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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezekiel 21". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ ezekiel-21.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezekiel 21". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
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Behold, I am against thee.
A prophecy of judgment
I. The prophet’s compellation, or title--“Son of man.” There are but two persons in Scripture which have eminently this name--the one is our Saviour, the other Ezekiel. For our Saviour, it was not without very good reason--namely, as hereby to discover the truth of His humanity to us--that amongst those many miracles which were wrought by Him, from whence He did appear to be God, He might have somewhat also fastened upon Him declaring Him likewise to be man. Besides, as suitable to His present state of humiliation and future passion, that He might be looked upon according to that view wherein He tendered Himself to the world, and that those which were about Him might be prepared for what should happen unto Him, He thought it fitting thus to be called; in the meantime, likewise, encouraging them, upon these terms, to close with Him, as who having taken their nature upon Him, was not now ashamed to call them brethren. As for Ezekiel, why this name should be put upon him, this is a thing further considerable--especially why upon him rather than upon any other of the prophets, Daniel only excepted, who but once is distinguished by this compellation (Daniel 8:17). It is the general sense of divines, that it was for this reason especially, namely, to humble him in the midst of those many divine visions and revelations which he was partaker of, that though in regard of his work and employment he was a companion of angels, yet, for his condition, he was numbered amongst men. And so, in that respect, had a double disparagement upon him, which served to abase him--both of mortality and sinfulness. But we may add also another reason here in this place for the giving of it; and that was, not only to breed in him an humble spirit, but likewise a pitiful and compassionate. The message which he was now sent about, it was a matter of judgment and terror; it was a threatening, and foretelling of God’s wrath and indignation against His people. Now, this did require some bowels and tenderness in him, that he should do it; and therefore “Son of man” was a very fit and proper compellation, that so, being a man himself, he might the more commiserate his brethren.
II. The prophet’s injunction, or command, which is laid upon him: and that is, how to carry himself in the denunciations of God’s judgments against His people. This is laid forth in three clauses--First, to set his face toward Jerusalem. Secondly, to drop his word towards the holy places. Thirdly, to prophesy against the land of Israel. Where ye have a full enumeration of all kind of places, and conditions, and persons, as the objects of Divine wrath, which is threatened against them. First, the city, expressed in Jerusalem. Secondly, the Church, signified in the holy places. Thirdly, the country, or whole community, implied in the land of Israel. Here is God’s judgments extended to all sorts and ranks of men--to the civil State, to the ecclesiastical, and to the popular. We will begin with the civil. “The Lord’s voice crieth to the city” (Micah 6:9).
1. The place threatened is Jerusalem, the mother-city in the land of the princes and governors of the nation. This is that which God begins withal in the denunciation of His judgments against His people here in this place. This carries in it God’s anger against great ones--the nobles and princes and judges and magistrates of the land; those which were of any eminency amongst them, whether for birth, or place, or power, or wealth; these sinning against the Lord were not without their correction--nay, God thinks fitting to take aim at them first of all: “Set thy face against Jerusalem.” Now, there is a very good account which may be given of this dispensation.
(1) Because such places as these are, do abound with greater mercies, and so opportunities of doing good; therefore they, rebelling against the Lord, and provoking Him, do become more obnoxious.
(2) Because the sins of these are more exemplary and scandalous, The more eminent any are in place, the more notorious are their miscarriages--everyone looks upon them as so many patterns to all the rest.
(3) They are populous places, and they are such places wherein the flower and glory of the whole land is gathered together. The strength and riches and state of any nation are in their chief cities. Now, therefore, when God has a mind to stain the pride of all glory, He does especially aim at these.
2. The prophet’s gesture which he is required to use to it--and that is, to set his face towards it. “Set thy face towards Jerusalem.” The setting of the face, in Scripture, does carry a different notion in it.
