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"Then came " So some event had taken place before, and the incident now about to be related is to be read in connection with preceding circumstances. A wall had been built of which the Lord God disapproved. It was a wrong wall altogether wrong in the foundations, wrong in the structure, wrong because it was daubed with untempered mortar: the Lord therefore sent a strong wind to rend it, and he caused an overflowing shower to fall upon it in his anger, and great hailstones expressed the fury divine against this unholy and unstable erection. The Lord having accomplished his wrath upon the wall, and upon them that daubed it with untempered mortar, proceeded to address the false prophetesses, women that sewed pillows to all armholes, and made kerchiefs upon the head of every statue to hunt souls. They sought to live by lying to the people of Israel; so the Lord said he was against the women and against their pillows, wherewith they hunted souls to make them fly; and he said he would tear the pillows from their arms, and let the souls go through; their kerchiefs also would he tear, and he would deliver his people out of their hand, that they should be no more in the hand of the false prophetesses to be hunted: and by this deliverance would God make himself known once more to be the only living and true God. Such were the preceding events. These events were open, concrete, palpable; every one who passed by could see what was being done, every ear could hear the furious hailstones as they came down in judgment, and every one could see pillow and kerchief torn from the base women who had undertaken to hunt human souls. But that was not enough God does not content himself with outer judgment; then would his daily providence be enough to instruct the sons of men and turn them to considerateness and to piety. But the Lord cannot succeed thus. Judgment can do but little. Hell has played but a poor part in the conversion of men; it has always been burning there, and the smoke of its torment has ascended for ever and ever; yet in the midst of that hot smoke have men done their evil deeds and defied the God of judgment. Punishment is hardly ever reformative; it is simple penalty, pain for offence, loss for trespass, shame because of violence: now a higher judgment seat is erected, another process of criticism is about to be conducted. The Lord is now going to search the heart, to turn out the corners of the inmost recesses of the mind, the idol and favourite sin. He will proceed to do a spiritual work; he will lay aside his hammer with which he has broken the wall, and no more will he tear and rend the garments which cover falsehood: he will enter the heart, he will name the idols one by one which occupy that secret sanctuary; he will name them, he will bring them forth to judgment, and he will conduct that most penetrating of all criticism, the judgment of the thought and motive and purpose of man. It is well it should be so. We expected fury about an ill-built wall; men themselves cannot tolerate any edifice that is tottering; when a pillar leans men go to the other side of the way, for it may fall: we want in our God eyesight from which nothing can be hidden, judgment that looks the soul through and through, from the burning of whose vision no secret can be successfully and permanently withheld.
What we want we find here. Who are these men? "Then came certain of the elders of Israel unto me" came to be judged, came to sit down to be looked over, looked through, weighed, measured, and adjudged. No office can save men from divine criticism. The Lord takes nothing for granted. He does not say, This man clothed in official pomp must be good because his robes are good. No robe is good that covers a traitor's heart; the heart spoils the pomp. How unsparing the criticism! Even elders must be judged. How comforting is this thought, though terrible in some aspects! It were well that our judges should be judged, else who can tell to what extremes of folly they might go, hounded on by ambition, or stung to further issues by envy and malice? The judge is nobody in the sight of God; he is a man who is himself to be judged: he must hold himself with the loftiness of modesty it he would be truly dignified; he must remember that he has a Judge in heaven if he would read the law aright, and distribute sentences with righteousness. The pastor cannot escape, or the teacher, or the head of the house, or the senior member of the firm, or the magistrate, or the prime minister, or the king crowned and throned: judgment shall begin at the house of God, and no man there shall live upon his certificates. Life shall only be guaranteed to the pure in heart How impossible it is to escape! If it had been a matter of the wall we should have expected judgment; if the penalty had been confined to pillow and kerchief, used by Israelitish women after the fashion of pagan sorceresses, we should have had large liberty to serve the devil in: but now the Judge thunders at the heart-door, and says from without that he is coming in. Nor can we hinder him; he will burn down the portal if we will not open it; into the heart he must come; the heart is the man!
