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Prophesy against them.
Evil in high places
The spirit told Ezekiel that the princes were the men that devised mischief and gave wicked counsels to the city. How often have we seen this prostitution of great mental power and great official authority through the service of evil! Imagine the picture of five-and-twenty men, the princes of Israel, all given over to the conception of evil policies and the execution of selfish designs! We shall miss the whole purpose of Divine revelation if we suppose that evil is local, or that it is confined to the ignorant and the poor. Evil is universal: it is in the thrones of the nations, as well as in the hovels and huts of poverty; the king has wandered as far from the standard of righteousness as has the meanest subject of his crown. Education when not sanctified is simply an instrument of evil. Great social station, when it is divorced from the action of a healthy conscience, only gives a man leverage, by the working of which he can do infinite social mischief. Moral security, therefore, is not in circumstances, but in character. When princes are right and just, wise and patriotic, it does not follow that the people will follow their example, or reproduce their excellences; but when the princes are of a contrary mind it is easy to imagine how their great influence may contribute vastly to the spread of wrong thinking and mischievous action. Religious apostasy means social anarchy. When the princes ceased to pray they ceased to regard human nature as of any value: slaughter became a pastime; heaps of slain men were passed by as mere commonplaces, and the whole city became as but a cauldron in which the flesh of men might be boiled. But God Himself says He will make this use of the city; He will make it a cauldron, and they who supposed it was a place of security shall find what uses providence can make of human arrangements. The Lord says that He is proceeding on account of the sins of the people, saying, “I know the things that come into your mind, every one of them.” The empire of the mind is supposed to be the exclusive property of the individual: what brother can take out of his brother’s heart all the thoughts that live there? What man can read the mind of his dearest friend, and be as familiar with that friend’s motives as he is with that friend’s conduct? The mind can shut out the closest observer, yet the one observer that it cannot exclude is the living God. The things that come into the mind determine the real character of the mind of man, Conduct is but a short measure by which to estimate a man’s character. (J. Parker, D. D.)
A vision of priesthoods
I. The destruction of a corrupt priesthood. The evil of the priesthood of that city and day is seen in this vision to consist in--
1. Their unhallowed designs and influence. The inventions of the genius of evil are, as they were then, often manifold and deep.
2. Their contempt of sacred things. They actually play about “the cauldron” that Jeremiah had seen in a vision of retribution. Familiarity with sacred things is perilous to men who lose true sacredness of living, for they are tempted to use their wit to cover their shallowness, with regard to themes wherein they should “stand in awe and sin not.”
3. Their false security. Their assertion about the Chaldean invasion, “It is not near,” illustrates the presumptuousness that ever marks mere professors of piety.
4. Their conformity to evil associations. Whereas the one consecrating cry of all true priesthoods is, “Be ye separate,” the histories of all corrupt priesthoods reveal a conformity to the world with which they have to do, that may well be charged against them in the words heard in the vision, “Ye have done after the manner of the heathen.”
5. Their liability to terrible retribution. The death of Pelatiah, at the very time when Ezekiel was pronouncing the doom of this priesthood, is an emblem of retribution history records, and prophecy predicts on all the false.
II. The indications of a man belonging to the true priesthood.
1. Open to Divine illumination. As Ezekiel was “lifted up” by the Spirit, and afterwards had that Spirit “fall upon him”--indicating, surely, special contact with the Divine; so there is the promise to every regenerate man “that he shall see heavens opened.”
2. Sensitive to impressions from human life. To be Divinely enlightened does not indicate that there will be any functionalism, any stoicism in the man.
3. A wide conscious brotherliness. The cry to the exile, “thy brethren, thy brethren,” indicated that not alone in the twenty-five who had fallen, but in the scattered throngs that would be gathered again, he recognised a brotherhood. So our Master has taught us, “all ye are brethren.”
4. Commissioned to proclaim inspiring promises. The priestly prophet was to utter as surely as was Isaiah, and every God-sent messenger, a “comfort ye.”
III. The formation of a true priesthood.
I. Divinely collected. God knew where the scattered were, and would gather them again. The eye of God resting alike on all classes and castes, churches and countries, discovers the genuine men. He has been a “sanctuary for a little time” to them in the midst of uncongenial pursuits, hostile circumstances, adverse experiences; but from every such Babylon of evil He will gather them for His sacred work.
2. Divinely regenerated. No words could more forcibly express a complete moral and spiritual reformation than “the words in which the eternal Spirit of Goodness declares, “I will put a new spirit within you, and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh.”
3. Divinely adopted. “They shall be My people,” etc. (Urijah R. Thomas.)
I know the things that come into your mind, every one of them.
God’s knowledge of human thought
The union of omniscience with sympathy, Of active cognisance of human thoughts with infinite mercy, is expressed in Hebrews 4:12-16. There are no reflections more interesting than those connected with the Divine knowledge of man. Our duty is to ponder all this fact includes. The instinct of the Divine love must be the very strongest feeling in us all; because it never occurs to anyone that God’s knowledge of our thoughts can prevent the outflow of His love, or the reality of His fellowship. Yet if anyone else were acquainted with us, with everything that comes into our minds, we should certainly incur his hate and contempt. I believe, therefore, that the instinct of God’s love towards us is like that of parental love, a great original attribute of humanity which sin has grievously obscured, so that in the minds of thousands it has been utterly subverted, and God has appeared as a vindictive tyrant, requiring to be appeased with human blood. But the purpose of the Gospel is to assure us that “God is love”; and the inclination to make Him the depository of every secret is grounded on that instinct, Which the fall has not been able to extinguish--that He who knows us best, loves us most. What a strong interest He must feel in people, to take active cognisance of everything that comes into their minds! God takes the deepest interest in the thoughts of the weakest the commonest, and the most selfish, when their thoughts must be repulsive, hateful, and abominable to Him; He searches into them, and sends messengers to assure us that He is not indifferent to the thoughts of His creatures. The mind of man is the greatest and most wonderful product of the Almighty. It is the nearest approach to the Divine--it is the Divine image. This is His chief work. We are warranted in concluding that, next to God our Saviour, the greatest thing in the universe is a man’s mind, and that this is the reason why the Maker looks narrowly at everything that comes into it. The mind is the sphere of the Divine government, where the sovereign Ruler displays His great wisdom, holiness, and truth. Because man can obey and love, can feel responsibility, sense of duty, sense of sin, therefore he is the subject of rule. It is in ruling men that the highest qualities are always displayed. Here righteousness, the highest of all things, can be expressed. We cannot conceive of God showing His righteousness unless He had subjects like ourselves to govern. For it is through opposition, ignorance, injustice, selfishness, want, that righteousness in a ruler comes to be felt and admired. Where there is no wrong, how could we see the right? Mind in opposition to God shows us His holy mind. The mind is the sphere of Divine rule, and it is the seat of rebellion. And the righteous government of heaven is exercised to restore this chief of God’s works to loyalty. In man, the metropolis of the universe is in revolt. This is the reason why He who is our Lord and God would have us assured that He “knows the things that come into our mind, every one of them.” To give the history of His knowledge and purpose to conciliate the mind of His subject is to give the history of the Bible. The great crowning act of His righteous rule is She mission of His Son. This shows His purpose--to reconcile; not to vanquish, destroy, condemn, but to persuade; to carry our convictions--to constrain our minds. In sending His Son, I think we have a right to conclude that the business of reconstituting the spirit of man is the first and greatest thought of God, in which His wisdom and power are most of all put forth. Here is “the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” Then let us learn to look on the operations of our minds with the aid of these truths. Nothing can be insignificant that comes into your mind, if God takes knowledge of it. Passing thoughts that come and go--love and hate--passion and regret--reverence and hope--conviction and prayer--the thought of God--the thought of your child--if they are watched and scanned by Him, can we be indifferent to them? (B. Kent, M. A.)
But have done after the manners of the heathen that are round about you.
Yielding to one’s surroundings
Surely there is nothing walks the earth more contemptible, as well as more certainly evil, than a man who lets himself be made by whatever force may happen to be strongest near him, and fastening up his helm, and unshipping his oars, is content to be blown about by every vagrant wind, and rolled in the trough of each curling wave. (A. Maclaren.)
Do not leg the world mould you
I beseech you all, and especially you young people, not to let the world take and mould you, like a bit of soft clay put into a brick-mould, but to lay a masterful hand upon it, and compel it to help you, by God’s grace, to be nobler, and truer, and purer. (A. Maclaren.)
Yet will I be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come.
God the sanctuary of the afflicted
Philosophers have frequently remarked what may be called the doctrine of compensation: by which they mean, the tendency there is in nature and providence to keep things in a kind of equality; so that, while, on the one hand, there are defects to counterbalance advantages, there are, on the other hand, advantages to counterbalance defects. In what condition can we be found that possesses no advantages? These a grateful mind will always look after; and, however severe the affliction, endeavour to say, “It might have been worse. I have lost much; but I am not deprived of all. He has chastened me sore; but He has not given me over unto death. The stroke is painful: but it will be profitable. ‘Tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope; and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.’”
I. The calamity: “I have cast them far off,” etc.
1. The event serves to display the agency of God. He therefore, in the words before us, claims the work as His own. In the dispersion of the Jews He employed instrumentality, and wicked instrumentality; but neither of these detracts from His agency. What does God, without the intervention of any cause between Him and the effect? He blesses us by means; He warms us by the sun; He refreshes us by sleep; He sustains us by food; and He even requires us to prepare, for our use, the supplies He gives us. In a similar way He inflicts evil. And hence an irreligious mind is detained from God by the persons or the events that injure him. He thinks only of the flood, or the fire; of the heedless servant, the uncertain friend, the cruel enemy.
2. The event displays the truth of God. It had been clearly foretold, it had been threatened, as early as the days of Moses. Every successive prophet in the name of God renewed the threatening. In consequence of these denunciations the calamity was identified with the Divine veracity, and became surer than heaven and earth. The Jews imagined that they had nothing to fear: they thought that such a mighty judgment was improbable, if not impossible; and presumptuously cried, “The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are we.” But “the Lord is not a man, that He should lie,” etc.
3. The event displays the holiness of God. His conduct towards this people seems severe; and it was severe. But the provocation was peculiar. Much was given, and much was required. Their offences were aggravated by their privileges. Sin is not to be judged of by its grossness, but by its guilt; and guilt arises from knowledge possessed, from obligations violated, from advantages abused.
4. The event displays the wisdom of God. By their dispersion the Scriptures were diffused, and the Desire of all nations was announced and expected.
5. The event displays His goodness. In the midst of judgment He remembered mercy. Though He punished them, it was not to destroy, but to correct and reform.
