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Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezekiel 10". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ ezekiel-10.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezekiel 10". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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(3.) THE SETTING FIRE TO JERUSALEM, WITH THE WITHDRAWAL FROM THE TEMPLE (Chap. 10)
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Ezekiel 10:1-8. The sealing of the remnant has proved the faithfulness of the Lord to His covenant; the conflagration of the city will prove His justice by the punishment of the violators of His covenant. But before the sentence is executed the prophet is again made specially cognisant of the truth that the heavens do rule—that not only was he commissioned by the God of Israel, but also that he must be imbued with the profound conviction that every calamity which befalls the guilty city proceeds from the agencies which underlie the sapphire throne of the everlasting King. “Four potencies are engaged in the destruction of the city—He who sits on the throne, the man clothed in linen, the fire, and the cherub who hands it to the angel. The former two are absolutely ruling, the latter two absolutely ministering” (Heng.) The divine glory is manifested in changing aspects, and, while similar to the presentation in the plain of Chebar, yet shows a few differences in form and procedure. “And, to make it more manifest that the judgment is in vindication of His injured holiness and on account of the sins which had been committed against His covenant, the scene of the judicial action is laid in the Temple itself” (Fair.) Reading Ezekiel 10:1-3; Ezekiel 10:6-7; Ezekiel 10:13; Ezekiel 10:15 a, Ezekiel 10:18-19, we get the account of what took place; the remaining verses give elucidations of the scene.
Ezekiel 10:1. When the watcher ceased to speak, Ezekiel’s attention was directed to the change of scenery. “And I saw, and, behold, upon the firmament which was over the head of the cherubim,” though the prophet had not recognised this special organisation till later on (Ezekiel 10:20), yet he keeps to the designation throughout this vision as he did to that of “living creatures” throughout his first vision, the reason for the change of words probably being the presence of cherubic representation in the Temple; “as it were a sapphire stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne;” no rainbow appears now. Mercy, in a sense, is past—the marking of the spared ones is completed, and there is scope for wee only. Besides, the appearance of the likeness of a man is not noticed here, but it is indicated by the issuing of a voice. The King was on the throne, though invisible to His servant.
Ezekiel 10:2. “And he said unto the man clothed with linen, Go between the wheels, to below the cherub;” to the space where, not material fire, but the symbol of destruction, which was in its consequences to make Jerusalem like Sodom and Gomorrah, had been seen (chap. Ezekiel 1:13); and he had a direct act to do there, “fill thy hands with coals of fire,” putting his two hands together so as to make a hollow space, “and scatter over the city;” the fiery coals were to destroy Jerusalem, as is illustrated by the words of Isaiah (Ezekiel 33:12; Ezekiel 33:14), “And the people shall be as the burnings of lime; as thorns cut up shall they be burned in the fire … The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?” “And he came before my eyes.” It is noteworthy that the man who had put the saving mark on the foreheads is now commissioned to be the agent by whom the desolation of Jerusalem is accomplished. “God has no class of servants too holy or sacred to act, if need be, in the execution of righteous judgments.” Guilt and fiery doom must be proclaimed as well as forgiveness and blessedness: yet punishment will pave the way for salvation. When the Lord washes away the defilement of the daughter of Zion, and purges the blood from Jerusalem by the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning, then shall be a place of refuge, and a covert from storm and rain (Isaiah 4:0)
Ezekiel 10:3. The man’s commission is not performed until the position which is taken by the divine glory and its accompanying phenomena is defined. Ezekiel observes that “the cherubim were standing at the right of the house when the man came,’ i.e., they were on the south side, ready for moving away from the Temple. The avengers had come from the north; they began to slay at the sanctuary; the city, which was about to be laid in ashes, was built southwards of the temple, and at that quarter the glory was impelled to depart from its chosen place; “and the cloud filled the inner court;” as in the Revelation (chap. Ezekiel 15:8), “The Temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power,” and wrath was going forth from the sacred place.
