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Son of man, thou dwellest in the midst of a rebellious house, which have eyes to see and see not.
The disuse of spiritual faculties
Eyes and ears are for many reasons the most important and valuable organs of the human body, the chief “gates”--to use the language of Bunyan--to the famous town of Mansoul. The one brings us into contact with form, the other with sound; the one has relation to space, the other to time. No part in the human frame is so wonderful in their execution as these. “The eye,” says one, “by its admirable combination of coats and humours and lenses, produces on the retina, or expansion of nerve at the back of the socket or bony cavity, in which it is so securely lodged, a distinct picture of the minutest or largest object; so that, on a space that is less than an inch in diameter, a landscape of miles in extent, with all its variety of scenery, is depicted with perfect exactness of relative proportion in all its parts.” Nor is the ear less wonderful. “It is a complicated mechanism lying wholly within the body, showing only the wide outer porch through which the sound enters. It conveys the sound through various chambers to the inmost extremities of those nerves which bear the messages to the brain. So delicate is this organ, that it catches the softest whispers, and conveys them to the soul, and so strong that it hears the roll of the loudest thunder in the chamber of its mistress.” Now, the text--as well as other parts of Scripture--teaches that man’s spiritual nature has organs answering to those organs of the body. The text calls us to notice the spiritual disuse of these faculties.
I. It involves the greatest deprivation.
1. The disuse shuts out the grandest realities of existence. What are the immutable principles of rectitude, what is the great spiritual universe, what is God Himself, to the man who is morally blind and deaf?
2. The disuse shuts out the sublimest joys of existence. What are the charms of physical to moral beauty, the beauty of holiness and God? What are the charms of physical harmony to those of that great moral anthem that fills the spiritual universe with rapture and delights the ear of God Himself? How great then the deprivation of the spiritually blind and deaf! God is with them, His pure, happy heavens lie about them, and they know it not.
3. The disuse deteriorates the faculties themselves. Unused organs often die out.
II. It involves the greatest wickedness.
1. It is an abuse of talent. All the powers we possess, we possess as trustees, not as proprietors; they are entrusted to us for a specific purpose.
2. It is an abuse of the greatest talents. These spiritual faculties are the highest we have--higher than bodily power, higher than intellectual ability, higher than natural genius.
1. The sad condition of the unregenerate world.
2. The deeply needed mission of Christ. (Homilist.)
Rebelliousness means loss of faculty
You cannot commit sin and be as clear-minded as you were before you committed it. The obscurity of mind may not be immediately evident; but let a man allow one bad thought to pass through his brain, and the brain has lost quality, a tremendous injury has been inflicted on that sensitive organ; by and by, after a succession of such passages, there will be no brain to injure. Sin tears down whatever it touches. Your habit is bringing you to imbecility, if it is a bad habit. You must name it; preachers may not speak distinctly and definitely, but they create a standard by which men may judge themselves, and by which preachers may also judge their own aspirations and purposes. You are losing your eyesight by your sin; you are becoming deaf because you are becoming worse in thought and desire and purpose; you are not the business man you were a quarter of a century ago, when you were a disciplinarian, a Spartan, a self-critic, when you held yourself in a leash, and would not allow yourself to go an inch faster than your judgment approved; since then you have loosened the reins, you have allowed the steeds to go at their own will, and the consequence is that you miss one-half of what is spoken to you, and you fail to see God’s morning and God’s sunset; they are but commonplaces to you, mayhap but broad vulgarities. Men should be good if they wish to keep their genius. The bad man goes down. His descent may not be palpable today or tomorrow, but the process is not the less certain and tremendous because it is sometimes imperceptible. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Prepare thee stuff for removing.
A drama of exile
I. The vision in its historical fulfilment.
II. The vision in its practical lessons for the present.
1. The consequence of sin is moral exile. All evil, not only in act, but in thought and in wish, involves in greater or less degree a going away from the holy--is a self-exileship, not perhaps, as in the vision, from a holy place, but from the holy God.