II. The alleviation. “Thus saith the Lord God: Although I have cast them far off,” etc. God is never at a loss to serve His people; and that He will compensate them for the want of those very things that seem essential to their welfare. Consider two cases in which this truth may be exemplified.
1. In the loss of outward comforts. God does not require us to be indifferent to our substance, to our health, to our friends and relations: yea, under the removal of them, He allows us to feel. But it is the duty and privilege of a Christian to be able to say, with the Church, “Although the fig tree shall not blossom,” etc. The believer may well display a superiority over those events that keep others constantly alarmed or distressed, since God is his portion; and in His unchangeableness and all-sufficiency he has a stock of happiness independent of the body and its diseases; time, and its vicissitudes; the world and its dissolution. The design of affliction is to wean us from creatures, and to bring us more entirely to make use of God. A good man, who had endured the wreck of fortune, being asked how he bore the change in his condition so cheerfully, replied, “When I had these good things I enjoyed God in all; and now I am deprived of them, I enjoy all in God.”
2. In the want of gracious ordinances. God will never countenance the neglect of the means of grace; but He will make up for the want of them. And those should remember this remark who, by accident or sickness, or the care of young children, or the duties of servitude, are wholly or partially denied the privileges of the sanctuary. When we cannot follow Him, He can follow us. (W. Jay.)
The little sanctuary
Sanctuaries--i.e., houses of God, churches and abbeys, and ecclesiastical houses--have always been places of shelter for criminals, for vanquished enemies, for persons in debt. The Jews had cities of refuge; and we may say, in general, that by the ecclesiastical laws of Christendom, through many ages, provision was made by means of church, or abbey, or consecrated ground, to receive criminal and distressed persons into shelter and safety. It is curious, and not without some tender interest, to hear of some places still left in our own land, such as the Sanctuary of Holyrood, in Edinburgh, which retain something of the old virtue, and open a refuge where honourable debtors and distressed persons may live in peace.
I. The idea of asylum and protection. “I will be as a little sanctuary”--I will be the shield and protector and sure refuge of trusting souls. Asylum! Is not this what every awakened soul needs and seeks? Some safe, sure refuge, from all that threatens, afflicts, alarms; from the thunders, loud or deep, of broken law; from the accusations of conscience, from the troubles of life, from the terrors of death--asylum from them all? When one has been living, or dreaming, in sin, and then awakes, and sees things as they are, and knows himself, and looks with rapid, startled glance at what is coming, and may be near, he feels at first just like one in an enemy’s country. Look which way he will, there is no shelter or safety for him; none that he can see. He must flee; he must escape for his life. But whither? In what direction does safety lie? In this great strait God reveals Himself as “a little sanctuary”--a place of protection and safety; and says, “Flee, you have need to flee. Life is full of harms, and death broods in the air. In a scene that might have been all friendly to you, you have made yourself many enemies. Flee, but flee to Me: I am the refuge. I am the last asylum of your soul. Those thunders are Mine, but if you pass through them to Myself they will soften and roll away, and leave you in coolness and safety. Turn your face but Godwards, and let your steps be as your face is, and nothing can then surprise or hurt you. Not a hair of your head shall perish.”
II. But a sanctuary means something more than a refuge and place of safety. It means, at least in the nomenclature of the Scriptures, a place of purification, where we may wash and be clean: and may so avail ourselves of the helps to goodness which are provided, that “the rest of our time may be pure and holy.” Our very words tell us this. “Sanctity,” “sanctification,”--a sanctuary is not equal to its name if it does not promote these. The whole hunger and thirst of the renewed creature is for righteousness--a righteousness always loved and striven for, yet never perfectly attained--a righteousness no sooner attained in measure, than, in some mysterious manner, it seems to waver, and fail, and begin to pass away; as the snow-white garment quickly loses its purity in a dusty or smoky air; or as the living branch when it is not freshly growing, soon loses the brightness of its green. The heart is deceitful, and the world is defiling, and no enterprise of human life were half so hopeless as the endeavour to be wholly pure and holy, if means of purification were not provided, and brought so closely to hand as to be within the reach of our daily and deepest needs. Would a man be considered very kind and hospitable who, knowing that some travellers were coming to his house, along rocky paths and across burning sands, should send a message to them while yet they are miles off, to say--“Do not come any nearer until you have washed and made you clean. Come: by all means come: I am not inhospitable: but be sure you come with ointment on your head, all fragrant with myrrh and spice, and clad in rich evening dress, ready for the banquet.” What would the pilgrims think on receiving such a message? They would say in a moment--“He doesn’t want us. We must seek some other gates than his.” The case is even so as between us and God. He does not send a mocking message to frail, disabled men in this dusty, defiling, wilderness world, sinful although they be, by the offer of salvation to them under utterly impossible conditions. He does not say, “Come to Me for salvation, but be more than half-saved before you come.” He comes to us with a whole salvation, with healing, cleansing, vivifying grace, which will grow in us, and develop us into perfectness.
III. The idea of nourishment. A hospice for the entertainment of strangers, or any hospitable house, is never without bread. Washing is before eating. Dressing is for the banquet. Every living thing must have something to live upon. Even in the “far country” where men degrade themselves, and spend their substance, there is something to eat--“husks,” if nothing better--sapless roots dug out of the sand--some-thing that will dull if not satiate the craving of appetite. And will not God feed His refugees? Will He be a little sanctuary in which they may die? Is there no bread on His table? Yes, bread enough, and to spare. Is there no wine in His cups? Yes, the sweet wine of love and strength and consolation. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
A little sanctuary
The text begins with “therefore.” There was a reason for God’s speaking in this way. Upon reading the connection, we observe that those who had been carried captive were insulted by those who tarried at Jerusalem. The Lord hears the unkind speeches of the prosperous when they speak bitterly of those who are plunged in adversity. Many a time the cruel word of man has been the cause of a tender word from God. Because of the unkindness of these people, therefore God, in loving kindness, addressed in words of tender grace those whom they despised. Let us take all sharp speeches and cutting criticisms to God. It may be that He will hear what the enemy has said, and that He will be very pitiful to us. Because of the bitterness of the oppressor, He will bring home to our heart by the Spirit, with greater tenderness and power, some sweet word of His which has lain hidden from us in His Book.
I. Where God’s people may be.
1. They may be under chastisement. We may be in great spiritual darkness, and may be compelled to confess that our own sins have procured this unto ourselves. And yet, for all that, the Lord may have sent the chastisement in love, and in nothing else but love; and He may intend by it, not our destruction, but the destruction of the flesh; not our rejection, but our refining; not our curse, but our cleansing.
2. But wherever they are, whether they are under chastisement or not, they are where the Lord has put them. “Although I have cast them far off,” etc. It is well to look beyond all second causes and instrumentalities. Do not get angry with those who are the nearer agents, but look to the First Cause. Though your trials be peculiar, and your way be hedged up, yet the hand of the Lord is still in everything; and it behoves you to recognise it for your strengthening and consolation.
3. The people of Cod may dwell in places of great discomfort. The Jews were not in those days like the English, who colonise and find a home in the Far West, or even dwell at ease beneath sultry skies. An ancient Hebrew out of his own country was a fish out of water: out of his proper element. It must have been a great discomfort to God’s people to dwell among idolaters, and to be forced to witness obscene rites and revolting practices. God’s own favoured ones in these days may be living where they are as much out of place as lambs among wolves, or doves among hawks.
4. The beloved of God may yet be in a place of great barrenness as to all spiritual good. Our education for eternity may necessitate spiritual tribulation, and bereavement from visible comforts. To be weaned from all reliance on outward means may be for our good, that we may be driven in upon the Lord, and made to know that He is all in all.
5. Worse still, the Lord’s chosen may be under oppression through surrounding ungodliness and sin. Is it not still true of us, as well as of our Saviour, “Out of Egypt have I called My Son”?
II. What God will be to his people when they get into these circumstances. “Yet will I be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come.” In using the word “little” the gracious God would seem to say, “I will condescend to them, and I will be as they are. I will bow down to their littleness, and I will be to each little one of them a little sanctuary.”
1. A sanctuary was a place of refuge. In past ages, churches and abbeys and altars have been used as places of sanctuary to which men have fled when in danger of their lives. Now, beloved fellow believer, wherever you are, wherever you dwell, God will be to you a constant place of refuge. You shall flee from sin to God in Christ Jesus. You shall flee from an accusing conscience to His pardoning love. You shall flee from daily cares to Him who careth for you. You shall flee from the accusations of Satan to the advocacy of Jesus. You shall flee even from yourselves to your Lord, and He will be to you in all senses a place of refuge. This is the happy harbour of all saints in all weathers.
2. A sanctuary signifies also a place of worship. It is a place where the Divine presence is peculiarly manifested--a holy place. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself is the true place of worship for saved souls.
3. Now, go a little further. Our God is to us a place of stillness. What was the sanctuary: of old? The sanctuary was the most holy place, the third court, the innermost of all within the veil. It was the stillest place that ever was on earth: a closet of absolute silence. Once in the year the high priest went in, and filled it full of the smoke of incense as he waved his censer in the mystic presence; but otherwise it was a chamber in which there was no footfall of living thing, or voice of mortal man. The stillness within the Holy of Holies of the temple must have reached the intensity of awe. What repose one might enjoy who could dwell in the secret place of the Most High! If you can baptize your spirit into the great deeps of Godhead, if you can take a plunge into the fathomless love of the covenant, if you can rise to commune with God, and speak with Him as a man speaketh with His friend, then will He be unto you as a little sanctuary, and you shall enjoy that solemn silence of the soul which hath music in it like the eternal harmonies. The presence of the Lord will be as a calm hand for that fevered brow, and a pillow for that burdened head. Use your God in this way, for so He presents Himself to you.
4. The sanctuary was a place of mercy. When men have no mercy on you, go to God. When you have no mercy on yourself--and sometimes you have not--run away to God.
5. The sanctuary was the house of mercy, and hence a place of condescension - “a little sanctuary.” To suit our needs the blessings of grace must be given in little forms. When the Lord communes with the greatest of men, He must become little to speak with him.
6. That sanctuary was a place of great holiness. “Holiness becometh Thy house.” This applied to the whole temple, but the inner shrine was called “sanctum sanctorum”--the Holy of Holies, for so the Hebrews make a superlative. It was the holiest place that could be. What bliss to enter into the Holy of Holies! Now, you cannot do that by getting into a ceil, or by shutting yourselves up in your room; but you can enter the most holy place by communion with God. Here is the promise; the text means this--“I will be to them as a little sanctuary--a little Holy of Holies. I will put them into Myself as into the most holy place, and there will I hide them. In the secret of My tabernacle will I hide them. I will set them up upon a rock.”