How improbable are some defections. Who would not say that the elders would be good men, simply because they are elders? If they had not been good they would not have been promoted to office; the very fact that they are in the pulpit, in the presidential chair, in the seat of honour, that they wear the purple of authority, is proof enough of their excellence. No: the Lord will not have it thus. The higher the office the greater the responsibility; the larger the privileges the greater the sin if they are outraged; the more brilliant the genius the more infamous the mischief if that genius be perverted. The able man, the man of faculty and education, can do more sin in one moment than a poor uneducated soul can do in a lifetime. Elevation aggravates sin. Expectations founded on reason will turn into burning fires when they are disappointed by the men whose office has excited them. How strong the Bible is in reason and justice! It is no respecter of persons. It will behead a king as soon as a peasant if the king be evil-minded, and there will be a ring in the hatchet that takes off his head that will indicate an accent of peculiar disapprobation. Kings ought to be better than their subjects: consider their advantages, their education, their elevation; they should live in an atmosphere of self-restraint and spiritual thoughtfulness. Who would not have faith in a book thus marked by broadest justice? This Book favours none. It is a standard which never lowers; its balances are made of fine gold, and never vary; the hand that holds them never tilts the scale one way or the other. We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. That being so, let us be quiet, strong in confidence, bright in hope; for the Judge of all the earth will do right. Let not the poor man envy the rich, as if God favoured him. Better not read life from the outside and make rough criticism and judgment upon it, for in reality we know nothing about its secret, and its expansion, and its issue: at best we can read but accidents and surfaces, and ill-spelling it is and bad reading, full of stumbling and hesitation and lack of music. Let God read the account and demand the balance.
The place of the disease indicates its fatal character "in their heart." This is heart-disease. Men almost whisper when they indicate that some friend is suffering from disease of the heart; there is hopelessness in the tone: great allowance should be made, they say, for a man who is suffering from heart-disease; he must not be startled or excited or suddenly pounced upon; his wishes must be gratified, they must as far as possible even be anticipated; and any little impatience he may show must be looked at charitably, because he is suffering from heart-disease. The talk is humane, the considerateness is full of affection, the conditions imposed are suggested by reason. Is there not a higher disease of the heart? Is it true that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked? Is it true that the heart delights in concealment? Is it true that the heart has offered a bribe to secrecy to hold its lips for ever? Is not every man, did he but know it, suffering from heart-disease? What is the meaning of this disease of the heart, this idolatry in the inmost soul? When a moral disease is of the heart it means that the disease is liked, enjoyed, gloated over; it is wine drunk behind the door, it is a feast of fat things eaten in secrecy; every mouthful so sweet, so good, so rich. When a disease is of the heart in a moral and spiritual sense it means that it is consented to; it is voluntary, it is personal, it is desired; there would be a sense of loss without it. Sometimes men are forced into uncongenial circumstances, and they express their reluctance and their annoyance by many a gesture and many a tone; but when the disease is of the heart it has secured the consent of the will, and the judgment has been bribed to nod a kind of tacit approval: the whole conscience has been put under narcotic or opiate, and is no longer the sharp, pungent, unsparing, wakeful critic that God meant it to be when he set it in the centre of human thought and human action. Disease of this kind, too, is most difficult of eradication. It is not in the skin, or it might be cut out; it is not in the limb, or it might be amputated, and the knife might anticipate mortification: the evil is in the heart; no knife can touch it, no persuasion can get at it; nothing can be done with it but one thing only a miracle of the Holy Ghost can overcome that difficulty and turn that disease into health. "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again." If a man does not know his own heart he cannot be religious; he cannot begin to understand what is meant by the demands of Christ; the Cross will be a foolishness and a mockery and nothing but a sham in his estimation. Let him once know his own heart, how much of the serpent there is in him and of the beast of prey, and how thinly skinned over he is, and that sometimes he is only the bent and crooked and twisted shape of a man, that in reality he has the heart or an evil beast within him; let him see what a murderer he is, and a liar and a thief, then you can make upon him some spiritual impression. The respectable man can never receive the gospel. How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of heaven! riches of any kind, not of money only, but of self-conceit, and self-respect, and self-idolatry, and self-confidence, how hardly shall they press into a gate so strait as that which is set in front of the kingdom of heaven.