2. This moral exile is awfully sad.
(1) This exile is burdensome. The man goes with the baggage of an emigrant. He carries as much as he can. And he who goes away from God into any sin goes burdened. Responsibility, an accusing conscience, a growing fear; these, as with Cain, load guilty souls.
(2) The exile was severed from social ties. With what solitariness of soul, as though he were utterly alone and in the dark, does each man have to say, “I have sinned”!
(3) The exile went out into wild uncertainties. Whither he should hurry when once beyond the city walls he could not tell. And into what unexplored regions of wrong-doing, or what abysses of consequent remorse a sinner may wander, who can tell?
3. This moral exile is stealthy. Not through a gate, but by a hole dug through the wall; not at noon, but at night, the exile gets away from the holy city. So with the beginnings of all sin. The excuses, the concealments, the artifices of the selfish, the impure, the mean, breathe the stealthy spirit of the father of lies. Evil chooses the dark first, and then gets blinded.
4. This moral exile is shameful. The exile, ashamed to look on the ground, is a true type of those who, first with blush of shame, and whitened lip, and trembling voice or hand, do wrong; and who at last “will wake to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Urijah R. Thomas.)
It may be they will consider.--
The Divine expectation
I. The subject to which this expectation refers.
1. Men do not consider that they are sinful creatures.
2. Nor that they are dying creatures.
3. Nor that they are immortal creatures.
II. The means employed for bringing about the expectation which is here expressed.
1. The Divine forbearance.
2. The afflictive dispensations of Divine Providence.
3. The ministry of the Gospel. (J. C. Gray.)
I have set thee for a sign unto the house of Israel.
Men and ministers
Ideas may be communicated quite as effectively through the eye as through the ear, by visible signs as by audible words. Thus our cemeteries display a profusion of emblems which eloquently, though silently, express the sentiments both of grief and of hope. Thus our sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper express the fundamental ideas of purification, brotherhood, and life through Christ, by symbols, or signs, as a visible Gospel. In like manner, a truth may be embodied, as it were in a person, who stands before his fellow men as the representative sign of an idea. This is the function of the Christian ministry today. The words applied to Ezekiel may be applied to every individual member of the Christian ministry: “I have set thee for a sign unto the house of Israel.”
I. A sign of what? To answer, we must analyse the convictions generally entertained as to the duties of the Christian ministry. These convictions, so far as reasonable, are the judgment of the conscience of the community in concurrence with the teaching of the Scriptures.
1. In purity, he must be the man above suspicion, pure even to the verge of being puritanical, forbidding himself some things in which his fellow Church members indulge themselves without rebuke.
2. In unselfishness, he must be the man who never spares himself in doing good, never discriminating between rich and poor in an all-serving helpfulness; patient under provocation, conciliating in speech and in temper, the first to deny himself, a liberal giver, a prompt, unstinting paymaster, owing no man anything but unlimited love.
3. In truth, he must be the mirror of sincerity, both in private study and in public speech and action, aiming ever at the reality of things, not the paid advocate of a creed, not the hired mouthpiece of a church or denomination, not the echo of other men’s voices, not a professionalist in any way, but transparently representing the real and conscientiously formed convictions which he cherishes in his own heart and mind.
4. In courage, he must be no time server, or flatterer, never failing to ask, Is it right? before asking, Is it safe?--as bold for an unpopular truth as for a popular one, as plain spoken to rich sinners as to poor ones, willing, if need be, to lose a place by doing a duty, just as ready to be counted in a minority as in a majority, if only on the side of truth and right.
5. In piety is required the Christian minister’s central and vital characteristic. Together with every other required quality, men will insist on that peculiar quality in a Christian minister which is called “spirituality,” and which I may call other-worldliness--an unaffected recognition of interests that lie beyond the grave, and of the Being in whom we must trust for the hereafter.