7. We may regard the Sanctuary as a place of cleansing. That may be gathered, from the other rendering of my text: “I will be unto them a little sanctification.” We want not only the great blood washing, but also the lesser washing of the feet with water; and the Lord Himself wilt give us this blessing. Did not Jesus take a towel, and gird Himself for this very purpose?
8. God will be to us a place of communion and of revelation. In the Holy of Holies God spoke with man, on that one day in the year, in a wondrous manner; and he that had been there, and came forth alive, came out to bless the congregation. Every day of the year the teaching of the sanctuary was that in God there was everything His people wanted. The joys of this life are like the ice palace of Montreal, which is fair to look upon while the winter lasts, but it all dissolves as the spring comes on. All things round about us here are myths and dreams. This is the land of fancies and of shadows. Pray God to get you out of them, and that you may find in Him your sanctuary, and indeed all that you want. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God a sanctuary
I. To those who are deprived of the means of grace. Sufferers in sick rooms, travellers in lonely and distant places, missionaries amongst the heathen. How often to such comes the vision of the country church, when the summer air stole into the open window, bringing the breath of flowers; or of the great city church, with the well-known voice of a beloved minister. They long for these again. But God will be all and more.
II. To those who cannot derive benefit from the services they attend. The clergyman is broad in his views, and unsympathetic with the deeper moods of the spirit. Still, it may be your duty to attend for example’s sake; but whilst waiting before the Lord, He will draw near and become your sanctuary.
III. To those who are exposed to danger and persecution. In the olden time the sanctuary was a place of refuge. All who fled thither were in safeguard. So let the driven soul haste to the folds of the Tabernacle of God’s presence, None can pursue it into that secret place. No weapon shall smite; and even envying voices shall die into subdued murmurs. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you.
The nature of genuine religion
I. God appropriates this work to Himself. Real religion is of a Divine original: it never would have had an existence in the world without the revelation of God; and it will never have an existence in the soul without the operation of God.
1. The doctrine has been much abused. It has often been so managed as to make the sinner, while in his natural state, to appear unfortunate rather than criminal, and to render the use of means and exertions needless.
2. If “all things are of God,” is religion to be excluded, and to form the only exception? “Does the river of the water of life” spring from a source on this side “the throne of God and of the Lamb”?
3. To know things in their causes has been deemed the highest kind of knowledge: to know salvation in its source is indispensable.
(1) It is necessary, to guide and to encourage the concern of awakened sinners, who are asking, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Seeing so many difficulties and dangers before them, and feeling their corruption and weakness, after a few unsuccessful struggles, they will sink down in hopeless despair; unless, with a sense of their own inability, you exhibit that grace which is sufficient for them, and meet them in their conviction with the promise, “Ask, and it shall be given you”; etc.
(2) It is necessary to call forth the acknowledgments, and to regulate the praises of those who are sanctified by Divine grace.
II. The disposition which it produces.
1. He promises to give them one heart; and this shows the sameness of religion, as to the leading views, sentiments, and pursuits of its possessors.
2. “I will put a new spirit within you”--not only different from that which still animates others, but distinguished from that which once influenced them. In this manner the Lord qualifies His people for their situation and engagements: and thus they are at home in them: there is a suitableness productive of ease and enjoyment.
3. He gives “them an heart of flesh.” It was a heart of “stone” before. Take a stone--feel it--how cold! Strike it--it resists the blow. Lay upon it a burden--it feels no pressure. Apply to it a seal--it receives no impression. Such were your hearts once. What a mercy to have this curse removed,--to be able to feel; to feel spiritually; to be alive to “the powers of the world to come!” to be no longer insensible to Divine and heavenly things, when they come in contact with us!
III. The practice which religion demands--“That they may walk in My statutes,” etc.
1. Observe the order in which these things are arranged. Principle precedes practice, and prepares for it. Behold a man hungry--he needs no argument to induce him to eat. See that mother--she needs no motive to determine her to cherish her darling babe--nature impels. The obedience of the Christian is natural, and hence it is pleasant and invariable: “he runs and is not weary, he walks and is not faint.”
2. It is equally true that practice must follow principle. The one is the necessary consequence of the other, This influence will operate: if it be fire, it will burn; if it be leaven, it will pervade and assimilate; if it be in us “a well of water,” it will “spring up into everlasting life.” The one is the proper evidence of the other. The cause is ascertained by the effect.
IV. The blessed privilege of the righteous.
1. It is more than if He said, I will be thy friend, thy helper, thy benefactor; for these are relations derived from creatures, and therefore notions of limited significancy.
2. He is really yours. In nothing else have you such a propriety. Your time is not your own; your riches are not your own; your children are not your own; your bodies, and your spirits, are not your own; but God is yours by absolute promise and donation.
3. Consider the final issue of the connection. The relation is intended to display the immensity of His benevolence, and of His munificence, towards His people. It does much for them here. But they “shall see greater things than these.” They have now only “the first fruits of the Spirit, the earnest of their inheritance.” Their alliance with God is often concealed from others, and from themselves; and the advantages it produces are circumscribed by the world in which we live, and the body of this death. It has not room in which to operate, or time in which to expand. Behold, then, an eternity succeeding time: a new system prepared to receive them: an happiness in reserve, of which they can now form no adequate conception! (W. Jay.)
Opposites to oneness of heart
They are these--First Unresolvedness, which is when a man wavereth in his mind, being not yet resolved which way to take, or what choice to make. Secondly, oneness is opposed to hypocrisy and double dealing, to shows and appearances, to an heart and an heart. Thirdly, it is opposed to inconstancy and variableness (Galatians 3:20). Lastly, it is opposed to division and contention (as Acts 4:32). So then, by all that hath been said, you may plainly see what a one heart is. It is--
1. A resolved heart.
2. A plain heart, a single heart; when the inside and outside agree, such an heart as is no other in intentions than it is in pretences.
3. A constant, fixed heart.
4. Lastly, it is a quiet and peaceable heart. Such a man as hath peace with God, and agreeth with himself, so as he goes all one way in God’s worship, this man may be truly said to have one heart. Many motives we might use to persuade you hereunto. There is but one God, one Christ, one Spirit, one truth, one gospel, one heaven: besides, thou art but one man, and one heart is enough for one man; get it, therefore. It is comfortable; for it is an evidence of our uprightness. And it is profitable, for it unites a man to himself in all God’s services; it delivers him from many temptations, from many distractions, etc. But how shall I know my heart to be one?
I. Three plain notes of a heart that is one.
(1) Integrity. When the heart is become one, a man goeth all one way; he is what he seems, he appears what indeed he is. He aims at God’s whole will, to fulfil the same.
(2) A second note is constancy; when a man is at all times like himself, one and the same, take him when and which way you will.
(3) And a third is sincerity: when a man goes upon one motive, he strains out all by-respects, all selfishness, and looks to the common, to a public good, his main aim is the glory of God in his own salvation. (R. Harris, B. D.)
Oneness of heart
Oneness of heart is a great blessing; it is the fruit of the covenant of grace. It is the first blessing here mentioned; it is joined with other great blessings. I will show you the good of it in some particulars.
1. One-heartedness in Christians rejoiceth the Spirit of Christ, which is a Spirit of love, peace, union, and is grieved with what is opposite to them.
2. It greatly sweetens and contents the heart of man, when the will, affections, judgment, and conscience are friendly and united the right way. It is heaven in the soul (Romans 14:17; Luke 17:21).
3. It makes the communion one with another delightful and acceptable (Psalms 133:1).
4. It prevents all the evil which comes by divisions and contentions, which are great and many.
5. It invites others unto that way where it is found. It is a pleasant and comely thing to see brethren dwell in unity; men are affected with it, there is much beauty and mirth in the harmony of hearts.
6. It improves grace, and makes Christians thrive much; whereas jars, divisions, vain disputes, and wranglings, prejudice the lustre and growth of grace, if not the life.
7. It furthers their prayers; when men are all of one heart, there is much sweetness and strength in their prayers (Acts 4:24-31; Matthew 5:23-24).
8. It is an honour to the Lord Christ, that Christians do agree; they are members of His body, and it is a disparagement to the Head to have the members fall out, rend and tear one another: this makes strangers speak and think evil of the way of Christ (John 13:35; l John 3:10).
9. Sympathy with each other. If there be one-heartedness among men, what is the burden and comfort of the one is the burden and comfort of the rest.
10. What evidence of being in the covenant of grace, if there be not union of the heart within itself, union of it to God and others? what satisfaction can a man have of his being in covenant with God? Here this one-heartedness is prefixed as the first thing we should look at; and so in Jeremiah 32:39.
11. It makes willing to do one for another. Things difficult become easy where love exists; and the ground of it is, The heart is where it loves, not where it lives.
I. Helps to unite our hearts.
1. Consider many things are darkly laid down in the Scriptures, and the scope of God and Christ therein is not to cause contention, difference, and censuring, but to unite us more strongly in those things which are clear, and to cause a forbearance of one another in things which are dark and doubtful (Philippians 3:15-16).
2. Divine Providence hath ordered it so, that there should be difference and inequality in the naturals and spirituals of Christians, that so they may have a greater tendency and fitness for union. As in a ship, or house, all pieces of timber must not be of the same length, height, and breadth, but differing; that so they may fit their several places, and conduce to make up a more goodly fabric: so among men, some have great natural and spiritual abilities, some lower degrees of both, some lesser than they; and this is the will and wisdom of Divine Providence, so to dispense and dispose that all may fitly fall in together, and make the more glorious structures for heaven.
3. Seek the good one of another, and that indifferently. Selfishness and partiality undo and divide, they have private ends, ways, means, and move upon sinister respects; whereas if we had more self-denying, impartial, and public spirits, to mind the welfare of others, we should quickly attain to some good degree of this oneness of heart (1 Corinthians 10:24).
4. Lay aside the wisdom of the flesh, and exalt the wisdom of the Spirit.
5. Humility; where that is it draws the heart of God to it (Isaiah 57:15), God dwells with the humble spirit; and surely it will gain the hearts of men to it. Proverbs 29:23, “A man’s pride shall bring him low! “it will make God and man against him;” but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit,!’ both God and man will support, speak well of, do good to and close with him.
6. Consider we are brethren, called and pressed unto peace and mutual agreement in the Gospel.
II. Preservatives of one-heartedness.
1. Look much at the gifts, graces, and excellencies which are in others, not at their weaknesses and imperfections; let the bright side of the cloud be in your eyes, not the black side; and this will keep your hearts united.