Ezekiel 10:4. “And the glory of the Lord rose, from over the cherub, over the threshold of the house”—asimilar movement to that in chap. Ezekiel 9:3, but with the signification here that its departure was now taking place. He leaves a shadow behind and casts a light before Him: “and the house was filled with the cloud”—with the vehicle for the divine glory, which, as the pillar of the cloud to the Egyptians, had a dark aspect in the house; so we conclude from the context, “and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the Lord.” Conjectural assertions as to what the cloud portended, and what the brightness, do not seem to be fruitful as explanations. All that appears clear is that the protection and guidance, which were associated with the presence of the glory, would no longer be granted to Jerusalem.
Ezekiel 10:5. The movement of the glory of the Lord was accompanied by the movement of the cherubim. “And the sound of the wings of the cherubim was heard to the outer court,” into which we must suppose Ezekiel had gone from the inner, and from which he could see what took place. It was a thunderous sound (Psalms 29:3), as in the former vision, expressive of the force with which the stroke of the wings were propelled, but conveying more than Hengstenberg suggests. “If the cherub is the concentration of all created life on earth, then its sound is the concentration of all sound on earth.”
Ezekiel 10:6. Now Ezekiel returns to the point he had reached at Ezekiel 10:2. The command to the man is again rehearsed, and it is added, “he came and stood beside the wheel” (Sing.); not some specially-appointed wheel, but that one which happened to be nearest as he went for the fire.
Ezekiel 10:7-8. “And the cherub,” the one next to the wheel beside which the man was, “stretched forth his hand from between the cherubim unto the fire that was between the cherubim, and lifted and gave into the hands of the man clothed in linen, and he took and went out” towards the doomed city, not now as the mediator of salvation, but as an executor of judgment. It is not stated that he scattered the fire then. Either Ezekiel’s vision was filled with some other sight, so that he did not observe the incidence of the destruction, or else a space of time was allowed to intervene. The latter seems most probable. The burning lies beyond the next chapter, where the glory goes away, and Ezekiel ceases to see the vision of Jerusalem. An explanatory remark is made as to the instrument of action in the cherubim: “the likeness of the hand of a man under their wings:” the symbol of human agency and activity is associated with that part of their bodies by which they could be swift in fulfilling their prescribed work, and whose movements were heard far off. The hand “may be naturally regarded as indicating that human agents should not be wanting, at the proper time, to carry into effect the judgment written” (Fair.) “Those who burned the city were immediately the Chaldeans, who are included under the cherubim; but behind them stood another” (Heng.)
UNESTIMATED INFLUENCES ON HUMAN LIFE
A new departure in the development of God’s people was taking effect. Their exile and slaughter, with the desecration of the most holy place, were events which did not result merely from Chaldean forces or natural elements, but really from Him who directs all living and inanimate things. To bring the Israelites out of the notion that they were secured against evil because of past favours received on past obedience rendered; to impress on them the latent truth that the Lord did not rule His procedure by the external words or acts of men, but by the spirit which breathed in them; to give indications of a time when He would be to all people that which He had been to one, these seem to be the grounds for the manifestations of this section. In reference to them there is signified—
I. An invisible governor. The spirit of Ezekiel sees tints of the Eternal Majesty, and becomes aware of words spoken by Him whom he does not name. In his state is a representation of that which has been experienced by multitudes. They know that God is within range of their susceptibilities, that He coins impressions from which thought and feeling proceed. They are sure that, whatever be the persons or things by which they are affected, He is King over each and all. If any wonder or even mock at the confidence they profess to have in an unseen Ruler, they reply, “I know whom I have believed;” for beneath all that is palpable they believe in God who is a Spirit, and who is King for ever and ever. “They walk by faith, not by sight.”
II. Manifold agents. In their diversity. A half-unconscious tendency disposes us to refer every good thing to the action of God, every hard, ruinous thing to the action of some law. It is a trick of our minds. If painful and disastrous things come out of broken laws, pleasant and helpful things come out of obeyed laws. And the truth symbolised in man, in cherubim, and in fire, is, that all effects, brought about by multitudinous agencies, are but the phenomenal forms of the purposes of the perfect will. The Son of God, the angels of God, men who hurt, men who suffer, coals of fire, hailstones and frost, execute a commission given by the Creator of the ends of the earth. Whatever the variety of influences which affect us, we are still with God.