II. But why does the general conscience require this purity, unselfishness, truth, courage, piety, in the Christian minister? Certainly not by reason of any contract between him and his brethren. He has simply contracted to be their teacher. He has not contracted to furnish a model of all the virtues at so much a year. Neither is it by virtue of any profession he has made as a Christian man. The profession that every Christian man makes is a profession of a purpose and endeavour--rather than of an actual attainment--and whatever any man professes or does not profess in the way of good endeavour, to that good endeavour he is bound whether professing it or not. Why, then, this demand of the public conscience upon the Christian minister, except that, simply as a man teaching men, he in his position must be what every man in any position should be; must stand as a sign of the character that God requires of all? I ask you, then, my friends, to exalt your requirements of character in Christian ministers to the very highest, insisting only on those real excellences, which are displayed in that one only pattern of a perfect human life which God has given us in Jesus Christ. When you have done it, and formed a true and high ideal of the character that the Christian ministry should possess, then you have simply figured to yourself what a true man should be among men, independently of any contract, or profession, or endeavour after consistency. And the minister whom you expect to live up to that ideal is set to be God’s sign to you for your own living. Whatever would spot his skirts in God’s sight, will spot yours. Whatever you would be sorry to see him do, you should be sorry to see yourself do.
III. Further suggestions.
1. The danger of the clerical profession to society. What this danger is, may be illustrated by the answer which I dare say many a person would give, if asked why a Christian minister should pray, “Why, it is his business to.” The subtle fallacy in that word, “his business,” is no small drawback to a minister’s influence for good, and the only way he can offset it is by that high personal character which the most unspiritual men must admit to be everybody’s business.
2. The Divine end in the institution of the Christian ministry is the formation of right character. What we need most is to take our grand and beautiful and vital truths out of showcases, and put them on as everyday clothing. Let us insist that those shall do this whose privilege it is to make these truths their especial study, and to exhibit them to others. But remember, that in so doing they are but a sign of that which is required of all.
3. The alleged decline of the influence of the Christian ministry is a real gain be its influence on character. A fallacy has gone out and a truth has come in. When the Christian minister has been brought down from his former fictitious elevation to his proper level of a man among men, then the spiritual rule by which he is judged is brought down to be the rule for all. This is a solid gain for the power of conscience, when the high expectations which the congregation press upon their minister are perceived to declare the obligations which press equally upon every one of them as the servant of God. (J. M. Whiten, Ph. D.)
Sign making lost among modern prophets
He was to be performing a very singular act, and to be so constantly doing it that people would say, What is he doing now? He is moving things: what is the madman after today? Watch him:--he brings forth his stuff in their sight; he goes forth at even in their sight; he digs through the wall in their sight; in their sight he bears the burden upon his shoulders and carries it forth in the twilight (i.e. in the dark)
; he covers his face that he may not see the ground. The Lord makes this use of the man that by an act singular, absurd, irrational, unaccountable, he may attract attention, so that the people may say, What is it? It is thus the preachers would do if they dare. The preacher has lost his power of sign making, and he has taken now to sentence making. The preacher should always be doing something that attracts the religious attention of mankind. He should be praying so unexpectedly and vehemently as to cause people to say, What is this? But he dare not. Quietness has been patented, and indifference has been gazetted respectable. They are right who beat drums, sound trumpets, fly flags, tramp the streets like soldiers taking a fortress, so that people shall say, looking out of high windows and round the street corners, What is this? what are these men doing now? “It may be,” saith the Lord,--“it may be they will consider.” But they can only be brought to consideration by sign and token, by madness on the part of the Church. Trust the Church for going mad today! The Church now locks up its premises six days out of seven, and blesses the man who occupies it as little as possible on the seventh day. Rebelliousness overfloods the fading energy and zeal of the Church. (J. Parker.)
The days are prolonged, and every vision faileth.
Prophecy a living force
Right in the midst of the history of Israel, when Divine purposes of the highest moral and spiritual importance were being wrought out in her, in the very centre of one of her grandest outbursts of revealing thought upon the principles and power of religion, this sceptical proverb took its rise and possessed a certain plausibility, and had its seeming justification in the circumstances of the time: “The days are prolonged, and every vision faileth.”