2. Lay aside all provoking, dividing names, terms, and speeches. If we would have our hearts kept in firm union, we must use soft tongues and gentle words (Proverbs 15:1; Proverbs 12:25).
3. Ever make the best construction of men’s words and actions; that will preserve peace and oneness of heart.
4. Get much love and exercise it; that makes hearts one, and preserves them being one. Christ measures men by their love; and no marvel, love is the fulfilling of the law (Galatians 5:14); and if we serve one another by love and fulfil the law, where can the breach be made, how can the offence come in?
5. Be willing to learn one of another; that will endear our hearts each to other, and keep them in oneness.
6. See God’s presence and nearness to us; that is a means to preserve us in a one-hearted condition. When the Master is present the servants are quiet, and keep so.
III. Inducements to one-heartedness.
I. That great apostle Paul saith to the Ephesians (Ephesians 4:3-6), “Endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit”: and why? “There is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.”
2. Christ hath taken our nature upon Him; and as to unite man and God together, so to unite man and man together in Himself: hence, Galatians 3:28, “Ye are all one in Christ Jesus”; and Romans 8:17, “Joint heirs with Christ”; and Ephesians 2:6, said to “sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” This should move us to live and love as those who have such high privileges by Christ.
3. If you love them who are of your own opinion only, and love you, what do you more than others, than Pharisees, than publicans? (Matthew 5:46). Why can you not love men who have the same graces with you, as well as those who have the same opinions with you?
4. It is the fulfilling of a prophecy (Isaiah 11:6-9).
5. Consider what oneness of spirit is amongst the enemies of God. (W. Greenhill, M. A.)
I will give them one heart
All that is valuable in Christian experience, or that is desirable in this world and the next, is in this precious promise. It is the one thing needful, the good part that shall never be taken away from its happy possessor.
I. What is implied in this blessing.
1. When God promises to give His people one heart, it supposes that their heart was previously divided among other objects, and neither devoted to Himself nor united to one another.
2. Or if there he any sort of affection for what is good, yet the heart of a sinner is still divided, and so shall it be found faulty (Hosea 10:2). It is divided between God and Mammon, sin and holiness; between the trifles and vanities of this world, and the blessedness of the next. Hence the lives of sinners are full of inconsistencies and contradictions, running into opposite extremes, and becoming every thing by turns.
II. The import of the promise itself.
1. They are of one mind as to the Object of their supreme affections, and the way of acceptance with Him.
2. They are of one heart as to their relation and union to one another. Their outward circumstances and inward dispositions, their mental abilities and spiritual acquirements may be very different; some rich and some poor, some weak and ignorant, others wise and intelligent, some babes in Christ, and others young men and fathers; yet they are of one heart and one soul as to the great objects of the Christian faith.
3. This oneness is the fruit of Christ’s death; for He died that He might gather in one the children of God that are scattered abroad. It also arises from His intercession; I pray, says He, that they all may be one, as Thou Father art in Me and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me. It is likewise the proper and distinguishing badge of discipleship! By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, says Jesus, if ye love one another.
4. The oneness of heart promised in the text may further be distinguished--
(1) From a double or divided heart. Some men’s affections and desires are scattered amongst a multitude of different objects; but the heart of a Christian is in this respect undivided. All the powers and faculties of his soul go one may, tending towards one object. This one thing I do, says Paul.
(2) This oneness of heart may be opposed to every species of guile and hypocrisy.
(3) It is opposed to a doubtful and undecided state of mind.
(4) It stands opposed to a fickle and inconstant heart. A man of a gracious disposition will appear for God when he himself is neglected and forgotten; and for religion, when it is most derided and opposed. He has lift up his hand to God, and he will not go back.
III. The origin of this blessing.
1. This blessing is everywhere ascribed to God in the Scriptures, not only incidentally and by implication, but in plain and direct terms (1 Chronicles 29:19; Psalms 51:10; Ezekiel 36:26).
2. It appears from the nature of the change itself. It is called a creation, a resurrection; and requires an exertion of the same almighty power as was manifested in the former of these events, and such as will be displayed in the latter.
3. The former state and character of those on whom the blessing is bestowed. They were careless and inattentive; they neither saw their need of it, nor were inclined to seek after it. They were weak and impotent; sin had robbed them of their innocence, and also of their strength. They were stubborn and obstinate; so far from being co-workers with God, they resisted His operations, and were utterly averse to His gracious designs. They were not only estranged, but alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that was in them, by reason of the hardness of their hearts. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
And I will put a new spirit within you.
Regeneration and conversion
1. Regeneration is internal, conversion external. The one is hidden except as manifested in the other. Each is a change. The one applies to character, the other to conduct; one applies to the heart, the other to the manner of life. There may not be the same room for a change in the outer life of one as in the outer life of another. A young lady, raised under the refining influences of an elegant home, does not need conversion so much as the notoriously wicked man; still, she must be born from above, else she can never enter or see the kingdom of God.
2. Regeneration is a change wrought of God in man’s heart; conversion is a change wrought by the man himself in his own life. Hence the man is turned, and turns himself; the engine is reversed, and reverses itself. These two great truths, rather two sides of one truth, should be held distinct and in their proper relation. In nature are things whose workmanship surpasses the workmanship of the highest human genius. Nature everywhere surpasses art. Surely among the masterpieces which come from God’s hand is His work wherein a man becomes a new creature in Christ Jesus. “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto God’s works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
3. Regeneration is the only sure basis of a genuine conversion. Reformation, without regeneration, is possible. Reformation is not religion; a moral life is not necessarily a religious life. A religious life is something additional to the highest moral life--beautifies, adorns, glorifies it; does infinitely more, gives it a surer basis on which to rest. A godly life, a spiritual-mindedness, a joy and delight in God’s service, must have back of it a change of heart. A religious life, without regeneration, is perhaps the heaviest and most galling yoke ever worn by man. Regeneration and conversion stand to each other as cause and effect, and we must not reverse the order. We need heart back of life; regeneration back of conversion. “If you have not known yourself a sinner, you cannot know Christ as a Saviour. Some are preaching up nowadays a dry-eyed faith, and men seem to jump into assurance as if there were no new birth, no conviction for sin, no repentance.” There is great need for the fundamentals in religious experience and conviction and life.
4. Regeneration and conversion together characterise a people who are God’s people. “They shall be My people, and I will be their God.” God’s people here; and God is their God now. This interior life springs from union with Him, and finds expression and correspondence in their outer life. Good in the heart and in the life: regenerated and converted; spiritual and religious; walking in God’s statutes, keeping God’s ordinances and doing them, because of what God has done within; working out, because God is working within. Such are God’s people, each a coin bearing this double superscription. These are God’s people now, but infinitely and gloriously hereafter. (J. M. Frost.)
Power and efficacy of the Holy Spirit
I. Before treating of a change of heart, it is very natural and proper that inquiry should be made whether the heart and affections of men are so wrong, and in such disorder, as to be susceptible of being amended. For if the point were established, that the motives of the heart were as pure as possible, and the internal, real, moral character of men absolutely faultless, there would evidently be no room for improvement; and all further inquiry into the reality of a change of heart would be precluded.
II. Our next inquiry is, supposing this most desirable change to be amply provided for, under the blessed government of God, whether it may be expected to be instantaneous and entire. Reason and analogy, then, are decidedly against such an expectation. So far as we know, all ameliorating processes are, of necessity, gradual and slow. And there is nothing in Scripture or in experience to show that the moral benefits of Christianity, either in the case of nations or individuals, are dispensed by any other law. In looking for a changed man, then, we must not be looking for a faultless and perfect man; and in seeking for evidence that there is a reality in the moral change sometimes wrought by the influence of the Bible, we are not to look for a change which leaves no room for further amendment.
III. What then? it may be asked--is this change superficial, apparent, external only? A change from being notoriously vicious and bad, to being outwardly strict and exemplary; from living in the indulgence of personal and social vices, to a most pure and blameless moral deportment? This question is easily answered by another: does a change of outward deportment necessarily involve a change of the inward feelings and motives of the heart?
IV. This brings us to a nearer inspection of the real nature of a change of heart. And, to make the point more abundantly clear and convincing, some of the disorders of our moral natures will be recounted, both as it regards ourselves, our fellow creatures, and our moral Governor, and then the inquiry will be, whether the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ contains the moral power of correcting these disorders; or, in other words, of changing our hearts in these several respects.
1. I am persuaded that it is but too apparent to every one of you, that your impatience, irritability, pride, and passion miserably impair and prevent your own happiness. In other words, that every man is his own worst enemy--far the worst.
2. Are the inward feelings of our hearts towards our neighbours any better or more under control, than those which have respect to our own immediate personal happiness? Are there, amongst us, no unholy strifes and emulations; no envious or slanderous thoughts; no coverings and hatreds; no feelings of malice or revenge?
3. But the true secret of all the other faults and disorders of our moral natures evidently lies in our not having right feelings toward God, our most holy and rightful moral Governor. Here, therefore, it is that the inconceivable force of the Bible motives is brought to bear. This is the mountainous difficulty which Jesus Christ came to remedy and remove. Here it is that God places His healing touch; or rather, manifests His new creating power. The heart has new and right feelings implanted in it towards God, and towards His Son Jesus Christ, through faith in His name, and by the power of the Holy Ghost.
V. The only point which remains to be discussed is, whether there is remarkable fitness in Bible considerations to produce these great and most desirable changes. That there is might have been inferred from the benevolent design of the Gospel, and from considering who is its Author; it being self-evident that our Moral Governor would not have provided a religion for a race of beings alienated from Him, without infusing into it a power to restore them to His service and His favour. And the same result comes to us abundantly attested by observation: exceedingly bad men have been made radically better by the Gospel, but never by any other religion; never by any other moral influence. (H. B. Smith, D. D.)
Of newness of heart
1. The thing promised, “I will put a new spirit within you.” That you may the better understand the terms, you may distinguish either of spirit or of its adjunct newness. First, Spirit is taken in a diverse sense in Holy Scripture. Sometimes it is taken for the soul, as it is opposed to the body, as in that, place. The body returns to the earth, and the spirit to God that gave it. Sometimes, again, it is put for the faculties of the soul, as, I will sing with my spirit, that is, with my understanding (1 Corinthians 14:1-40.). So, I serve God with my Spirit (Romans 1:9), that is, with my will. Sometimes, again, it is taken for the gifts and graces of the spirit, as in that of our Saviour (John 3:1-36), That which is born of the spirit is spirit. Again, you must distinguish here of new. A thing is said to be new--
1. In regard of the matter of it, when it hath new materials; as when a man builds an house new out of the ground.
2. In regard of the inward form and species of it; as when I turn my gown into a coat.
3. In regard of the outward form and fashion of it; as when a man breaks an old bowl, and casts it into a new fashion, there is the same substance as before, but there is a new figure, a new face set upon it.