(1) It is a note of attention. God would have him to set his face upon it, by way of serious consideration; to take notice of the manifold abominations which were in it. And thus now is it the concernment of ministers in like manner to do--not to shoot their arrows at random, rashly and unadvisedly, they care not how; but as being thoroughly appreciative of the guilt of the persons themselves they deal withal.
(2) It is a note of compassion and commiseration. So we also find it sometimes in Scripture. As our Saviour (Luke 19:41).
(3) It is a note of displeasure and indignation. So it is used sometimes (Jeremiah 21:10; Ezekiel 25:2; Ezekiel 28:21; Ezekiel 29:2).
The second is in reference to the Church, or State Ecclesiastical. “And drop thy word towards the holy places.”
1. The place is the Church and house of God. Here is God’s vengeance threatened against that, as to the destruction of it. This is worse than the former; by how much spirituals are better than temporals, and any prejudice to our souls worse than to our outward estates.
(1) Here is a threatening of the place, the temple itself, which was afterwards verified and made good in the destruction and rendition of that: “Not one stone left upon another.” God threatens to take away that visible token of His presence from amongst them, which was one step of this punishment.
(2) Here is a threatening of the persons, the priests and ministers--there is an heavy judgment belonging to them; forasmuch as they had corrupted themselves, and others with them.
(3) In reference to the performances--the ordinances and ministerial dispensations. God drops upon the sanctuary when He threatens to suspend these, as oftentimes He does when He sends a famine of His word (Amos 8:11) Especially when His ordinances are neglected, when there is no heed or regard unto them: in such cases as these does God remove them, and otherwise bestow them; neither is there anything here which shall stand in the way of His judgments.
2. The carriage and proceeding towards it, and that is expressed here by dropping.
(1) A leisurable proceeding--one thing after another, in a succession. The judgments of God, they are not to be denounced all at once; that were enough to astonish men, and wholly overwhelm them. No, but by steps and degrees. They must first be acquainted with lesser judgments, and then afterwards with greater.
(2) A gentle proceeding--not boisterously, with over-much rigour; but mildly, and with the spirit of meekness.
(3) A constant proceeding. Dropping--it has frequency in it. So should it be with us here: “Precept upon precept, and line upon line” (Isaiah 28:10).
The third, and last, in reference to the community and whole nation in general. In these words: “And prophesy against the land of Israel.”
1. The place threatened--“the land of Israel.” These words do carry two things in them, which might seem, at the first hearing, to plead for exemption from punishment.
(1) Israel, God’s own peculiar people.
(2) The land of Israel, that is, a great number of them. Yet it will not do, or serve the turn neither. Though it be Israel, God’s own people; though it be the land of Israel, all states and degrees amongst them; yet sinners, they must not shun judgment.
2. The carriage towards it, and that is prophesying. “Prophesy against the land of Israel.” This was a very ill message, and very unwelcome, which Ezekiel was sent with; but yet he must carry it, for all that. He must prophesy against them--that is, declare God’s punishments upon them for their sins and provocations of Him. (T. Herren, D. D.)
Wherefore sighest thou?
. . .For the tidings.
Sighing because of sorrowful tidings
“The tidings” were, in the first place, of dishonour done to God, and, in the second place, of ruin which the transgressors were bringing upon themselves; and we think to show you that the tidings were such as might well justify the prophet as he looked upon his nation in “sighing with bitterness before their eyes.”