I. The proverb and its meaning. The saying may be held to express relief or disappointment. There were doubtless many Israelites who were glad to escape from the consciousness of the ceaseless vigilance of the Keeper of Israel. There are always some minds to whom the thought that “Thou God seest me” is an oppression and a nightmare. Others, however, were bitterly disappointed at what seemed to them the neglect and failure of Jehovah to redeem His promises to His people (Lamentations 3:1-66). But our proverb is more probably the outcome of a shallow materialism than of either relief or disappointment. The materialist belongs to all ages and peoples, and is always ready to say that visions have nothing in them. Indeed, there had been, as Ezekiel tells us in verse 24, “vain visions” and “flattering divinations within the house of Israel.” And because the true visions had been contingent, conditional on their effect upon the character of the people, they had very often seemed to fail. The desert can never rejoice and blossom as the rose, except for a people who have learnt the joy of unselfish sacrifice and long adorned themselves with the beauty of holiness. Moreover, many of the truest visions never will and never can be realised in such a world as this, because they have in them an element of idealism. Now, the man who lives in a world governed entirely by material standards of value, cannot stand this kind of thing at all. He calls upon his gods--upon actuality, upon reality and common sense--to deliver him out of it; just as many of the exiled Israelites were, at this very time, thinking of abjuring their nation and religion, and becoming the servants of the gods of Babylon. Babylon, at any rate, was no vision. Babylon commanded the big battalions, the scarlet-coated legions which had never known defeat, the mighty engines of war, the inexhaustible resources of the valley of the Euphrates; she had the mastery of all the rich trade routes between East and West; and possessed, in her own queenly magnificence, her towers, her palaces and temples, her wharves and markets, her civilisation and unrivalled power, the assurances of what seemed eternal prosperity. What folly to set up the visions of prophets over against the great heathen power which dominated the world! It is not wonderful if today also there are those who feel orphaned, desolate, forlorn, as though God had left us. “No voices and no visions now! no direct Divine message! no obvious Divine interposition!”--this is the thought that lies behind very much of our public action and private conduct--this is the thought most to be dreaded; for its influence tends in national politics to a hard, cynical selfishness in place of any lofty enthusiasm for liberty and philanthropy. It is equally fatal in private life; for if God is really silent to us, if He has left us to our own devices, the times are indeed dull and joyless, and there is nothing for it but for each of us to do the best he can for himself, and, according to the wicked old worldly proverb, let the devil take the hindmost.
II. But no! Prophecy is a living force. The Babylon of today is materialism--the materialistic view of the world and of life, in the laboratory of the chemist, the counting house of the merchant, and the abodes of society. Where are the prophets and where the spiritual influences which we can set over against this mighty tyranny? Some people talk of this as a materialistic or prosaic century--feel it to be so--because they themselves lead prosaic and materialistic lives. Yet our age has been blessed with a bright succession of true prophets, or at least prophetic souls--great teachers of the essential spirituality of the universe--men who have spoken, not only words of wisdom, but of wisdom weighted with the power of deep and passionate conviction. It is a question whether the Church of God has ever been blessed with a grander succession of true preachers than in our own day; whilst the authority of the great names outside the Church--of the Carlyles, Ruskins, Tennysons--has been essentially a moral and spiritual authority. Materialism only represents one tendency, one phase, of the life of the age; whilst great fields of life and influence have been occupied by men who have been seekers after God in the temper and spirit of old Hebrew piety, which ever cried, “Oh that I knew where I might find Him, that I might even come into His presence!” Such men have wrought in many minds an increased seriousness of thought, a deepened power of feeling, a wider sympathy, a truer spiritual insight. Then, again, the great influences which come from science are now being recognised as not necessarily materialistic. The eternal power and Godhead are more clearly, not less clearly, seen today than ever, in the majestic order of creation as revealed by the telescope and the microscope. The God of the infinitely great and infinitely little, the God who presides over the slow development of human society, from whom come the influences which form