In their versatility. The fire that comforts can destroy: living beings may fulfil their ends by running, flying, standing, making sounds, or carrying from place to place: the Lord Jesus says, “I will draw all men unto me,” and He also says, “Depart from me; I never knew you.” All changed conditions, in the action of natural and spiritual agencies, depend upon changes in the objects acted upon. The ministry of wrath follows the movements of wrong. They shall dwell with the devouring fire who sin and do not repent of their ungodliness. They “shall be salted with fire” who walk righteously and speak uprightly.
In their concurrence. In the order of nature forces are correlated, and in the moral order joy and ease may be transmuted into sorrow and pains, privileges into penalties, the honour of God’s dwelling-place into the uncleanness of foul orgies. Pray, wait, obey, and you will become an organ of the Lord where He will and how He will; do evil, and His face will be set against you—the light which is in you will become darkness.
III. Repeated warnings of danger. The glory moving to the threshold told of the rupture of the ties which had bound God to His people, while the sound of the wings and the taking of fire intimated that the doom of Jerusalem was on the point of being inflicted. Penalty is preceded by witness-bearing and sentences. If men neglect the immutable principles of right, if they find in their own ways the pleasure and service which they ought to find in His, He does not go on at once to destroy them. He has given them faculties by which they may discern the signs of the sky that portend a storm, so has He qualified them to notice coming evils in appearances which are passing before their eyes. He lingers that He may correct them with the words of His mouth and the events of their lives. Thus does He warn them, and from the manner in which the Bible, prayer, sanctuaries are regarded, a Christian people can conclude whether the glory has gone from their midst, and the light and truth are about to consume all despisers. He does not always force those coming tribulations upon our notice. “The works of God are done by hidden and secret means, by ways unthought of, by hands under wings. Invisible virtue hath done more than all visible instruments.” Yet, latent as they are, it is demanded from us that we watch and be sober under influences which seem to threaten our welfare, that so we may escape all those things that shall come to pass, and stand before the Son of Man.
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Ezekiel 10:9-22. The description of the cherubim and of their movements is similar to, but independent of, that given in chap. 1. Ezekiel is not prostrated as at first, and seems to see the subordinate details of the vision more distinctly. On this occasion the appearances were to be closely observed, being of great significance to the whole house of Israel. He has to connect that which he saw in the land of exile with this in the temple. He has thus a proof that he is no self-constituted messenger of the Lord to His people, that the divine glory shed its lights and shadows over the captives as well as in Jerusalem, that a change in the procedure of God was taking effect, and He would never again associate Himself with the temple-worship as in days of old. All the energies of creation fitted to carry out the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God were ready to be put in operation.
Ezekiel 10:9-12. These four wheels were so arranged as that one should be beside each cherub, “and the appearance of the wheels was as the colour of Tarshish stone.” Ezekiel 10:11. ‘When they went they went toward their four sides”—to that one of the four quarters towards which each wheel was severally placed—“for to the place to which the head turned, after it they went,” this was noticeable that, though they might go in any direction, yet they always moved forward. They did so in accordance with the movement, not of a special wheel which was chief over the other three, but of that one of the wheels which happened to face the direction in which all were to roll, and ever in harmony with the cherubim. Ezekiel 10:12. “And all their flesh, and their backs, and their hands, and their wings, and their wheels were full of eyes round about;” obviously the cherubim are included in this feature as well as the wheels, and correspond to the aspect of the living creatures as seen by John (Revelation 4:6). This interruption of the description of the wheels, by a reference to the cherubim, may have been made to show how all forces were gifted with certain similar capabilities, and because the cherubim—the vital forces—were the more important: “to the four of them their wheels” is the literal rendering. If the Hebrew text is not corrupt, the phrase can only mean that to cherubim and wheels eyes were furnished all over.
Ezekiel 10:13. Any perplexity found in this verse may be dissipated by regarding it as an address to the wheels to get into motion. “To the wheels—to them was cried in my ears, Whirl,” or the whirling. There are two Hebrew words used which are both rendered in A. V. by wheel. The distinction between them can only be maintained by some such translation as is given here. It is something like the distinction between “wheels” and “the entire machinery of wheel-work, wheel within wheel, as visible to Ezekiel and capable of quick, whirlwind-like movements.” The cry which the prophet heard, which was to impress on him the truth that the Lord was controlling all actions affecting Israel, signified that the wheels were to verify their nature by revolving. The result of this call to them is noted in Ezekiel 10:15.