1. If you know anything of the relationship subsisting between the Creator and the creature, you must know that we lie absolutely at the disposal of God, depending for every thing upon His bounty, and bound to live wholly to His glory. God’s laws are binding without exception and without limitation; and if He only issue an announcement of His will, it should be received with the deepest reverence and obeyed with unhesitating compliance throughout every department of His unbounded empire. And if this obedience be withheld, who can fail to see that the very greatest insult is at once offered by the finite to the Infinite? Now, consider what effect this insult will have--or at least ought to have--upon a man who loves God, and whose prime effort it is to obey His every word. If a man of warm loyalty were living amongst traitors, it would wound him to the quick to hear the king whom he honoured continually reviled. If a man of warm friendship were with the enemies of his love, it would sorely grieve him to observe how his friend was hated and despised. And what are such feelings in comparison of those which should rise in the man of real piety, when he beholds on all sides dishonour done to his God? Oh! as such a man thinks on the unlimited right which God has to the services of His creatures, and yet more as he thinks how God draws those creatures to Himself by every motive of interest and attraction, supplying their wants, offering them happiness, bearing with their perverseness; and then, when there come to him tidings of the return which God receives--His authority defied, His promises despised, His threatenings laughed to scorn, so that it almost seems the universal object to expel Him from His own world, and set up some usurper in His stead--as the man, we say, of real piety observes all this, and meditates on all this, would there be any cause of wonder were he to exclaim, “For the tidings! for the tidings when asked to explain a manifestation of grief which should be similar to that of the prophet--“Sigh, therefore, thou son of man, with the breaking of thy loins, and with bitterness sigh before their eyes”?
2. But let us go on to consider the ruin which transgressors are bringing on themselves; for here at least we shall find “tidings” which, in the judgment of you all, might vindicate Ezekiel’s mighty manifestation of anguish. It is not the moment of absolute shipwreck; but “it cometh”--“it cometh.” “The tidings” make him as certain of the shipwreck of thousands as though already were the sea strewed with the fragments of the stranded navy. It is with him no matter of conjecture or speculation whether a life of wickedness will terminate in an eternity of misery; he so surely anticipates the future that he is as though he beheld the casting of the wicked into a lake of fire, and could not be more assured of their terrible doom if the last day were come, and the dead were raised, and “the books were opened.” And who are these victims of Divine justice? Are they not his fellow men--his brethren after the flesh--those for whom he would bitterly sorrow, if he knew them exposed to some temporal calamity? Shall he--can he--be unmoved by their everlasting wretchedness? (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Should we then make mirth?
Mirth unreasonable in the unconverted
I. Because they are under condemnation. The sword is sharpened to make a sore slaughter; it is furbished that it may glitter. Should we then make mirth? It is unreasonable in a condemned malefactor to make mirth. Would it not greatly shock every feeling mind to see a company of men condemned to die, meeting and making merry, talking lightly and jestingly, as if the sword was not over them?
II. Because God’s instruments of destruction are all ready. Not only are Christless persons condemned already, but the instruments of their destruction are prepared and quite ready, The sword of vengeance is sharpened and also furbished. The, disease by which every unconverted man is to die is quite ready--it is perhaps in his veins at this very moment. The accident by which he is to drop into eternity is quite ready--all the parts and means of it are arranged. The arrow that is to strike him is on the string--perhaps it has left the string, and is even now flying towards him.
III. Because the sword may come down at any one moment. Not only are Christless persons condemned already, and not only is the sword of vengeance quite ready, but the sword may come down at any one moment. It is not so with malefactors: their day is fixed and told them, so that they can count their time. If they have many days, they make merry today at least, and begin to be serious tomorrow. But not so Christless persons: their day is fixed, but it is not told them. It may be this very moment. Ah! should they then make mirth?
IV. Because God has made no promise to Christless souls to stay His hand one moment. God has laid Himself under no manner of obligation to you. He has nowhere promised that you shall see tomorrow, or that you shall hear another sermon. There is a day near at hand when you shall not see tomorrow.
V. It is a sore slaughter.
1. Sore, because it will be on all who are Christless.
2. Sore slaughter, because the sword is the sword of God. (R. M’Cheyne.)
Lightfoot says: “I have heard it more than once and again, from the sheriffs who took all the gunpowder plotters and brought them up to London, that every night when they came to their lodging by the way, they had their music and dancing a good part of the night. One would think it strange that men in their case should be so merry.” More marvellous still is it that those between whom and death there is but a step should sport away their time as if they should live on for ages. Though the place of torment is within a short march of all unregenerate men, yet see how they make mirth, grinning and jesting between the jaws of hell! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Go thee one way or other, either on the right hand or on the left, whithersoever thy face is set.