character and which move the world forward age by age, from whom comes the unconquerable tendency in things which makes for righteousness, never was, to the seeing heart and eye, more manifestly present than in the thought and life of our time. The silent, ceaseless activities of a Deity whose being is everywhere, who crowds the waters of a stagnant pool with myriads upon myriads of tiny inhabitants, and fills the vast spaces of the heavens above us with stars, suns, systems innumerable, are being recognised as still more impressive than the ancient manifestations; whilst, as our science begins to hear in many directions the “Thus far shalt thou go and no further” which limits discovery, a sense of awe in presence of the encompassing mysteries of our lot gathers about us; and signs are not wanting--the very nature of some of the more recent discoveries warrants the impression--that science herself will come to be our teacher of reverence, and her text books, which conduct us to the limits of the known, will become more and more suggestive of awe and wonder in presence of the unknown. The great Master of the unseen, the eternal, now, as ever, is Christ. Who can doubt that He has ruled the thought of the nineteenth century as of the first, or that His majestic figure will dominate the twentieth? As to the Babylon of our day, He is but waiting to smite it down. For us, at ally rate, to know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, that surely is enough to banish materialism out of our life forever, to save us utterly from the dull and joyless inability to see life’s greater meanings. (W. Burkitt Dalby.)
Jeremiah has been talking about this upbreaking of the kingdom, and Ezekiel is talking about it; and when the prophecies were delivered to Zedekiah he said they did not sufficiently coincide to confirm one another; for he looked for those literal coincidences which bewilder so many people and which can only satisfy pedantry; he did not see that coincidence is in the purpose, in the substance of the message. So there came up a proverb in Israel, “The days are prolonged,” then came a laugh suggestive; and “Every vision faileth,” then the laugh was prolonged. We have fallen into the mockery of proverb making. In English we say, “Words are but wind.” How foolishly we have lived to believe that: whereas words are the only real life. In the beginning the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and the word is the man, the soul if he be other than a profane person. We ourselves say in English, “In space comes grace”: God does not mean to kill us, or He would not have given us such space for what is called repentance and amendment. We ourselves say, “Every man for himself, and God for us all”: a singular mixture of mammon and spirituality, of selfishness and pseudo-religion. Let us not be victimised by our own wit. See to it that we do not slip into hell through the trapdoor of an epigram. There is only one word about this business that is true, namely, “Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.” The Lord says His patience will give way, His long-suffering will come to an end,--“There shall be no more any vain vision nor flattering divination within the house of Israel. For I am the Lord: I will speak, and the word that I shall speak shall come to pass; it shall be no more prolonged: for in your days, O rebellious house, will I say the word, and will perform it, saith the Lord God.” Better believe this. All the ages have testified to it; all philosophies point in this direction. “He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.” (J. C. Parker.)
The days are at hand.--
Death and eternity at hand
I. The tidings here announced to the Jews. Similar tidings to you, but you have disregarded them as the Jews of old; set the days are at hand.
II. The sign by which they were confirmed. Apply--
1. It may be that some of you will consider;
2. But the great mass of you will not. (C. Simeon, M. A.)
It shall be no more prolonged: for in your days, O rebellious house, will I say the word, and will perform it, saith the Lord God.
Do not enter a fool’s paradise; do not enter upon vain imaginations, saying, As it was yesterday, so it will be tomorrow,--for there is a moment which changes all things. Study the action of time, and you will see how many critical moments there are. It is only a moment that separates the night from the day, the day from the not-day, the positive from the negative--an almost incalculable line, so minute, so infinitesimal. God can work wonders in a moment. He may take eternity for some works, but in many a moment He strikes men blind, and turns men into perdition. There is but a step between thee and death. Thy breath is in thy nostrils: a puncture in the right place, and life is gone. One touch, and the balance is lost, and he who was strong an hour since will be buried next week. Seizing these realities, grasping them with the whole mind and heart, the Church ought not to be other than in dead earnest. (J. Parker, D. D.)