Ezekiel 10:14. The aspect of the cherubim is defined preparatory to their rising up. “And four faces were to every one.” Ezekiel goes on to mention, not each of the four faces, but that face of each which confronted him: “the face of the first was the face of the cherub.” This defines nothing, though the succeeding clauses do define the face of a man, of a lion, of an eagle. Some commentators hold that the Hebrew word should be altered into that for “ox.” This is not to be thought of. It would be understood to be that by reference to the former vision (chap. Ezekiel 1:10). The definite article prefixed does not mean that the face of this cherub was the only cherubic face, but rather, as Fairbairn suggests, that Ezekiel saw the whole features of the cherub which happened to be nearest to him and had given the fire to the watcher, while in the cases of the other three he saw one face only.
Ezekiel 10:15-17. The command to whiri is obeyed by the cherubim aseending and by the revolution of the wheels in harmony with their movements. “And when the cherubim went, the wheels went beside them … when these stood they stood, and when these rose up they rose up with them.” They move together if they move at all, and in perfect unison. All created energies, whether apparently quiescent or active, are imbued with the spirit of life.
Ezekiel 10:18-19. Another movement of deepest significance was observed. “And the glory of the Lord went forth from above the threshold,” to which it had gone a short time previously (Ezekiel 10:4), “and stood above the cherubim;” this return is a stage towards the entire departure of the Lord from His temple, and indicates that the people might observe it, if they would not close their eyes. Having received the glory, “the cherubim lifted up their wings, and rose up from the earth before my eyes in their going forth, and the wheels beside them, and it,” the whole appearance—the glory, the cherubim, and the wheels—“stood at the opening of the gate of the Lord’s house, the eastern;” by this entrance the covenanted God would, in symbol, leave the temple, and by it, at a future period, He would come again (chap. Ezekiel 43:2-4).
Ezekiel 10:20-22. Now that the impending departure is on the verge of becoming an accomplished fact, that becomes definite to the prophet which he had stated already (Ezekiel 10:15) in a parenthetical way. He has a fuller revelation than before, and realises the import of the former vision which had been granted to him at the Chebar. “This was the living creature which I saw under the God of Israel, and I knew that they were cherubim.” We may be hardly justified to say that be had doubted whether they were the cherubim which he had seen, but, at any rate, he is certain now of the identity of appearances in both visions. The Glory which has enthroned itself over the living four and hovers at the gate of the temple, if not in all points the same in form as the cherubim over the mercy-seat, are the cherubim between whom the Lord dwelleth, and they expressly appeared to him in the land of exile. Thus is Ezekiel assured by the God of Israel that, if He abandons His chosen seat, He does not abandon His people—that He is with them in their captivity to show His ways and teach His paths. This assurance of likeness is reiterated: “they are the same faces which I saw by the river Chebar—their appearances and themselves.” Not merely their external aspect, but their substance had one common resemblance.
GOD IN HUMAN ACTIVITY (Ezekiel 10:10)
In this vision, the wings and hands, the wheels and eyes, are parts of a mystery dark with excess of light. Just as to one who knows not the plan of a battle, the noise, the clouds of smoke, and the movements of armies confuse and confound. Yet the clause which tells of a wheel within a wheel, the activity of a hidden power, may bring a lesson to our bosom and business. The thought suggested here is this, the Lord God Omnipotent thrusts forth silently and successfully His hand into the being and working of every man. Reason and the kingdom of God will prevail, and not the devil and those who do devilish work. The wrath of man shall praise God. He, like the engineer with hand on lever, holds the forces of the world.
By a wheel within a wheel God governs and makes all things work together for good to those who love Him: all pleasant and all painful things; all that is mean, contemptible, slanderous, all that vexes and annoys. So we may put on gladness, knowing that He overrules each event of life, and while we work He worketh in us according to His good pleasure.