And so it is to be taken here. God will renew the spirit of His people, by putting new qualities into their souls. Secondly, the Author of this change is God,--“I will put a new spirit,” etc. That is, I will bestow upon you new graces, new qualities, that whereas you are naturally void of all goodness, hating Me, and being hated of Me, etc., I will put such a new frame of soul into you that you shall love Me, and one another spiritually. And how will He do this for them? not by extracting good qualities out of them, as if they were seminally and potentially there before, but He will infuse and pour the same into them anew. The words thus explained, we pass on to the point: that whosoever will be soundly assured that he belongs to the new Covenant, he must have a new heart, a new spirit; he must be a new man.
1. Necessary it is, first, in a double respect.
(1) In regard of precept; Make you a new heart and a new spirit (Ezekiel 18:31). And again, Be you transformed by the renewing of your minds (Romans 12:2); put off, concerning the former conversation, the old man which is corrupt, etc. (Ephesians 4:22). And be renewed in the spirit of y our minds (Colossians 3:10). In all these places He lays this upon us as a charge.
(2) It is necessary, as will appear if you consider it as a means conducing to our main end. To be renewed is the way to the new Jerusalem. You see how God hath smitten a new covenant with you, put you under a new governor, given you right into a new city, to the which He hath set this new way, so that whosoever treads the way thither, he must be a new creature (John 3:5). Secondly, it is possible too. True it is that man cannot make himself a new heart; but it is true also, that although he concur not as a cause or agent in this work, yet must he concur as a subject capable of being renewed; for whosoever is capable of reason, the same is also capable of grace (for what is grace but reason perfected and elevated); and though man be unable to renew himself, yet dealeth he with One that both is able and hath also undertaken to do it for him. He that could make man at first, can with the same ease remake him again; He that could call light out of darkness, can shine in man’s heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. For as there are no bounds set to God’s essence, so neither to His power. And as He is able to do this for His people, so is He no less willing to do it; for He hath said it, He hath sworn it, He hath sealed it (as you have heard), and therefore, sure He will not eat His word, go from His seal, be forsworn. So that it is possible. Thirdly, it is commodious too; for it brings along with it--
For the first, it is the glory of the creature to be renewed and sanctified; then the creature comes first to be glorious, when it is made new. There is nothing in the world (saith that Greek father) so beautiful as the new creature. Man by nature is deformed, ugly, the image of God being utterly defaced in him.
2. As it is honourable, so it is comfortable to be a new man indeed, what can comfort us if we be not so? There be some things that deceive the world, under the name of a new spirit.
These are, first, Civility. A new nature is another thing than civil honesty. Secondly, Formality is another counterfeit of this new spirit. Formality is but a picture of true goodness, it reforms only the outward man; but this new nature, the inward. It is a liveless thing.
1. A new spirit is universal, it goes through the whole man, leavens the whole lump; but in the hypocrite, that which he hath is private and particular to certain faculties of his soul; as conviction is restrained to his understanding, illumination to his judgment, restraint to his will, etc. But now this new grace is common to all the powers of the soul; it is not like a little spring, that takes beginning in some piece of ground, and ends in the same; but like the great ocean that compasseth about the whole world, and receiveth divers names according to the several places that it washes and salutes. As it dwelleth in the head, it is called wisdom; as in the memory, faithfulness; as in the conscience, tenderness; as in the will, subjection; as in the affections, it is termed order; as in the outward man, new obedience: so it receives divers appellations according to the diverse parts and powers that it affecteth. And as it is universal for the subject, so for the object too; for it is set against all sin, and resolves upon the doing of all duty according to its light.
2. As it is universal, so it is alterative too; it amends not the outside only, but seeks into the inward man, and alters that.
3. It is humbling. It makes a man thankful to God, merciful to men, and more basely to think of himself than of any other.
4. It is diffusive and spreading. A new man would have all the world new, and go to heaven as well as himself. On the other side, an old man may have much light in his head, but little love in his heart. This new spirit works in a man a new conversation, a new life, new projects, new ends, new endeavours, etc. Now examine whether you are new or not? What if we be? and what if we be not? If you be not, then labour to get a new heart; old things we are all ashamed of. An old scull, an old rotten coat, we are ashamed to be seen in it; oh, we are not an old inside, an old corrupt heart, this is worse than all the rest. We naturally all affect novelties, and by our good wills we would have new houses, new diet, new fashions, new everything. And shall we then content ourselves with an old rotten heart? (R. Harris, B. D.)
The renovation of the heart
I. This is not effected by revealed truth. No amount of knowledge of the things of God, either here or hereafter, will be sufficient to renew the heart. Men of most thorough acquaintance with the Scriptures die without reconciliation to God. The apostate angels have full knowledge of the character, law, and government of God; yet their hearts are not renewed.
II. Nor is it effected by the heart itself. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” “They that are after the flesh, do mind the things of the flesh.” “To be carnally minded is death.” But it may still be said, that our affections may be changed and renewed by our volitions or determinations. But is it not true, that the volitions have no direct control over the affections? that the affections control the volitions? Of what use, then, are determinations and purposes to control and renovate the heart?
III. The renovation of the heart is effected by the immediate power of God. This is manifest from the declarations of the Scriptures. Our regeneration is not of blood, “nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Christ said, “No man can come unto Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him.” “It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man, therefore, that hath heard and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto Me.” What, then, is it for God to draw an individual, according to this passage? It must relate to an operation which infallibly brings every subject of it to Christ; and wherein can this drawing differ from the others except by the immediate action of the Holy Spirit in renovating the heart? This meaning will manifestly accord with the passage in the prophet from which it is taken. In speaking of the prosperity of Zion, he says: “And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of thy children.” “In righteousness shalt thou be established.” The drawing here mentioned is something entirely beyond the instruction of the Scriptures, or the convincing operation of the Holy Spirit; and brings all its subjects to Christ. What can this be but an immediate exercise of Divine power?
1. Those who undergo this change are said to be born again. As being born constitutes an individual a member of the family of man, by nature; so to be born again is requisite to constitute him a member of the spiritual family of Christ. An effect is produced in him, creating him anew unto good works; but of the manner in which this effect is produced, he knows no more than of the chambers from which the winds issue, or the abodes in which they lodge.
2. Those who undergo this change are described as “created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” The child of God is said to be a “new man, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness.”
3. The renovation of the heart is illustrated by the resurrection of the dead. (J. Foot, D. D.)
Regeneration a change of inward principle
Regeneration is a change of principle. The principle of a natural man in his religious actions is artificial; he is wound up to such a peg, like the spring of an engine, by some outward respects which please him, but as the motion of an engine ceases when the spring is down, so a natural man’s motion holds no longer than the delight those motions give him which first engaged him in it. But the principle in a good man is spirit, an eternal principle; and the first motion of this principle is towards God, to act from God and to act for God. (S. Charnock.)
The law of life
“The Law of the Spirit of Life made me free from the law,” etc. This is a familiar process in the world around us. The law of life in a bird, energising the wonderful machinery of flight, makes it free from the downward pull of the law of gravitation acting on the weight of its body. The law of life in the human body, energising in the heart and propelling the oxygenated blood to the extremities of our frame, makes us free from the peril to health which would otherwise ensue from the accumulation of the waste products of our tissues. Throughout the universe law modifies or cancels the operation of law, as a sound may destroy a sound. We all know how the law of the antiseptic eucalyptus makes us free from the law of the influenza epidemic. So, if we live in the Spirit and walk in the Spirit, He will antagonise the evils of our own heart, and make us so free from them that we shall not do as otherwise we would (Galatians 5:16-17 R.V.). Our one aim should be not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God, because the ungrieved Spirit is more than a match for every besetment of innate depravity or virulent temptation. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
God’s law put into the heart by His Spirit
As sometimes you will find in an old monkish library the fair vellum that once bore lascivious stories of ancient heathens and pagan deities turned into the manuscript in which a saint has penned his contemplations, an Augustine his Confessions, or a Jerome his translations, so our souls may become palimpsests. The old wicked, heathen characters that we have traced there may be blotted out, and covered over by the writing of that Divine Spirit who has said, “I will put My laws into their minds and write them in their hearts.” (A. Maclaren.)
And I will take the stony heart out of their flesh.--
A hard heart described
I. What is meant by heart in this text? Indeed, heart is taken sometimes particularly for the will of man, namely, when it goes joined with some other word of like signification, as mind, soul, etc.; sometimes, again, it is taken for the whole inside of a man, and so here in the text. All the powers and faculties of the soul are hardened, are perverted, dead and dull in respect of any spiritual goodness; his understanding is darkened, his will froward, his conscience brawny, etc., all is stony that is within him.
II. What is meant by a stony heist? This implieth two things--
1. A quality, hardness. That is hard (in a natural sense) that yields not to any impression or natural agent, that will not yield under your hand, but makes head and resistance. In a spiritual sense, the heart is said to be hard when it yields not to the persuasion of a moral agent, that refuseth to be wrought upon when God deals with it either by Himself or by an instrument.
2. The degree of this hardness; it is hard even unto stoniness, which implieth two things--First, a non-yieldance to goodness. Secondly, a stiff resistance; as in hard wood, that, when a man comes to cleave it, will not yield to the stroke, but returns the edge of your tool upon yourself. So when one beats upon a hard stone, upon a flint or adamant, there is no yieldance, but the weapon recoils upon a man with a great deal of indignation, as it were. So, then, you see what is meant by hard, and what by stony. A heart of stone, then, is nothing else but an untractable heart, an untamed heart, a heart disposed to resist, not disposed to yield.
III. For the kinds of it. There is first a natural hardness, common to all the sons and daughters of Adam. This we bring into the world with us; for we are all born with a stone in our hearts, it is our natural temper to be hard. Secondly, a contracted hardness; contracted, I say, by much practice and in long time, and do obstinate themselves by continuance in sin.