God’s warnings to be heeded
“You see that buoy, sir, moored in the bay?” said the captain of the steamship in which we visited the Orlmeys. “Yes,” I replied, after carefully picking out in the twilight the well-known danger signal. “Well, there is a reef of rocks, that, starting from the shore, runs to a point within ten yards of the buoy. The worst tiring about it is that there is no indication of the reef; even at low water it is covered with water, and woe be to the ship that should strike on that dangerous reef. In the dark nights that buoy is an object of deep interest to me. Anxiously do I look out for it, and we steer with care until it is found.” The reef was never seen by the captain, but marked on his chart. He believed his chart to be true. So must we, as believers and Christians, trust in the testimony of the Word of God, and heed its warnings. (J. Ellis.)
God’s reckonings sometimes long delayed
An ungodly farmer one day met his Christian neighbour, also a farmer, and began to taunt him. “Why, my corn grows as well as yours. What difference does it make, all your prayers and talking about God’s blessing? I don’t see any good you’ll get by it.” The Christian neighbour looked the man full in the face, and replied, “Friend, God does not pay every week, but He does pay in the end.”
The vision that he seeth is for many days to come, and he prophesieth of the times that are far off.
(a sermon for young men and young women):--One would have thought that if the glorious Lord condescended to send His servants to speak to men of the way of salvation, all mankind would delight to hear the message. But, alas! it has not been so. Man’s opposition to God is too deep, too stubborn for that. Men display great ingenuity in making excuses for rejecting the message of God’s love. The evil argument which is mentioned in the text has been used from Ezekiel’s day right down to the present moment, and it has served Satan’s turn in ten thousand cases. The sons of men, when they hear of the great atonement made upon the cross by the Lord Jesus, and are bidden to lay hold upon eternal life in Him, still say concerning the Gospel, “The vision that he seeth is for many days to come, and he prophesieth of times that are far off.” That is to say, they pretend that the matters whereof we speak are not of immediate importance, and may safely be postponed. They meet our pressing invitation, “All things are now ready, come ye to the supper,” with the reply, “Religion is meant to prepare us for eternity, but we are far off from it as yet, and are still in the hey-day of our being; there is plenty of time for those dreary preparations for death.” They put off the day of conversion, as if it were a day of tempest and terror, and not, as it really is, a day most calm, most bright, the bridal of the soul with heaven.
I. Granted for a moment that the message ww bring to you has most to do with the future state, yet even then the day is not far off, neither is there so great a distance between now and then, that you can afford to wait. You, perhaps, think seventy years a long period, but those who are seventy, in looking back, will tell you that their age is an hand’s breadth. Man is short-lived compared with his surroundings; he comes into the world and goes out of it, as a meteor flashes through yonder skies which have remained the same for ages. Look at yonder venerable oak, which has for five hundred years battled with the winds, and what an infant one seems when reclining beneath its shade! Stand by some giant rock, which has confronted the tempests of the ages, and you feel like the insect of an hour. Therefore do not say, “These things are for a far-off time”; for even if we could guarantee to you the whole length of human existence, it is but a span. But there comes upon the heels of this a reflection never to be forgotten--that not one man among us can promise himself, with anything like certainty, that he shall ever see threescore years and ten. Nay more, we cannot promise that we shall see half that length of time. Let me check myself! What am I talking of? You cannot be certain that you will see this year out, and hear the bells ring in a new year. Ay, and this very night, when you close your eyes and rest your head upon your pillow, reckon not too surely that you shall ever again look on that familiar chamber, or go forth from it to the pursuits of life. It is clear, then, that the things which make for your peace are not matters for a far-off time, the frailty of life makes them necessities of this very hour.