The nature of religious decision. In general terms, this may be said to be an inflexible regard for the will and honour of God--a firm adherence under all circumstances to that course of duty which He has commanded, and a personal dedication of the heart and soul to His service.
1. Religious decision is founded on a special regard to the will of God. In this respect it differs from a native or innate decision of character, which is simply a following the bias of the mind.
2. Religious decision is exercised in regard to matters of real importance. In matters of trivial concern. Christian decision may be yielding. It is always candid. It shows due respect for the feelings and preferences of others.
3. True religious decision will never be anxious about consequences. In obeying the clear injunctions of conscience and of God, it is prepared to leave events in His hands who has required the sacrifice.
4. True Christian decision is uniform and unqualified. The man of decided principle will not admit the thought of a compromise with sin or with error.
II. The importance of religious decision.
1. It is important as a matter of Christian consistency.
2. Religious decision is a satisfactory test of Christian character.
3. Christian decision is important, as a means of securing the respect and confidence of mankind. Men may think you needlessly precise, they may even suspect the purity of your motives, but they will admire the conduct that agrees with the profession.
4. Our usefulness is greatly involved in religious decision. The Great Head of the Church does not select for the execution of His grandest plans the timid, the hesitating, the wavering. No. He employs those to whom “He has not given the spirit of fear; but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.” (Anon.)
To the waverer
I. Thy nature of religious decision.
1. It is founded on a special regard to the Word of God.
2. It is exercised in matters that are religious.
3. It spurns all considerations of consequences.
4. It acts uniformly and undeviatingly.
II. Its importance.
1. As an index of Christian consistency.
2. As a test of personal Christianity.
3. As a passport to general confidence.
4. As an element of usefulness. (G. Brooke.)
The parting of the ways.
When you have been wandering in the country you have sometimes come to where two roads branched away from the one you were on--like the two arms of the letter Y--and then you stood puzzled which to take; for the one would take you where you wanted to go, and the other would take you from it. That spot, then, where you stood uncertain was “the parting of the way.” Now, it is much the same with your life. It is a journey; you are always going on and on, getting older, getting better, or getting worse, just as you have turned to the right or the left at the parting of the way. In America there is a house built on the very top of a great ridge of mountains, and when the rain falls it gathers for a little on the flat roof and then drips over the eaves. But what do you think? the raindrops that fall on the one side and those that fall on the other never meet again! The one trickles away to the Atlantic, and the other descends to the Pacific ocean; they take just opposite ways, and never meet any more. That house is the parting of the way. And there are circumstances which divide people from each other in much the same way--once they are parted they never come together again. How careful, then, we should be, and how prayerful we should be, at these times in choosing what we shall do! How thoughtful and watchful, too, we should be about guiding others when they are at the parting of the way! A little word can sometimes save them then. About forty years ago a little boy went into a shoe shop in Boston to have some repairs made. While he was waiting he said to the errand boy of the shop, “Do you go to Sunday school?” “No,” said he, “I don’t know nothing about it, and can’t read.” “Oh,” said the other, “I go to Sunday school, and I have such a nice teacher! If you tell me where you live, I will call for you next Sunday and take you.” And he did; and the errand boy behaved very badly, saying naughty things, and sticking pins into his neighbours, altogether behaving so badly that the teacher threatened to turn him out of the school. Still, the teacher had patience and persevered--and who do you think that little wild scholar became? Mr. Daniel Moody, the great preacher, who along with Mr. Sankey has been the means of saving many, many people by bringing them to Jesus. And yet, it was a little boy who guided him right at the parting of the way! What a deal of good that little boy did that day! And you can do the same. Whenever you try to do good to others, or speak to them about Jesus, you are helping them more than you think to take the right way at the parting. When we come to the parting of the way there are two fashions of deciding which way we shall take. One way is by trusting to chance. That is the fashion the king the text speaks about decided which way to take. People do not use arrows nowadays, but sometimes they “toss up,” and that is just the same thing. Is that the way we should decide? No! no! a blind man might as well “toss up” whether an orange was black or white,--“tossing up would never make it the one or the other. Never trust to chance; the book of Chance is Satan’s Bible, and that is always meant to deceive. There is a surer way, namely--Go by the directions. I saw a picture once which has stuck to my memory for years and years. It was a picture of a dark, wild, stormy night, and a traveller was standing up in the stirrups of his horse at a parting of the way, trying to read the directions on the fingerpost. How eagerly he is looking! I can see him yet--holding the lighted match carefully in his hands, lest the wind should blow it out before he had read the directions! It was a good thing for him that there were directions, and it is a good thing we have them too. Where are our directions? They are--the Bible. That is God’s word to us, telling us which road to take when we come to the parting of the way. (J. R. Howatt.)