I. The Scriptures affirm this truth. They are as full of the evidences of it as the daily press is full of the records of man’s working in individual and national life. Take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the earth, God is there; or descend into hell, and He is there. The devil is wheeled about by Him there.
The broad wheel of an evil destiny seemed once to crush Joseph, but he devoutly and magnanimously said to his brothers, “Ye thought evil, God meant it for good.” There was also a wheel at work in the life of Jacob, to whom in a dark hour celestial comfort came—angels on the ladder; in the peril of Daniel in the den, whose heroic fidelity led a pagan king to say, “There is no God like the God of Daniel;” in the case of David who, in his loss of Absalom, found it good to be afflicted; in the alarm of the servant at Dothan, and in the weeping of Peter. Eyes see clearer washed with tears. Paul could glory in his infirmities, for he saw even in them that the power of Christ was made glorious. In all the pains and penalties, the joys and griefs, the thoughts and imaginations of life, God is busy, out of evil still educing good.
II. History proves this. Never did men meet behind closed doors as in Masonic secrecy without God seeing them. Every plot and conspiracy is known to Him. The Gunpowder Plot, the Spanish Armada, the American Rebellion, were carefully planned, but God overthrew them all. There was a wheel within a wheel. The Jews were persecuted and peeled, they were ever an easy prey to the spoiler, now they are the bankers and the traders of the world, and hold seats of power among the nations. The Puritans were persecuted, and you know the result. The thing you intend to accomplish carries with it a score of things you did not intend to do. Luther and Columbus accomplished more than ever they dreamed of doing, because God was in their movements. A poor man said to me, “I’ve failed, I never was in such a strange, unique position.” Ah! what is failure? Was ever there such a failure, apparently, as that which Christ made? All men forsook Him and fled. What is failure? I think of God’s slaughtered saints “on Alpine summits cold;” of the thousands who have perished in the Inquisition; of Jonah hurled into the sea to save the ship; of many who fall in battle, while victory crowns the survivors, and I ask what is failure? God’s word says that, “though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished.” Even “the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.” Yes—
III. The laws of nature illustrate this. Say to the righteous it shall be well with them, and to the wicked that the wheel of God is working against them. The thunderstorm is His scavenger, driving off malaria and noxious vapour. The biting frost, that bent low my flowers, drove the plague from one of our cities. The earthquake is a safety-valve by which imprisoned gases are set free. Weeds, thistles, insects are made to work out some good. As Shakespeare says—
“There is some sort of goodness in things evil,
Would men observingly distil it out.”
1. We cannot get along without God. If we choose to rebel against His working, He will curse and overthrow us. If we lead selfish, prayerless, cruel lives, He will thwart and destroy. God has punished nations who forgot Him. Go to their graves to-day. O Judea, whose poets, prophets, and priests were the admiration of thy nation, why art thou peeled and conquered? “We rejected the Holy One and would not obey Him.” O fair Greece, the home of orators and philosophers! and thou, O stately Rome on thy seven hills! why is Ichabod written on thy temples, and thy palaces in dust, with men digging among thy ruins? “We forgot justice, oppressed the poor, and listened not to the truth.” It may be said to this land in time to come, O great country, why hast thou fallen? “We hasted to be rich and turned away from God, our lips being filled with lying and our lives with injustice.” Men and nations in prosperity often forget God, and, proud of their might, go forth as Samson did to shake himself when “he wist not that the Lord had departed from him.” We live and move in God, and it is true that He lives and moves in us. Our prayer should be, “Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah!”
2. Nothing happens which does not help him who loves God. Losses, crosses, abuse, injury, lead to the growth of patience, watchfulness, and the silent bearing of sorrow. Burn your own smoke and go on. It is often darkest before dawn. Our trials help to build up character.
3. The love of God is emphasised by the truth before us. All the verses of the Bible end here—in the love of God. He reigns—not sin, not sorrow, not death. He wipes away every tear. He destroys the last enemy. His Hand guides the course of nations. Not Victoria, not Kaiser William, not the president of a republic is at the helm. God is Governor among the people. Trust in Him. Rejoice in Him. He will lead us, and will lead the world even to the end.—Gallaher.