II. Our message really deals with the present. For observe, first, we are sent to plead with you, young men and young women, and tenderly to remind you that you are at this hour acting unjustly and unkindly towards your God. He made you, and you do not serve Him; He has kept you alive, and you are not obedient to Him, “Will a man rob God?” You would not rob your employer. You would not like to be thought unfaithful or dishonest towards man; and yet your God, your God, your God--is He to be treated so basely, notwithstanding all His goodness? Again, our message has to do with the present, for we would affectionately remind you that you are now at enmity with your best friend--the Friend to whose love you owe everything. I have to remind you, however, of much more than this, namely, that you are this night in danger. Are you content to abide for a single hour in peril of eternal punishment? Many other reasons tend to make this weighty matter exceedingly pressing; and among them is this, that there is a disease in your heart, the disease of sin, and it needs immediate cure. Surely a sick mar can never be cured too soon? The gospel which we preach to you will also bring you present blessings. In addition to present pardon and present justification, it will give you present regeneration, present adoption, present sanctification, present access to God, present peace through believing, and present help in time of trouble, and it will make you even for this life doubly happy. It will be wisdom for your way, strength for your conflict, and comfort for your sorrow.
III. I shall not deny, but I shall glory rather in admitting, that the Gospel has to do with the future. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has to do with the whole of a young man’s life. Dear young friends, if you are saved while yet you are young, you will find religion to be a great preventive of sin. What a blessing it is not to have been daubed with the slime of Sodom, never to have had our bones broken by actual vice. Prevention is better than cure, and grace gives both. Grace will also act as a preservative as well as a preventive. The good thing which God will put in you will keep you. Whosoever believeth in Him has passed from death unto life; he shall not live in sin, but he shall be preserved in holiness even to the end. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The far-off looks insignificant
“Look at the stars, those vast globes of light, by reason of the distance between us and them, do seem but as so many spangles; so we have but a weak sight of things which are set at a great distance, and their operation upon us is usually but small.”--Manton. A far-off hell is the dread of no man, and a far-off heaven is scarce desired by anyone. God Himself, while thought of as far away, is not feared or reverenced as He should be. If we did but use our thoughts upon the matter, we should soon see that a mere span of time divides us from the eternal world, while the Lord our God is nearer to us than our souls are to our bodies. Strange that the brief time which intervenes between us and eternity should appear to be so important, while eternity itself they regard as a trifling matter. Men use the microscope to magnify the small concerns of time. Oh, that they would use the telescope upon the vast matters of eternity! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A common mistake and lame excuse
I. The saying of my text, in the application which I now want to make of it, is a truth, but it is only half a truth. The neglect of God’s solemn message by a great many people is based, more or less consciously, upon the notion that the message of Christianity--or, if you like to call it so, of the Gospel; or, if you like to call it more vaguely, religion--has to do mainly with blessings and woes beyond the grave. So there is plenty of time to attend to it when we get near the end. Now, is it true that “he prophesies of times that are far off”? Yes! and No! Yes! it is true, and it is the great glory of Christianity, that it shifts the centre of gravity, so to speak, from this poor, transient, contemptible present, and sets it away out yonder in an august and infinite future. But is that all that you have to say about Christianity? I want you to remember that all that prophesying of times that are far off has the closest bearing upon this transient, throbbing moment, because, for one thing, the characteristic of the Christian revelation about the future is that my eternity and yours is the child of time; and that just as the child is father of the man, so the man here is the progenitor and determiner of all the infinite spaces that lie beyond the grave. Therefore, when Christian truth prophesies of times that are afar off, it is prophesying of present time, between which and the most distant eternity there is an iron nexus: a band which cannot be broken. Igor is that all. Not only is the truth in my text but a half truth, if it is supposed that the main business of the Gospel is to talk to us about heaven and hell, and not about the earth by which we secure and procure the one or the other, but also it is a half truth, because, large and transcendent, eternal in their duration, and blessed beyond all thought in their sweetness as are the possibilities, the certainties that are opened by the risen and ascended Christ, and tremendous beyond all words that men can speak as are the alternative possibilities, yet these are not all the contents of the Gospel message; but those blessings and penalties, joys and miseries, exaltations and degradations, which attend upon righteousness and sin, godliness and irreligion today are a large part of its theme and of its effects.