IV. The signs of this hardness are of two sorts--First, negative; secondly, positive. The negative signs are--First, unteachableness; secondly, unsensibleness; thirdly, inflexibleness. For the first, man is naturally untractable to any spiritual good thing. Secondly, as he is unteachable, so he is insensible, and that argues a deal of hardness, as is to be seen in a stone, smite it while you will, beat it as long as you can stand over it, it complains not; lay a mountain upon it, it never groans or cries, and grind it to powder, out of the pressure: and so it is with an unregenerate man, let a mountain of sin, let a world of guilt lie upon his soul, he feels it not, he groans not under it; sin is in him, as an element in its own place, and so weighs not with him,--he sleeps, he eats, he drinks, he laughs and enjoys himself, as if the matter were nothing; so he goes merrily to execution, and dreads no danger, no more than if he were as much reconciled to God as any man living. A third sign of a stony heart is inflexibleness. A stone cannot bend; break it you may, bend it you cannot; and so it fares with him that is of a stony heart, he will not bend or bow to God. Let God say or do whatever He can that is fit to be done to a reasonable creature, he is no whit moved therewith. These now are the negative notes of a stony heart. The positive follow, and they are these--First, stiffness and wilfulness in opinion. A stone will continue still like itself, talk while you will to it; and so those that have a stone in their hearts will needs hold fast their own conclusions. Secondly, obstinacy and settledness in evil practices, when men shall be of their humour, who answered the prophet peremptorily: The word that thou speakest unto us in the name of the Lord, we will not do it. Thirdly, a gainsaying and contradicting spirit; such as was in the Pharisees. (R. Harris, B. D.)
And will give them an heart of flesh.--
Of softness of heart
And, to begin with natural softness of heart, it is in its sphere and in its own way a thing commendable in a sort; but not as we are to speak of softness in this place; for it ariseth oftentimes from some weakness in the body, and not from strength of the soul. An instance hereof you have in Rehoboam, king of Judah (2 Chronicles 13:7). My father Rehoboam, saith he, was young and tender hearted, etc.; of a tender disposition, and a softly man, he was naturally so. Now, the differences between this softness natural, and that which we call spiritual, are two. First, natural softness comes upon us without our endeavour, it costs us no labour; for why? we are born so;--but spiritual softness costs a man a great deal of pains; he that gets it shall know how he comes by it, it will cost him many a sermon, many a chapter, many a prayer, many a tear, etc.
2. Natural softness is usually uniform, that is, it ordinarily worketh after one manner, is easily wrought to one thing as well as another. Bring him to a sermon, if it be well set on, and delivered with power, he will seem greatly affected therewith, even to the shedding of tears sometimes; take him at another time to a play, let him see a tragedy well acted, and he will be as ready to weep there too, as he was before at God’s house. In short, you may draw him any way, though usually he is more inclinable to that which is evil than to that which is good, as we see in the said Rehoboam. On the other side, spiritual softness makes a man tractable and malleable only in that that’s good. Bring an argument to move him to any goodness, it sways him straight: but in case a motion be set on foot to that which is evil, you shall find him most stiff against it, most resolute and peremptory. In a word, no man is so easily wrought upon by a good motion as he that is soft-hearted; no man is so hard to yield to sin, to be drawn to wickedness, as he. The second sort of softness is that we call moral, and this is somewhat more than natural softness. In some people, breeding and education doth very much to the mollifying of their dispositions; conversement with the heathen sages, and much reading of their moral writings, may somewhat alter a man, and make him better. It civiliseth a man, and makes him tame and tractable. First, moral softness seldom pierceth to the heart, it goes not deep enough; it oils the face, and smoothes the outside only, it barbs and shaves over sin, but doth not pluck it up by the roots, and make an utter riddance of it. This civil softness is like a ripe plum, smooth and soft on the outside, but open it and you shall find a stone within, etc. Second, this moral softness hath respect to man principally; indeed, it goes no higher lightly than man, being wondrous stiff to motions that come from heaven: it stands more upon compliments and civilities toward men than it doth on duties to God. The third kind of softness we call a legal softness; this is somewhat more than the two former: and it is when the apprehension of God’s dreadful judgments threatened or executed doth break the spirit of a man, melts him with an inward fire, fills him with fears and terrors, etc. The difference of this from spiritual softness is this--First, legal softness is involuntary; he suffers, indeed, he is smitten and wounded, but it is against his will, he doth not wound himself: he hath some kind of fears in his heart, and legal terrors, but he would fain cast them off if he knew how. In a word, he is merely passive in his softness. Contrarily, he that is spiritually softened is an agent in the work; he reacheth after softness, he labours it all he can, he prays for it, he is glad and thankful if he can any way come by it and obtain it, yea, though it cost him some crosses and losses in his outward estate. Secondly, legal terrors break the heart indeed, but do not soften it; the hardness remains still, nevertheless, as it doth in a stone that is broken all to shivers, and yet the hardness is not taken off, but dispersed rather into the several parcels of it.
1. What this evangelical softness is.
2. What’s the seat of it.
3. What are the causes of it.
For the first of these: softness, as it here stands in opposition to an hard and stony heart, is nothing else but a gracious frame of man’s heart, whereby it is easily wrought upon by God, and is apt to work that which is good. So that by this description of softness it appears to be double--
(1) Passive, when the heart is apt to be wrought upon to any good motion.
(2) Active, when it puts forth itself freely, and is apt to set itself a work on that which is good.
Next, the seat of this softness is the whole man; it is true, if we speak of the chief throne of this grace, it sits eminently in the will, but not only, the whole man is the seat of spiritual softness; the understanding is made apt thereby to conceive of that that’s good: the will is ready to sit down by it, and rest in it; the conscience, being checked for the neglect or abuse of it, will check us for the same; the affections will easily turn and stop, and the outward members will concur obediently, as men speak. Now for the causes of this softness: the efficient, you see, is God Himself. “I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them an heart of flesh,” it is His work alone. He undertakes it here in our text, and the same you may read, chap. 36. And He performs it too in the conversion of His children; see it in a few instances. Manasseh had sanguined and flesht himself in blood. And yet even this man, thus far gone in sin, the Lord softens him by sending him captive into a far country, casting him into cold irons, etc.; so that he humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, who made him of a lion to become a lamb, as profitable now, as before he was mischievous. The like you may see in Paul. Such a change doth the Lord make in His people when He takes in hand to convert them. Neither doth He thus soften them only at the first, but when they stand in need of a second conversion upon some particular out-let and out-stray,--as you may see in David, who grew miserably hardened upon his fall into adultery, dissimulation, and murder, but God so wrought him afterwards that he became more soft and tender-hearted then ever he had been before. You have seen who is the efficient cause of this spiritual softness, God alone. Now for the matter of it; it is habitual grace infused into a man’s soul from above. Saint James calls it the wisdom from above (chap. 3:17); and tells us further, that it is first pure, then peaceable, gentle and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, etc. In a word, God infuseth into the hearts of His people such grace as maketh them gentle, pliable, and malleable every way. For the formal cause or manner how the Lord softens His people, it is thus--
1. He takes the stone out of their flesh, and then bestows on them an heart of flesh.
2. He not only gives them reasons to persuade them from their natural and habitual hardness, but mightily works softness in their hearts: the power of God is exercised in this business, He puts to His hand as well as His mouth for the effecting of it. Lastly, for the final cause or end, wherefore the Lord thus softens the hearts of His people, it is laid down in the 20th verse of this chapter, that they may walk in His statutes, and keep Thy ordinances and do them; that they may comply with Him, and so they may be His people, and He may be their God; He hereby brings His people home to Himself, takes off the devil’s brand, and claps on His own, even that Image of His consisting in holiness and righteousness, and so conforms them to His Son Christ that He may be the first-born among many brethren. This is the general end why God softens His people, as hath been said in their first conversion.
In particular, the ends are--
1. To make them capable of the good He intends them to do, which till then they are not. To what end should a man sow good seed, if the ground be not softened first, if it be not torn up by the plough, and so made fit to receive it? or to what purpose should one go about to set a stamp on wax that is not softened and tempered that it may take impression? So here, man’s heart must be first ploughed, thawed, melted, made soft before the seed of God’s grace be cast into it: for till then the Word cannot have any sound or settled impression thereupon. Secondly, God softens the hearts of His people, to make them thereby active in that which is good when man’s heart is once grown hard and crusted over, as it were, it is quickly off from all holy performances, as every Christian knows by daily experience. This serves first for examination. Is this the estate of everyone that hath right to the new covenant, that he hath a soft and tender heart? then let every man reflect upon himself, and make trial of his own heart, whether it be a hard heart or a soft heart, whether it be made of a rock or of flesh? For if a man’s heart be hard in extremity, so as that he is yet under the power of hard, ness, it is certain that Satan hath set his mark upon that man for his own, for he writes all his marks and sets all his names in stone, and makes those whom he hath in possession of a rocky disposition. (R. Harris, B. D.)
That they may walk in My statutes.
Properties of obedience
First, it must be hearty: the heart must be delivered up to the Word, as the apostle saith, to be framed and fashioned thereby; and then from an inward principle, obedience must be yielded to the will of God. Secondly, it must be sincere, for the end of it, whilst we walk worthy of the Lord in all well pleasing, as he saith to the Colossians, God must be our chief aim, and all that we do this way must once be done to Him, and for Him. Thirdly, it must be regular, for the form and manner of it, squared out by the Word, which must be a rule unto us, both in point of faith and in matter of practice. The law itself in this respect is not abrogated, but still continues in force, as a rule to live by. And this we should do for these motives--
1. From God.
2. From ourselves.
For God, first it is that that doth wonderfully honour Him, when we can be content to deny ourselves, and as it were to dispossess ourselves of ourselves, that we may put Him into whole possession of our hearts. Secondly, this He expects of us as a Father, as a Master, as a Teacher, as a King, as a Creator and Maker of us. Thirdly, this He commends in His people when they observe to do His commandments, as when He compares His Church to the horses in Pharaoh’s chariot, implying that His people were such as could be content to be turned and wound any way by Him. Fourthly, this is accepted of God above all sacrifices, as the prophet tells Saul; to obey is better then sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22). As in respect of God, so in respect of ourselves, we should show ourselves obedient. First, because it is possible to obey God in such a measure, at least, as shall be accepted. If we are in the covenant, God hath undertaken to enable us to observe His statutes, and we may attain to grace whereby to serve God acceptably, as the apostle saith. Secondly, as it is possible, so it is profitable too; for every man shall be rewarded according to his works, and as the apostle saith, not the hearers of the law, but the doers shall be justified, so it is not our hearing of the Word, our profession of religion, our know, ledge that will carry it, but as St. James saith, you shall be blessed in the deed, Thirdly, it is comfortable, as well as profitable, to obey God; it is even our life. If the philosopher could say that our life stands in doing things virtuous and praiseworthy amongst men, how much rather may we use the same speech of doing the will of God from the heart. This, indeed, is to live, and nothing else but this, This is the man whiles he byes, and this he leaves behind him when he dies. For then, it is not how great anyone hath been upon earth, or how rich, beautiful, politic, valorous, etc.