Are we chargeable with heart-idolatry? We have no idols of a visible kind it may be, yet we may be the veriest pagans in our hearts. Is there aught of irony so piteous, in some aspects so comical, in every aspect so detestable, as the irony of Christian England when in annual piety it listens deprecatingly to the stories of idols worshipped by savage men in faraway climes? The ill-shaped idols are held up, and excite the laughter, the pity, or the scorn of Christian England. Christian England is full of idols; but Christian England has not courage in all cases to shake them and display them. We pity the man who would sell his little idol-god for a rupee, and all the time we are selling our convictions for a handful of barter. We say, How distressing that poor human nature should fall down before stock or stone and worship it! and we, inflated pagans, worship a golden calf, a tinsel crown, a sounding name, a crafty policy. The man who would sell his convictions is a more consummate idolater than all the poor thick-lipped savages that ever lifted up their expectant eyes to some little god of their own formation. This is heart-disease! The man who will keep silence in the presence of wrong is an idolater, is a pagan; he worships self-ease, self-indulgence. The man who will stand by and see the weak struck down without at least protesting against the tyranny, or who will accept a bribe for his silence, has sold, not an ivory god, but a living, bleeding Christ.
Are we chargeable with heart-idolatry? Certainly we are. No man can escape this accusation. It is subtle, far-reaching, all but ineradicable. If we do not face such difficulties our piety is a stucco that will peel off in the wet weather, and leave the ghastly moral ugliness exposed to public scorn. Doubt may be an idol used to diminish responsibility. We can become intellectual doubters on occasion; we begin to wonder if the Bible is really inspired: as who should say dear souls! that if we could only be convinced intellectually of the inspiration of the Bible we should be the whitest babes ever nursed by the mother-creation. What liars we are! We are only standing back because we wonder if the Hebrew text is not exceedingly corrupt, in some of the minor prophets. We do not care one iota about the prophets, minor or major; only we wish to hide ourselves behind a doubt that we may shirk a responsibility. We had better tell the truth to ourselves sometimes; mayhap we can only tell it in the dark, but we should not let the dark night pass without the soul issuing from itself some dark messages of impeachment and accusation. Others, again, may have in the heart an idol called Ignorance, kept there for the purpose of diminishing service: we will not go into the dark places of the city, then we need not attend to the cries which are said to be arising there from overborne and hopeless humanity; we will keep on the broad thoroughfare, where the gaslight is plentiful; we shall see the surface and outer shape of things, and then retire to rest, saying that, say what fanatics may, there is really a good deal of solid happiness in the city. The ghost is three steps down the side street; turn to the left, take the first turning to the right, climb up the stairs that will hardly bear you, and there you will see how much happiness there is in the city. "If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain; if thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it?" Canst thou escape his criticism? Can you eat your fat dinner and know that gaunt hunger is not half a league off, but is behind a wall? You owe your appetite to that wall, to that concealment. Keep your money, multiply it tenfold, put it out at exorbitant usury, pile it up; but think not you have postponed the day of criticism: the poor will do without us as they always have done until they come up a thousand strong as witnesses and accusers.
Have we not an idol in the heart we call Orthodoxy, which we keep there in order to enlarge moral licence? Is there not an intellectual orthodoxy and a spiritual heterodoxy often united in the same man? Are we not the victims of phrases? Who can bear to be called heterodox? Even a man who does not understand the word thinks there must be something wrong about it. How possible it is to be orthodox in words, and heterodox in spirit; how possible to preach the gospel without feeling it: alas, then, we do not preach the gospel, we preach about it. There is an infinite difference between preaching the gospel and preaching about the gospel. No man can preach the gospel whose heart is hard: his genius is in his sympathy; the splendour of his gift is in the richness of his kindness and pity for the souls of men. It is intolerable that some persons should set themselves up as the custodians of orthodoxy: blessed be God, there is a hell for them! The men who are hindering the truth, and crucifying the Son of God afresh, are the men who are boasting orthodoxy without being orthodox in heart, soul, spirit, motive. For them let torment be eternal! Poor sinners, wayfarers, wanderers, who never heard about orthodoxy and heterodoxy, but who want forgiveness and hope and a new life, they shall come in thousand upon thousand; the scribe and the Pharisee, and the man who lives on the sale of his orthodoxy, shall be thrust out into darkness utter.
Is there nothing but judgment in this passage? Does the paragraph include nothing besides penalty, threatening, denunciation? Even in this paragraph there is an evangelical word. "Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God; Repent." When did the Lord ever conclude a discourse without some evangelical tone in it? We have seen him step from his chariot of thunder that he might put his arms around some poor sinner and say, Come home ere the sun set, for we will wait for thee in night's darkest hour, and receive thee when they who would be ashamed of thee are lost in slumber. The Bible is terrific in denunciation, awful beyond all other books in its denunciation of sin and its threatening of perdition; yet through it, and through it again, and ruling it, is a spirit of clemency and pity and mercy and hope, yea, across hell's burning mouth there lies the shadow of the Cross.
The Limit of Influence
The solemnity of this assurance is increased by the fact that it forms quite an exception to the general tenor of the divine government Again and again we have come upon instances which have shown that God has saved the earth because of the righteous men who were in it: he would have spared the cities of the plain if Abraham could have found ten praying souls in the whole of their corrupt population; he blessed the house of Potiphar for Joseph's sake; he allowed the intercession of Moses to shield Israel from judgment well deserved; for Paul's sake he saved the ship in the storm; these are but instances of his regard for the prayers of the righteous and for the influence of godly character. In the text we come upon a sharp variation of the general method: no longer is Noah or Daniel or Job to count for more than one; the day of prevailing intercession is to close; character is to be individualised, and the diffusion of collateral benefit is to pass away for ever. Four times is this declaration made in the conclusion of this chapter, as if to prevent the possibility of mistake; the contrary law has been so long in operation that the people have come to trust it as. an everlasting resort in time of peril; and, therefore, that there may be no misunderstanding about his purpose, God smites the refuge four times with the hammer of his anger and says that he will overthrow it.
"Son of man, when the land sinneth against me by trespassing grievously, then will I stretch out mine hand upon it, and will break the staff of the bread thereof, and will send famine upon it, and will cut off man and beast from it: though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord God" ( Eze 14:13-14 ).
We speak about the continuity and unchangeableness of law, but again and again in Holy Scripture God declares that he will change this and that, and institute quite another standard of criticism, and quite another method of administration. We too often pass over all these words which point to change as mere matters of course, forgetting that they are part of a higher revelation, showing that God is not confined to method and form as to his conduct of the universe, and that even what we call his laws are subject to change. The law-maker must always be greater than any law which he has made. We should reason concerning moral laws from our own standpoint as well as from God's, because in the operation of moral laws there are of necessity two parties the Sovereign giving the law, and the subject consenting to it or rejecting it. In reality there is no change in God, nor can there ever be any change in him, but he holds himself in relation to us as one who is guided in his administration of affairs by our spirit and attitude towards himself. The parent sometimes takes the law from the child that is, in the sense of accommodating a law to the child's peculiarity of temperament or specialty of conduct It is distinctly laid down in the Bible that God has acted upon the principle of intercessory prayer, and has accepted such prayer as really determining his action in reference to certain well-known cases. That must be taken to be the law which God has been pleased to lay down and act upon. The historical instances of its application are too numerous to admit of any dispute as to the reality and stability of this law. Yet here we come into contact with what may be described as an almost violent change. Noah is no longer to pray for more than himself; when Daniel speaks it must be in his own name and in reference to his own circumstances; and when Job, the most experienced of all patriarchs, lifts up his voice toward heaven to make his plea, he must omit from it all collateral considerations, and simply state in his own name his own condition and his own necessity.
Terrible as it may seem on first reading, yet there is quite a deep well of comfort in all this wilderness of desolation. It will be observed that though the darkness brought down upon the earth by sin is very great, yet through all the gloom the figures of Noah, Daniel, and Job are seen in all their vividness and pathetic suggestiveness, showing that the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and that their memory is precious to him.
From the beginning, God said he would not destroy the righteous with the wicked. Nor is God governed by what we call the principle or law of majorities. He does not sink the righteous with the wicked when he drowns the world, or when he pours his tempests of fire and brimstone upon doomed cities. The comfort of the text is that the Lord's judgment is not blind and undiscriminating, like the wrath of man. The angels that bear his sword and do his will spare the houses whose posts are marked with blood, and leave untouched the men who have been true to the Lord's altar. Herein is great deliverance from fear, that the good man's house is founded on a rock, and that not one hair of his head shall perish. "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty." "He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust." "A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked." Here is the discrimination of divine providence. The arrow falls just beside the good man, but does not strike him. It may strike down even a companion who walked by his side, yet he himself shall be spared because of his fidelity to the altar. Any confusion here would invalidate the whole system of the universe, as it has been understood from a Christian standpoint.