II. So, then, my text gives a very good reason for prizing and attending to the prophecy. People do not usually kick over their telescopes and neglect to look through them, because they are so powerful that they show them the craters in the moon and turn faint specks into blazing suns. People do not usually neglect a word of warning or guidance in reference to the ordering of their earthly lives, because it is so comprehensive, and covers so large a ground, and is so certain and absolutely true. Surely there can be no greater sign of Divine loving kindness, of a Saviour’s tenderness and care for us, than that He should come to each of us, as He does come, and say to each of us, “Thou art to live forever; and if thou wilt take Me for thy light thou shalt live forever, blessed, calm, and pure.” And we listen, and say, “He prophesies of times that are far off.” Oh! is that not rather a reason for coming very close to, and for grappling to our hearts, and living always by the power of, that great revelation? Surely to announce the consequences of evil, and to announce them so long beforehand that there is plenty of time to avoid them, and to falsify the prediction, is the token of love.
III. It is a very common and a very bad reason for neglecting. It does operate as a reason for giving little heed to the prophet, as I have been saying. In the old men-of-war, when an engagement was impending, they used to bring up the hammocks from the bunks and stick them into the nettings at the side of the ship, to defend it from boarders and bullets. And then, after these had served the purpose of repelling, they were taken down again and the crew went to sleep upon them. That is exactly what some of my friends do with that misconception of the genius of Christianity, that it is concerned mainly with another world. They put it up as a screen between them and God, between them and what you know to be their duty--namely, the acceptance of Christ as their Saviour. It is your hammock that you put between the bullets and yourself; and many a good sleep you get upon it! Now, that strange capacity that men have of ignoring a certain future is seen at work all round about us in every region of life. The peasants on the slopes of Vesuvius live very merry lives, and they have their little vineyards and their olives. Yes, and every morning, when they come out, they can look up and see the thin wreath of smoke going up in the dazzling blue, and they know that some time or other there will he a roar and a rush, and down will come the lava. But “a short life and a merry one” is the creed of a good many of us, though we do not like to confess it. Some of you will remember the strange way in which ordinary habits survived in prisons in the dreadful times of the French Revolution, and how ladies and gentlemen, who were going to have their heads chopped off next morning, danced and flirted, and sat at entertainments, just as if there was no such thing in the world as the public prosecutor and the tumbril, and the gaoler going about with a bit of chalk to mark each door where the condemned were for next day. The same strange power of ignoring a known future, which works so widely and so disastrously round about us, is especially manifested in regard to religion. Surely it is not wise for a man to ignore a future that is certain simply because it is distant. So long as it is certain, what, in the name of common sense, has the time when it begins to be a present to do with our wisdom in regard to it? Surely it is not wise to ignore a future which is so incomparably greater than this present, and which also is so connected with this present as that life here is only intelligible as the vestibule and preparation for that great world beyond? Surely it is not wise to ignore a future because you fancy it is far away, when it may burst upon you at any time? What would you think of the crew and passengers of some ship lying in harbour, waiting for its sailing orders, who had got leave on shore, and did not know but that at any moment the blue peter might be flying at the fore--the signal to weigh anchor--if they behaved themselves in the port as if they were never going to embark, and made no preparations for the voyage? Let me beseech you to rid yourselves of that most unreasonable of all reasons for neglecting the Gospel, that its most solemn revelations refer to the eternity beyond the grave. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
God’s predictions will be fulfilled
Those who receive intelligence from the almanac that the tide is to turn at a given moment, never think of doubting the prediction. Those who read in the kindling page of night that an eclipse will occur at a particular moment are as sure of it as if it had already taken place. “On 9th August 1869,” says one, “at four o’clock in the afternoon, I stood at the door, smoked glass in hand, waiting. When a boy, I had read of this very eclipse, and of the moment when it should begin; it did begin at the precise second predicted forty years ago.” What we read in God’s own handwriting makes the student able to determine the path of the star, the point of an eclipse, to the fraction of a second; and is His word to be less trusted in the sphere of grace than in the sphere of nature’s operations? (R. Venting.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezekiel 12". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26