these respects sway nothing with God; but so much goodness as any man hath had, so much comfort he carries with him, and so much honour, respect, and love he leaves behind him when he goes hence. Now then, if you bear any respect to God, if you would grace the Gospel, glad your teachers, silence your enemies, encourage your brethren, bring comfort to your own souls; the thing you are to perform and look to is practice. This is it that must justify your knowledge, for hereby we are sure that we know Him if we keep His commandments (Job 2:3-4). This is that the Lord aims at in all His ordinances, How shall we come to this obedience? Be sure you be in Christ, settle that, for from the old Adam you can suck nothing else but treason and rebellion: it is by the second Adam that anyone is made fit to obey. This being presupposed, then, that you are in Christ--First, you must get a treasure on the inside, make the tree good, and the fruit will be good also; according to the goodness of the sap, will the fruit be. Secondly, you must act those graces that you have, be doing still, up and be doing; and the Lord shall be with you. Never stand objecting, I cannot do such a duty, master such a corruption, resist such a temptation, bear such a cross, part with such a child, etc.; but put you yourselves upon the work, and say, God bids me do thus and thus, and I will do it, at least endeavour it. I am able to do all things through Christ that strengthens me, saith Paul (Philippians 4:13). But especially, make use of the covenant. He hath promised here, you see, to give blessings without and grace within; even one heart, a new heart, a soft heart, and all to this end, that we may walk in His statutes, and observe His commandments, and do them, etc. Improve this covenant, make your best of it, and say as the prophet, Lord, give Thy strength to Thy servant, that I may keep Thy Word; I am Thy servant, Lord, there is a relation between us, I am in covenant with Thee, and I come for that strength which Thou hast promised in the covenant, And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. This is now the last clause of the new covenant, and the upshot of all the rest. And I will be, etc.; wherein we have these two things to consider oral. For their part, they must behave themselves as His people.
2. And for His part, He will be their God. That the Lord is very ready (so soon as He hath made His people) to smite a covenant with them, and to marry them to Himself. First, He fits them, and then He contracts them. Thus He dealt with Abraham, the Father of the Church: God calls him out of his own country, bestows His grace upon him, calls for the exercise of it: Walk before Me, and be upright, and then smites a covenant with him (Genesis 17:1-2). And so He dealt afterwards with His people Israel. He calls them out of idolatrous Egypt, humbles and tries them in the wilderness, gives them summons in Mount Sinai, prepares them beforehand, by thunderings and lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the smoking of the mountain, etc.; and having thus subdued them to His fear, He makes a covenant with them (Exodus 19:1-25). Thus He dealt with Israel, and thus also with the Gentiles, as you may read, Hosea 2:1-23, which the apostle also makes use of (Romans 9:1-33). I will say to them that were not My people, Thou art My people; and they shall say, Thou art my God. And so the apostle applies it to some particular Gentiles (2 Corinthians 6:1-18). Come out from among them My people, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and not touch the unclean thing, and I will receive you. And I will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and My daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. Thus, you see, God is wondrous ready to smite a covenant with His people. The ground of this covenant is Jesus Christ, the angel of the covenant; He was God for the business with God, and man for the business with man; He partaketh of both God and man, that they may both meet in one in Him; and whereas there was a difference between them, He reconciles and makes them one again. To this end God--
1. Deputes Christ to the office of a Mediator, and sends to His people this angel of the covenant.
2. They accept of Him for their Mediator, and say as the people of Israel did of Moses, If we should hear the voice of the Lord our God, speaking out of the fire, we should die; go thou near and hear all that the Lord our God shall say, and speak thou unto us all that the Lord our God shall speak unto thee, and we will hear it and do it. In like sort, the people of God stand affected toward Christ, and say; if God will please to look upon them in Christ; and deal with them in His mediation, they will be content to put themselves upon Him, and to obey Him in all things. This is the ground of the covenant. Next for the motive that stirs Him up thus to make a league with His people; it is merely His own grace and goodness, it is because He hath set His love upon them, as He tells the Israelites (Deuteronomy 7:7). Thirdly, if you inquire into the order, it is thus--First, a covenant of grace is made with Christ; and next, in Christ it is made with all Christian men and women. The first capitulation and condition is with Christ, as He is head of the Church: God gives unto His Son Christ a People from all eternity, that He should redeem them and bring them back again. Next, the Lord having first covenanted with Christ, He covenants also with us; He fits us in Christ for Himself, and then brings us home to Himself. Lastly, the end of all this that God doth for His people is--
1. In respect of Himself, that He may set forth His own grace and goodness to the sons of men.
2. In respect of us, that He may secure us of our salvation in all the parts and degrees thereof. Is God thus ready to make a league with His people? take notice, then, in the first place, of the wonderful grace and goodness of God, that He should descend so far below Himself as to enter into covenant with such silly worms as we.
This goodness of His appears especially if you consider how--
1. He seeks it.
2. Seals it.
3. Performs it.
For the first, it had been grace wonderful in Him, if He would have but accepted at our hands terms of peace upon our suit and submission, but behold His goodness in that He is pleased to sue to us for reconciliation. It had been our part, questionless, to have sued to Him rather, as being underlings, and far inferior to Him; besides, we had done the wrong, and we were in His danger, not He in ours. Secondly, He shows His love to us, as in seeking, so in smiting this covenant with us, which is a wonderful grace in Him, if you consider--
1. The matter that this covenant contains; or,
2. The manner of confirming it.
For the first, this covenant contains all good things desirable--
(1) Freedom from all evil that may any way prove hurtful to us.
(2) The enjoyment of all good things; for God promiseth to give two worlds, yea, He will bestow Himself upon us, which is more than all the world besides. Secondly, for the manner His mercy appears in, that He confirms this covenant in the Son of His love. Consider, in the next place, how He seals this covenant with us; we break with Him continually, and prove false in the covenant. He never fails towards us, and yet He is ready upon all opportunities to confirm it unto us: He gives us all possible satisfaction for the present, and for the future; He is ready from time to time, as we fail on our part, and so are ready to question any part of the covenant, to seal again unto us, this year, and that year, this quarter, and that quarter, this month, and that month; whensoever we fail or doubt, if we but come unto Him in His ordinances and desire satisfaction, He is ready to set to a new seal for our confirmation, And now that you have seen what this covenant of grace is, what need more words to persuade you to embrace it; and yet there want not many motives hereunto.
1. It is greatly for our advantage to make this covenant with God. For--
(1) What an honour is it to us, that God should vouchsafe to enter into bond, as it were, for our security?
(2) What a benefit? “I will be your God!” etc. Princes may covenant with their subjects for peace, for living, for liberty, but none besides God can make a covenant of life with any: it is He alone that can say unto us, Live and never die, as in that place of Ezekiel forecited, I said unto her, live, namely, the life of grace here, and the life of glory hereafter.
2. Next, see how free a covenant it is God makes with us, even a covenant of grace: there is nothing required of us more than this, to disclaim ourselves, and to make Christ alone our Teacher, our Head, our all-sufficient Saviour, for in Him we shall be beloved.
3. Consider how full a covenant this is; He undertakes with us not for ourselves only, but for our seed after us: for, “I am thy God, and the God of thy seed.”
4. As it is a full, so ‘tis also a firm covenant, even such as shall stand unalterable to all perpetuity; heaven and earth shall pass, but not one tittle thereof shall fall to the ground; ‘tis an everlasting covenant. Lastly, see how desirous the Lord is to enter into this covenant with you, for He sent His Son into the world on purpose to make this covenant, and now still He sends abroad His ambassadors in His name, to entreat you to accept of condition of peace, and to be content to be reconciled unto Him. Now therefore, as Joshua sometimes spake to the children of Israel, when he renewed the covenant between them and God: Fear the Lord, saith he, and serve Him in sincerity and truth, etc. And if it seem evil to you this day to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom you will serve, etc. And that’s the second thing we propounded to be done by every one of you, keep covenant with your God; we have the advantage of it, we shall be sure to have the comfort, the safety, the happiness: in doing of this, there is great reward; for God cannot lie, He cannot deny Himself, He cannot but make good unto us, whatever He hath undertaken to do for us, therefore hold Him to it. Lastly, be you all exhorted to improve this covenant for all good intents and purposes, but especially for the confirmation and strengthening of your faith: Say, I have God’s hand, Gold’s seal, God’s oath, that He will be my God; why should I not then take heart and comfort? If I could do my part of the covenant, I should not doubt that God would do His. It is a covenant of grace that we are entered into, and God hath undertaken for us as well as for Himself. Only be sure you be in the covenant, and then God will be a God to you; than the which, what can be said more to your comfort, though we should speak unto you this twelvemonth? How shall I know that God is in covenant with me? He hath indeed smitten with me an outward covenant in the sacrament of baptism, but how may I come to know that God is in special covenant with me, and that He is my God? For your satisfaction herein, see first, how this covenant works upon you, and affects you. Doth it drive you from sin, and make you diligent in duty? Again, see whether you have the counterpane of God’s covenant within you or no: for He hath promised in this new covenant to put His fear in our hearts, and write His laws in our inward parts, etc. these are as a pair of indentures, whereof He keeps the one, and gives us the other. Lastly, see what you do in the covenant: do you endeavour to keep touch with God and to please Him in all things? and when you fail and come short of that you should do, have you no rest in your souls, till you have been with God, and there shamed yourselves in His presence, and made your peace? well and good then, for this you may trust to. (R. Harris, B. D.)
And they shall be My people, and I will be their God.--
The happiness of him that hath God for his God
Lo, this crowns all the rest, and is the top of man’s felicity, when God takes him into covenant, For proof of this point, we have a double testimony--
1. From God’s self (and that should be sufficient).
2. From the people of God. God, when He had spoken much by way of promise to His Church, as that He would give them rain in the due season, etc., so that they should eat of the old store, and bring forth the old because of the new; yea, that He would set His tabernacle among them, etc., at length He concludes all with this (verse 12), I will walk among you, I will even neighbour with you, as it were, and I will be your God, and ye shall be My people. So 2 Corinthians 6:17-18. As on the other side, when He would show Himself most of all displeased with a people, and seal up greatest wrath against them, He calls them, Loammi: Ye are not My people, and I will not be your God (Hosea 1:9). And if with this testimony of God, you join the testimony of the Church, the point will be yet more plainly proved; Happy is that people that is in such a ease.; yea, happy is that people whose God is the Lord (Psalms 144:15). Blessed is that nation whose God is the Lord: and the people whom He hath chosen for His own inheritance (Psalms 33:12). The honour and happiness of a nation and people lies in this, that they have God for their God. And the same is true also of particular persons: Blessed is the man whom Thou choosest, etc. (Psalms 65:4). Thence that exclamation of Moses: Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people, saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thine excellency, etc. (Deuteronomy 33:29); wherein stood the happiness of Israel above other nations, but in this, that God was so near them? This you will more easily believe, if you consider the reasons. And first, when a man hath God, he hath all; for God is blessedness itself, and all blessedness in the world is but derived from Him. God is, as essentially in Himself, so causally the root and fountain of all happiness in the creature, and everything is so far forth happy, as it partakes of God. For it is God alone that can free man from that that makes him miserable, sin and the curse; and it is God only that can bestow upon him that will make him truly blessed, grace and glory. So that man’s happiness lies in God. Again, when God comes into the heart, all other comforts come along with Him. If God once be your God, then Christ also is your Saviour, the Holy Ghost is your Comforter; the Word is yours, the sacraments yours; angels, saints, and all creatures are yours (1 Corinthians 3:22-23). Add hereunto, the immunities and privileges of those that have God for their God. We have spoken of many of these heretofore. The prophet speaks all in short: The Lord God is a sun, and a shield; the Lord will give grace and glory: and no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly (Psalms 84:11). (R. Harris, B. D.)
The glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city.
Departure of God from His temple
I. How averse God is to forsake His people. Look we to His declarations; look we to examples.
II. What are the different steps by which His departure may be discovered? He withholds--
1. The manifestations of His love.
2. The influences of His grace.
3. The warnings of His Spirit.
III. The dreadful state of those who are forsaken by Him.
1. They are delivered up into the hands of their spiritual enemies;
2. They live only to increase their guilt and misery. Apply--
(1) How are we to reconcile this doctrine with other parts of Scripture?
(2) How are we to avert this awful calamity? (C. Simeon, M. A.)
Stood upon the mountain.
Climbing the mountain
When the summer sun is hot, and the mountain snow melts; when days are long and skies are clear; when strong men rejoice to climb exceeding high mountains--and they rejoice in climbing higher and higher every year--Snowdon and Skiddaw, Ben Nevis and Ben Lomond, Mont Blanc and the great Matterhorn, and many other “high hills,” are surveyed, and then scaled by skilful and fearless men. It is well. We need examples of calm courage and indomitable perseverance. We need to see what effort, training, strength, health, and brave endurance can accomplish. But I would speak of the holy mountains and spiritual heights. I would point to lofty peaks in religious life, and glorious ascents into spheres of thought and joy beyond--far beyond--the common level of Christian experience.
I. The mountain of Scripture. More study of the Bible, and more meditation on God mean more lofty views of His providence and grace--a mental life of crystalline clearness and purer air; of richer joys than are common to men. Climb, then, for the glory of the Lord is upon the mountain, not down in the valley, and blessed is the man who climbs until he sees it, and is encircled with its beauty and its light. Oh that we may see the glory of God, this day, “in the face of Jesus Christ”!
II. The mountain of prayer. We are satisfied, for a time, with the lispings of a babe, but we expect it to learn a fuller and more comprehensive tongue. So we must not be always as “babes in Christ” in our prayers. There should be new prayers; there should be holier prayers; there should be prevailing prayers. A few more struggles, a few more upward flights, and your soul shall be in the centre of the bright cloud where God dwells, and you shall sun yourselves in His great glory. Climb, then, the mountain of prayer, and you shall be crowned with grace, mercy, and truth.
III. The mountain of usefulness. Are all the hungry fed, all the children taught, all the drunkards reformed, all the sinners converted? No, no! Our mission is not fulfilled, nor is our work done. Christian usefulness; this is the highest form and sweetest flower of life. Leave the monotony of your work far behind you, and do some new thing for the Lord. Behold His glory is upon the mountain summit, and He is waiting for your fruits and sheaves and noble deeds. Rise; gird up your loins; work for the Lord, as Nelson fought for victory, and as Paul sought to “save some,” and God, even our God, will bless you with fruitfulness of life.
IV. The mountain of salvation. A sinner--what a name is that! An unsaved sinner--that is worse. An unsaved, unhappy sinner--that is worst of all. Is that your name? Come and climb the mountain of salvation, and get for yourself a new name. Lo! here on a shining throne is Jesus Himself, and as we enter His presence He benignly says, “I will give you rest.” And here, in the mountain of salvation, He does give us rest. He gives full pardon, perfect peace, joyful hope, holy strength, loving confidence, glorious righteousness, and everlasting life. Come, then, far up into the secure heights of this mountain; come, now, to where Jesus and the glory of God are waiting for you.
V. The mountain of heavenly vision. Faith, prayer, zeal, work, and love are so many steps leading us to the lofty peaks of the mountain of Celestial vision, whence, even on stormy days, we may see afar the Promised Land. With heaven in sight, toil and tears will be easier to bear, and death be welcome whenever and wherever it may come. Fear not death, nor Jordan’s rolling waves. Let the mountain of salvation lead to the mountain of vision, and it will be then only one step into heaven itself. (G. W. M’Cree.)
Then I spake unto them of the captivity all the things that the Lord had shewed me.
Babylon with God better than Jerusalem without Him
He told them of the great wickedness he had seen at Jerusalem, and the ruin that was hastening towards that city, that they might not repent of surrendering themselves to the King of Babylon as Jeremiah advised them, and blame themselves for it, nor envy those that stayed behind, and laughed at them for going when they did, nor wish themselves there again, but be content in their captivity. Who would covet to be in a city so full of sin and so near to ruin? It is better to be in Babylon under the favour of God, than in Jerusalem under His wrath and curse. (M. Henry.)
In the uplifted life we are led to the sphere of our duty
I. We are led where needed. Ezekiel was now directed to the place where he was required, because the captives needed comfort, warning, exhortation (verse 25). In the New Testament there is a somewhat parallel illustration of the fact just stated, Philip was enjoying a full tide of success among the Samaritans when he was called to leave this flourishing work, and go down into a desert way, lonely and trackless. Such a change must have seemed strange to the evangelist; but yet God was leading him by His Spirit. Out in this waste district he was brought into touch with a seeker. These two cases of Ezekiel and Philip may assure us that the Lord will lead us if we are in a suitable condition of heart to be led. We may be and are often led by strength of impression or of reasoned conviction, growing clear to our apprehension, without any miraculous interposition.
II. We are led into God’s larger purpose. Sometimes we are so led against our own prejudices and inclinations. Perhaps Ezekiel would have preferred ministering to those of his fellow countrymen who were yet in Jerusalem; but these in Chaldea were more promising than those in Jerusalem, although they seemed most unpromising. How strangely and wonderfully God by His Spirit led Peter to Cornelius, the Roman, the centurion of Caesarea. Peter was slow to respond to the Spirit’s leading. The uncircumcised Gentile was completely ostracised. Now, those rooted prejudices of ages had to be overcome and broken down. Jewish Christians had to be taught to rise superior to the trammels of exclusive Judaism. They had to learn that the Gospel is not a national prerogative, but a worldwide privilege,--not a lamp for Jerusalem, but the sun in the sky, shining for all. How slow man’s heart was to accept the thought of the fraternity of men and the solidarity of the human race! And, to revert to a spiritual parallelism, “thoughts have been expressed, judgments have been formed, systems have been made, books have been written, which never would have found a place on God’s earth if the authors had stood upon a higher platform, and beheld with wider and with clearer vision the ways of men and of God.”
III. We are led into God’s wider plan. In the uplifted life we are given a larger sphere of usefulness--a greater opportunity for service. How pertinent to this thought is it, that whilst Paul was praying in the temple, probably that his Lord would use him to evangelise his fellow countrymen, he fell into a trance, in which he held communion with his Master, and He made known to him His purpose to send him “far hence to the Gentiles”! We are reminded age, in in connection with St. Paul, of the apostle’s anticipated visit into the province of Asia, to evangelise the large cities--Pergamos, Smryna, and Ephesus--when the Spirit suffered him not. His plans to visit Bithynia were completely thwarted. He must not turn to the left or to the right, but must pass on through the territory of Mysia, his way being surely directed, until he reached Troas on the coast, by that “narrow but renowned sea strait which separates the east from the west.” Many great warriors had stood upon that very shore. Julius Caesar, Alexander of Macedon, and Xerxes; but no braver soul had reached that famed region than this warrior of the Cross. It was at this place that the first famous war between Greece and Asia was fought out; but the engagement in which the apostle entered, resolving upon the conquest of Europe, was fraught with more important and far-reaching results even than that. Paul gazed across the AEgean sea and saw the mountains of Europe. Dean Farter says, in his Life of St. Paul, “He had thrown many a wistful glance towards the hills of Imbros and Samothrace; and perhaps when on some clear evening the colossal peak of Athens was visible, it seemed like some vast angel who beckoned him to carry the good tidings to the west.” His day thoughts perhaps fashioned his night dreams, and in a vision he saw a man of Macedonia standing and praying, saying, “Come over into Macedonia and help us!” The man was speaking for the whole modern world. Having seen the vision, the apostle resolves to cross that “fated frontier,” that possible rubicon, and to exchange familiar Asia for unknown Europe, with its perishing millions. It was a celebrated voyage which the Argonauts took under the command of Jason, when they set sail from the coast of Thessaly, and (B.C. 1280) entered the Hellespont. Those daring Greeks were utterly ignorant of navigation, but were anxious to explore an extent of sea that was altogether unknown to them. That was a more celebrated voyage which was undertaken by the apostle in the vessel bound for Samothracia, as he crossed the surging AEgean with the purpose of carrying into unknown regions--the civilised countries of Europe and perhaps to heathen Britain--the Gospel of the grace of God. Under the Holy Spirit’s guidance and teaching, he saw God’s wider plan. William Carey, when Sydney Smith sneered at him as the pious shoemaker, had such a view. Dr, Clifford, speaking of those days (a century ago), says, “True, in some quarters the breath of the evangelical revival was blowing healthily. Methodism was passionately seeking the lost Englishman, Raikes was creating a school for the Englishman’s child, and Howard was opening the door of the European prisons for England’s dawning philanthropy. But the great missionary idea, which is the soul of the Christianity of Christ Jesus, was so completely lost, that practically it was inoperative, or so obscured that it was only present to a few solitary souls.” But the Spirit took Carey up, as He had taken up Ezekiel, and he not only saw the many peoples and wide-reaching lands that still “sat in darkness and the shadow of death”--the warlike Kaffir, the cannibal islander, the savage Fuegian, the Brahmin, the Moslem, the negro, but he also saw that God’s great plan of salvation was for all kindreds and peoples and tribes and tongues. Now, this uplifted life is for us all. Let us be Christians of the hills, and not of the plain! We want, as one has said, to “realise the sense of vastness.” (A. W. Welch.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezekiel 11". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany