Abounding, p. 175.
Fob we endure the tender pain of pardon.
References. XXXVI. 31. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvii. No. 2743. W. L. Watkinson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxix. 1906, p. 342. XXXVI. 32. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v. No. 233. XXXVI. 36. T. Guthrie, The Gospel in Ezekiel, p. 397.
In the second part of The Pilgrim's Progress, Reliever encourages the women to proceed: 'To go back again you need not; for in all places where you shall come, you will find no want at all, for in every of my Lord's Lodgings which He has prepared for the reception of His Pilgrims, there is sufficient to furnish them against all attempts whatsoever. But as I said, He will be enquired of by them to do it for them; and 'tis a poor thing that is not worth asking for.'
References. XXXVI. 37. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii. No. 138. T. Guthrie, The Gospel in Ezekiel, p. 419. XXXVI. 37, 38. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii. No. 1307. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 171. XXXVII. 1. C. Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxi. 1907, p. 280. XXXVII. 1-10. J. Laidlaw, Studies in the Parables, p. 205. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x. No. 582. XXXVII. 1-14. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ezekiel, p. 26. J. McNeill, Regent Square Pulpit, vol. iii. p. 97.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Ezekiel 36". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26