He made his arrows bright, he consulted with images.
Is Christianity a delusion
Two modes of divination by which the King of Babylon proposed to find out the will of God. He took a bundle of arrows, put them together, mixed them up, then pulled forth one, and by the inscription on it decided what city he should first assault. Then an animal was slain, and by the lighter or darker colour of the liver the brighter or darker prospect of success was inferred. Stupid delusion! And yet all the ages have been filled with delusions. It seems as if the world loves to be hoodwinked. In the latter part of the eighteenth century Johanna Southcote came forth pretending to have Divine power, made prophecies, had chapels built in her honour, and 100,000 disciples came forth to follow her. So late as the year 1829, a man arose in New York, pretending to be a Divine being, and played his part so well that wealthy merchants became his disciples, and threw their fortunes into his discipleship. And so in all ages there have been necromancies, incantations, witchcrafts, sorceries, magical arts, enchantments, divinations, and delusions. None of these delusions accomplished any good. They opened no hospitals, healed no wounds, wiped away no tears, emancipated no serfdom. But there are those who say that all these delusions combined are as nothing compared with the delusion now abroad in the world, the delusion of the Christian religion. That delusion has today two hundred million dupes. It has conquered England and the United States, for they are called Christian nations. This champion delusion, this hoax, this swindle of the ages, as it has been called, has gone forth to conquer the islands of the Pacific the Melanesia and Micronesia, and Malayan Polynesia have already surrendered to the delusion. Yea, it has conquered the Indian Archipelago, and Borneo, and Sumatra, and Celebes and Java have fallen under its wiles. What a delusion! This delusion of the Christian religion shows itself in the fact that it goes to those who are in trouble. Now, it is bad enough to cheat a man when he is prosperous; but this religion comes to a man when he is sick, and says: “You will be well again after awhile; you’re going into a land where there are no coughs, and no pleurisies, and no consumptions; take courage and bear up.” Yea, this awful chimera of the Gospel comes to the poor, and it says to them” “You are on your way to vast estates and to dividends always declarable.” This delusion of Christianity comes to the bereft, and it talks of reunion before the throne, and of the cessation of all sorrow. And then, to show that this delusion will stop at absolutely nothing, it goes to the dying bed and fills the man with anticipations. How much better it would be to have him die without any more hope than swine and rats and snakes. Annihilation, vacancy, everlasting blank, obliteration! Why not present all that beautiful doctrine to the dying, instead of coming with this hoax, this swindle of the Christian religion, and filling the dying man with anticipations of another life until some in the last hour have clapped their hands, and some have shouted, and some have sung, and some had been so overwrought with joy that they could only look ecstatic. To show the immensity of this delusion, this awful swindle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I open a hospital, and I bring into that hospital the deathbeds of a great many Christian people, and I ask a few questions. “Dying Stephen, what have you to say? Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” “Dying John Wesley, what have you to say? The best of all is, God is with us.” “Dying Edward Payson, what have you to say?” “I float in a sea of glory.” “Dying John Bradford, what have yon to say?” “If there be any way of going to heaven on horseback, or in a fiery chariot, it is this.” “Dying Neander, what have you to say? I am going to sleep now--goodnight.” “Dying Mrs. Florence Foster, what have you to say?” “A pilgrim m the valley, but the mountain tops are all agleam from peak to peak.” “Dying Alexander Mather, what have you to say?” “The Lord who has taken care of me fifty years will not cast me off now; glory be to God and to the Lamb! Amen, amen, amen, amen!” “Dying John Powson, after preaching the Gospel so many years, what have you to say? My deathbed is a bed of roses.” “Dying Doctor Thomas Scott, what have you to say?” “This is heaven begun.” “Dying soldier in the last war, what have you to say?” “This is heaven begun.” “Dying soldier in the last war, what have you to say?” “Boys, I am going to the front.” “Dying telegraph operator on the battlefield of Virginia, what have you to say? The wires are all laid, and the poles are up from Stony Point to headquarters.” “Dying Paul, what have you to say?” “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Oh death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy victory? Thanks be unto God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Oh my Lord, my God, what a delusion! what a glorious delusion! Submerge me with it; fill my eyes and ears with it; put it under my dying head for a pillow--this delusion; spread it over me for a canopy; put it underneath me for an outspread wing; roll it over me in ocean surges ten thousand fathoms deep. The overwhelming conclusion is that Christianity, producing such grand results, cannot be a delusion, an hallucination; cannot launch such a glory of the centuries. Your logic and your common sense convince you that a bad cause cannot produce an illustrious result. Some of you have read everything. You are scientific and you are scholarly, and yet if I should ask you, What is the most sensible thing you ever did? you would say, “The most sensible thing I ever did was to give my heart to God.” But there may be others here who have not had early advantages, and if they were asked to give their experience they might rise and give such testimony as the man gave in a prayer meeting when he said: “On my way here tonight, I met a man who asked me where I was going. I said, ‘I am going to a prayer meeting.’ He said, ‘There are a great many religions, and I think the most of them are delusions; as to the Christian religion, that is only a notion, that is a mere notion, the Christian religion.’ I said to him: ‘Stranger, you see that tavern over there?’ ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I see it.’ ‘Do you see me?’ ‘Yes, of course I see you.’ ‘Now, the time was when, every body in this town knows, if I had a quarter of a dollar in my pocket I could not pass that tavern without going and getting a drink; all the people of Jefferson could not keep me out of that place; but God has changed my heart, and the Lord Jesus Christ has destroyed my thirst for strong drink, and there is my whole week’s wages, and I have no temptation to go in there. And, stranger, if this is a notion, I want to tell you it is a mighty powerful notion; it is a notion that has put clothes on my children’s backs, and it is a notion that has put good food on our table, and it is a notion that has filled my mouth with thanksgiving to God; and, stranger, you had better go along with me, you might get religion too; lots of people are getting religion now.’” Well, we will soon understand it all. We will soon come to the last bar of the music, to the last act of the tragedy, to the last page of the book--yea, to the last line and to the last word, and to you and to me it will either be midnoon or midnight. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Thus saith the Lord God; Remove the diadem, and take off the crown.