When God ceases to discern between the righteous and the wicked his throne is overturned, and he himself has become but a mere figure in religious romance. Nor is it selfish comfort that is derived from this view of the text. It is not the mere self that is saved, it is the all-precious righteousness that is honoured. Where this righteousness is most fully developed there will be least regard of merely individual interests; our petty personality will be swallowed up in our holy trust of God, and our perfect assurance that he has no pleasure in the death of the sinner. The Christian man never reasons, I am safe, and therefore I care not what becomes of other people. If he could reason so, he would disprove his own Christianity. When he is most assured of the divine complacency and protection, he is at the same time most assured that the value which God sets upon righteousness is infinite and unchangeable. There is comfort, too, in the thought that the righteous are held in everlasting remembrance, as we have just said. Noah, Daniel, and Job had long ceased to mingle with men, yet their names are household words, and are pointed to as men would point to mountains majestic and lofty beyond all other hills. Whenever we come upon the name of Noah we find it associated with a description of character which shows that the complacency of Heaven was moral and not arbitrary: "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord... Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God." Daniel also is referred to as one whose conduct had attracted the special recognition and benediction of Heaven "Daniel, a man greatly beloved." Nor does Job figure on the page of Scripture as a mere name, but rather as a character singular in its loftiness and purity "Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?"
It is clear, however, that the text is meant to be a warning rather than a comfort, and it is in this spirit that we must approach its interpretation. It is a warning to individual men. They cannot tell how soon they will be called upon to cease their intercessory ministry. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." Let him earnestly continue in the exercise of this great gift of prayer, lest God should suddenly command him to pray no more for those who have most deeply engaged his religious solicitude. Specially, however, is this a warning to households:
"Though these three men were in it, as I live, saith the Lord God, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters; they only shall be delivered, but the land shall be desolate" ( Eze 14:16 ).
How terrible is this tragedy, that a man should no longer be the priest of his own family! Realise the scene as vividly as you can: for many years the father, as the head of the house, has been as a priest in the estimation of God; he has erected his family altar; there he has offered the sacrifice of prayer and praise; there he has named his children one by one, and pleaded for them with all the pathos of passionate love. Events, however, have occurred which seem only to have developed the obduracy of the hearts of the children. They are no longer in sympathy with the spirit of the altar, nor have they anything to say to the Invisible Listener. To iniquity they have added iniquity, as water to water, until the river of their wickedness has flowed broadly and deeply through the very midst of their life. Now the time has come when God says he will hear no more parental prayer on their behalf. The son shall be separated from the father, and the daughter from the mother, and shall realise in an awful individualism of position how true it is that every soul must give an account of itself to God. The Lord will not spare the children when they have gone astray, having broken every holy vow and shattered every commandment issued from heaven. "I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number; and your high ways shall be desolate." This is a threatening which may operate in either of two ways: either because the children have forfeited divine confidence, or because the parents have abandoned the right way, and can only be brought home again by processes of affliction and desolation.
This is a warning also to nations. The nation is saved because of the living Church that is within it. Sneering at such a doctrine has no effect upon its reality and beneficence. If this doctrine be not true, then the whole Bible proceeds upon false lines, and would seem to be almost constructed for the purpose 01 deceiving mankind. Prophets do pray for nations, and God recognises the intercession that is offered on behalf of whole peoples and. kindreds and tongues. Moses and Samuel prayed for the people as a whole, yet God would reject even their entreaty under given circumstances "Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind could not be toward this people: cast them out of my sight, and let them go forth." The prophet was forbidden to pray for the people in their entirety, the word of the Lord coming to him, saying, "Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me: for I will not hear thee." Moses was often excited because his prayers for the people did not seem to prevail, and because his arguments were practically rejected. We have seen how upon one notable occasion Moses pleaded with Heaven almost in a spirit of agony: "And Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand? Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever." Here we have an instance in which prayer prevailed, and therefore we have an instance which establishes the law that intercessory prayer was appointed of God: "And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people." That the Lord did answer the intercessory appeals of the prophets of ancient times is clear from another instance given in the Book of Numbers ( Num 14:17-20 ): "And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying, The Lord is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation. Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now. And the Lord said, I have pardoned according to thy word." Sometimes the Lord would seem to be almost impatient with his intercessory prophets. We call to mind the instance in which he said, "Let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation." Prophets must not cease to pray for the land in which they live. Amid political tumult and uproar, the voice of their prayer may seem to be but a feeble sound, yet they are called upon by the very genius of their faith to keep the way clear between heaven and earth for large and profitable intercourse. Into the mystery of intercession we cannot enter, but we find that it is at the very heart of things, a rule and a law, a judgment and a blessing, an opportunity large in its possibilities, but always hastening to a solemn conclusion.