THE PERFECT ORDER (Ezekiel 10:13)
We see a subordination of causes, one to another, and all under one Supreme.
I. The supreme cause. He has the appearance as of a man. He speaks as with man’s voice. There is a prefiguration of the incarnation, of the Mediator ruling His providential kingdom. Infinite power and wisdom are His. If He will pull down, who can hold up? If He will suspend His action, who can impel the curbed forces to move? His ways are high above, out of our sight. We may see the hand outside, we cannot see the living Spirit within. We are in a world of changes, in which nothing happens by chance, but each change is subordinated to the will of Christ
II. The subordinate causes. Wheels are all things that are moved. They are absolutely acted on by the word of the Lord. He alone can make them execute the objects for which they are created, and at the seasons which He knows to be most fitted for the good and the true amongst men. They rise up to the highest, they descend to the inferior influences which operate in human societies. They go straight on to the points to which they are directed, and turn not from the execution of their commission.
He reigns over all things and persons. His voice fixes the destinies of earth. He will guide us by His counsel. So all impatience with the dealings of God is groundless; all murmuring is sinful, and we should learn to listen to His voice, to be diligent and persevering in doing His work, to long that one duty or trial should fit us for the next duty or trial.—M.
FEET AND WINGS
“When they stood, these stood; and when they were lifted up, these lifted up themselves also” (Ezekiel 10:17) [Refer to chap. Ezekiel 1:24.]
Flying creatures have wings for the air and feet for the ground. This touch of nature is put on God’s cherubim. The prophet intends no special religious lesson here, but the fact he cites may be used to convey such.
I. The subject of Christian experience, what it is and how to be maintained. We have faculties of locomotion, feeding, sense, perception, &c., by which we act our parts on foot as it were. We have attributes of faith-perception, love-appropriation, spiritual imagination, in which we become aërial creatures, resting suspensively in things above the world. This uplifting produces the transcendent mystery of experience in Christian conversion. We rise by trust in God—admitting the full revelation of His truth and friendship. When we rest ourselves, our life and life-character on God, we prove Him, and have the sense of Him revealed to our immediate knowledge. This faith is not in something about God. It is the man’s new, self-committing act, by which he puts himself out on trust and begins to live on God. It is a sublime act of migration upward into the range of spirit, and all things are new.
Can the soul thus lifted stay in that serene element? It has gravitations which pull it all the while downward, and settle it on its feet, as the flying creatures fold their wings when they settle. Let us trace some of the instances and ways in which it ceases to live by faith.
When a man of enterprise thinks of independence, how easily, how insensibly he ceases to hang on Providence as he did. His prayers lose their fervour. God is far less dear and less consciously present; and how long will he have the consciousness of His presence at all?
When there is overdoing the search after evidences of faith. What is the evidence of faith but faith itself, as we get evidence of warmth by heat which we cannot find through any inspection? And if evidence to a man is made up, he has made good his proofs. He is down on his feet.
When the disciple who is on the ground thinks to recover himself by his will instead of going back to faith. God is forgotten, and the harder throes he makes the deeper he sinks.
When disciples subside into a mere routine practice, or observance of times. It is no longer a service of impulse and liberty. They hope there may be some good in it, only of a duller sort than it should be. How much better if their faith had but a one-wing power; it would lift them a few feet upward now and then.
When a disciple shortens the distance between himself and the world that he may shorten the distance between the world and himself. There is the possibility of an over-austere practice; but the study of conformities is one in which none but a man of inflexible tenacity should ever dare to indulge, and only he when he is high enough lifted by his faith in God to suffer no bent downward. Cultivating the conformities is a plausible way of being mixed in them. Whoever undertakes to grade and gauge a ground-surface road will not be ascending into faith at all.
When a disciple thinks to fortify faith by practised investigation and deeper studies in matters of opinion. Benefits may thus be gained; but he is likely to seek his light in questions of the understanding and not by faith; then he is down upon the levels of mere nature. We think we touch bottom. We are going to be floated no more. But our solidity turns out to be a living on deductions, not on the uplifting grace of God’s inspirations. We thus settle out of grace into formulations of grace, when, of course, our wings are down.
Our conclusion is, that the moment any disciple touches ground with but the tip of his foot, and begins to rest on earthly props, a mortal weakness takes him, and he goes down. Only a calm and loving return to his trust will recover him, and God is faithful enough to be trusted at all times. Let there be this rest by faith, and he will carry himself more steadily in studies, toils, or engagements. Sometimes obscurations may occur, but he has only to believe the more strongly and wait till they be cleared.
II. Many persons miss ever going above a service on foot, by not conceiving at all the more ethereal range of experience, into which true faith would lift them. Sometimes they become reformers or philanthropists. They mean business in their religion, caring little for the fervours that are not fervours of work. The combining and rolling up of great masses of opinion are the means by which they expect to carry their projects. Censure and storm and fiery denunciation are close at hand. They, many times, do not conceive that they are disciples because of their repentances, or their prayers, or sensing of God by their faith, or any other grace that separates them from the world. They have much to say of love, but they visibly hate more strongly than they love. They never go above to descend upon the reform by inspirations there kindled; they keep on their feet, and war with the evils on the same level with them.
Sometimes they attempt self-culture in the name of religion. They could mend defects, chasten faults, put themselves in the charities they have learned from Christ, perhaps, to admire; but the work is a far more hopeless one than they imagine, if there is no uplifting help from gracious inspirations. Besides, the work keeps to a continual self-contemplation which is selfish. Old faults will come back, and they will have to fight all over again. Vexed, soured, discouraged, the whole undertaking may be given up. Oh, if they would go up to Christ, or to God in a true faith-culture, faults would fall off, as blasted flowers from a tree, by the life-principle therein. No man finishes a character who does not go above himself, and take the culture of God’s own Spirit.
Sometimes they settle down to ritualism. We all begin, almost unwittingly, to have a religion that is manipulated by our senses and sensuous tastes. We are caught by the forms. All the better that they are so nearly level with our natural faculties, and just as easy to be used without faith as with! How convenient to have a religion that lets the faiths and the fervours take care of themselves! Saying prayers, too—how much easier than to pray and find how to be heard. Thus a sufficient religion is got below; but the sad thing is, that instead of giving the disciple free wing, it keeps him down; so that if he becomes more earnest in it, it is turned into a superstition.
Sometimes they suppose they are religious because of a certain patronage they give to the Church and the word. Not being in the gift of spiritual discernment, their tastes will be the better; and as there are always a great many reasons why a thing should not be done to any single reason why it should, they assume to be specially qualified critics. They contribute these critical powers, while others, less gifted, may contribute their prayers! Such negatives do not belong to the range of the Spirit, but to the nether world of fashion, or opinion, or custom. The critics have feet but no wings. If they could give themselves over in trust to the Saviour, instead of giving their opinions and tastes, their contributions would be of worthier significance.
Sometimes they distrust experiences in religion, divine monitions, answers to prayer, calls to particular duties and works. They like the level of nature. All supernatural upliftings and fervours are fantasies that had best be avoided. Inspirations are nothing; judgments everything. What shall we say of that story which the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians? It was his way to be going up into high regions, so that he was not sure, at times, whether he had a thing by revelation or not. People called him “mad,” because he did not stay on foot, in their level of sanity. But was there ever a soul more massive and sublimely steady in its equilibrium than his?
What is the conclusion of the whole matter? That the Christian idea of religion is not any mere playing out of nature as its own level; but is the lifting up of the man above himself in a transformation that makes him new. In so far as he is a Christian, he becomes the citizen of another kingdom. Whatever disrespect he may encounter, he will have evidences in himself that ask no certification. He will have learned that the only safe way of living is the highest. Here his internal jars and discords are laid and a glorious serenity is established. The earth is not his mother; if he descends to the ground his strength vanishes.
If we are to make an ascent into this higher plane of experience, the ties which hold our feet must be effectually cut by habitual self-renunciations. Selfishness and self-indulgence are no more for us. We must lift up everything we do in the world and hope from it, into that pure life of sacrifice and trust in which we abide with the Master. We must be as Noah when the Lord shut him in the ark, and be severed from every natural trust. Our expectation must be rested on God, not on pillars of any kind below—pillars are not wanted under wings.—Bushnell, abridged.