The great principle of mediation is, of course, most vividly and gloriously represented by the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ; but even in his case the priesthood is to cease, the long and loving prayer for others is to come to a perpetual close: "Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.... And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all." "He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them." We live in a great intercessory period: the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered: we need not fear because our prayer halts and stumbles as to the mere eloquence of its expression; the eloquence of prayer is in its sincerity; to the man who is of a broken and a contrite heart will God look, and on him will he set signs of approval. A wondrous gift is it to have the gift of intercession, the power of putting into heavenly words the wants of other men, and the power of pleading with God on behalf of those who never plead for themselves. Verily, there is a gift in prayer as well as in preaching and in song. Some men, by the largeness of their hearts, the tenderness of their love, the sagacity of their judgment, their marvellous understanding of human nature and human events, are peculiarly qualified to represent at the throne of the heavenly grace the case of families and nations and of the world at large. Some suppliants can but pray for themselves; others can only pray concerning great events and great subjects; others, more Christ-like, seem to carry the world in their hearts and to plead for continents and empires in great intercessions.
Let us get a clear view of the system of spiritual government under which we live. There is something of law in our life beyond what we see in God's legislation in the ordinary sense of the term. The system under which we live is this, namely, that there is one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus. We are to conclude all our prayers, and indeed begin them and continue them, with the sentiment, "For Christ's sake." We cannot understand the mystery of this ground, and yet we feel how solid it is, and how impossible it would be for us to pray without it. It is in Christ that we find God. It is through Christ that we find access to the throne of the heavenly grace. We do not plead Christ as if we were pleading with an arbitrary Deity, who would not do anything for us ourselves, but would only do it through the mediation of his Son, or because of his partiality for one whom he calls his Only-Begotten. We might think of the clause, "For Christ's sake," until we ourselves were driven away into something like spiritual contempt. But let us reason from the other point, and then we shall see that even we ourselves fill the imagination and thought and love of God, and draw towards us all the resources of heaven in view of our salvation. Though our prayers are to be heard for Christ's sake, yet Christ himself was given for our sake! Herein is love, that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us! God sent his Son to seek and to save that which was lost.
It is a great thing, then, as Christ came forth from eternity for our sakes, that we should approach God, and ask to be heard for Christ's sake. The two points in the line agree one with the other, and constitute a noble harmony. There are aspects in which man may be so viewed as to bring down upon himself an intolerable sense of humiliation, he is a worm, and no man; he is weak, foolish, helpless; his breath is in his nostrils, and his days are but a handful; he breaks up little by little, until at last dissolved in death, all this is exceedingly depressing, and full of the horror of self-humiliation: on the other hand, how the light shines, how the whole horizon beams with celestial glory, when we know that man was made in the image and likeness of God, and that only the Maker of man could be his Redeemer! So then, though all our prayers are offered in the name of Christ and answers are expected for Christ's sake, yet Christ himself came forth from the Father for our sakes, took upon him the seed of Abraham, and he stands before God, the representative Humanity, the Second Adam, the Lord from heaven, a priesthood, however, which is destined, as we have seen, to close for ever. When Christ has left the mediatorial throne there can be no availing prayer; then the wicked will receive unmixed and untempered judgment; for the Mediator is gone. The time is coming when all advantages will be exhausted, and every man, even Noah, Daniel, and Job, will have to stand simply on his merits, and the wicked will be overturned by the righteous judgment of the Almighty. How terribly his anger burns! Some times it would seem to be ready to break through all boundary, and environment, and restriction, and utterly to consume the universe. On this appalling theme we may not dwell; enough to know that "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." But we may not end at this point. Blessed be God, we need not separate in the darkness of midnight, not knowing what is going to befall us, whether our next step will plunge us into an infinite abyss. We advance and stand in the morning light, and preach the blessed gospel that even now man may repent and live, may turn to God and sun himself in the brightness of the eternal love. The Cross of Christ is still available. What we have known as the Atonement wrought by the Son of God may now be realised by saving faith and childlike love. He who thus comes to God will need no Noah to pray for him, or Daniel, or Job: he will come boldly unto the throne of grace, and obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need, he will not stand afar off, but will draw quite near, and know what it is to have sweet and ample access to the very heart of God.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Ezekiel 14". Parker's The People's Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27