The Christian philosophy of revolution
The true philosophical history of man is that which reveals to us the causes and progress, first, of his depravity and deterioration; and secondly, of his return towards that state of holiness and happiness which he is destined, in the purpose of God, and through the agency of the Gospel, again to attain. The progression which the history of the race exhibits has been in cycles, and not in straight lines. In accordance with the principle announced by the prophet of Jehovah to the profane and wicked Prince of Israel, it has been a process of revolution and not of development. It involves the law of declension and decay, as much as that of quickening and growth. In the first place, the origin of the human race was not from a state of barbarism, but one of absolute perfection; and the first change which passed upon human nature was that by which it fell into degeneracy, by reason of temptation from without. Social happiness was blighted, and perished in the bud. The very first offspring of the social state, instead of love, sympathy, and mutual support, were, first, envy, then hatred, and lastly murder. Alienation and division thus became at once the universal law of society. In the first place, the earliest ages of the world after the fall, when the light of revealed truth was dimmest, and the reign of grace most feeble, were marked by a rapid degeneration, physical, intellectual, and moral, in the nature, the character, and the condition of man. In the second place, when the power of sin was checked by larger gifts of gracious influence, the power of Divine truth became diffusive, and entered upon its aggressive work in the achievement of man’s regeneration; and has continued to the present hour, progressive; and, judging from the history of the past, and the characteristics of the present, as well as the prophetic delineation of the future, it will continue steadily progressive, till its final and perfect consummation. In the third place, the great agent by which this progress has been carried forward is that of revolution, or that of overturning, overturning, overturning, till He shall come whose right it is to wear the crown of universal dominion, amidst the redeemed race of man. In any comprehensive survey of the subject, the central epoch of human history is the advent of the Son of God. Everything anterior to that event pointed to the incarnation as embracing the fulness of its significancy, and everything subsequent derives its vitality and power from the same source. To the eye of the Christian, and in the light of the Bible, those vast and sublime overturnings which reared and overthrew successively the gigantic empires of Egypt, Assyria, Persia, and Macedon, to say nothing of countless smaller states, which concentrated the intellect, the genius, and the cultivation of the world in the States of Greece, and finally enthroned Rome as sole mistress of the earth, these all appear as mighty and indispensable agencies, commissioned of God to produce that mental culture, that feeling of strong, unsatisfied religious want, and that state of universal peace, which were essential to prepare the world for the advent of the Son of God. And now in like manner we believe the peculiar dispensation of the age, and specifically of the race to which we belong, is to leaven the philosophy, the literature, the morality, and the civil and political institutions of the world with the religion of the Bible, and then carry their elevating, purifying influence throughout the earth. This is the last of the great dispensations of the world’s progressive history. The true and final civilisation of the race, as statesmen and philosophers delight to call it, is just that which owes to Christianity both the life of its being and the law of its forms. It was designed for the whole family of man; and it will therefore embrace the whole. Changes are passing upon the internal policy and the outward face of nations, with a rapidity as much greater than those of the early ages of history as the modes of locomotion and the intercourse of the world have been improved by the agencies of steam and magnetic electricity. The progress of human events toward their ultimate goal, like some mighty mass acted upon by a constant mechanical force, is ever accelerating as it advances. This is preeminently true of the very point of time now passing. The plot thickens. Events crowd with ever-accumulating momentum toward the appointed end. The watchwords of the downtrodden classes of the Old World--Liberty, Equality, Fraternity--are not so far from the embodiment of the true and fundamental principles of that very civilisation which yet awaits the human race. But as to the sources whence these blessings are to come, they are, by the necessities of their previous condition, wholly in the dark. The “liberty” which they are blindly struggling after, in the turbulent and bloody track of radicalism, is to be realised in the enfranchisement of the Gospel, and grounded on that personal liberty wherewith Christ makes His people free. The “equality” to which their inward convictions assure them they are entitled is not an agrarian equality of social and material position, but an equality in human rights, founded on an equality of moral condition and desert in the sight of God; and the “fraternity” emblazoned on their motto is the genuine, but it may be the perverted, heart utterance of the conscious right to membership in that common brotherhood of humanity which springs out of the common Fatherhood of God. The whole and every item of this ideal longing of humanity in its most degraded and dangerous forms, and which has been moulded into the war cry of modern revolution, is destined to fulfilment; but in a form and from a source widely different from that to which the ignorant and vicious and dangerous paupers and outcasts of the world are looking for succour. They shall yet enjoy all, and more than all, their brightest hopes, but only as a fruit of the Gospel of Christ. (M. B. Hope, D. D.)
Our day is one of unusual excitement; mind is everywhere agitated; the foundations are out of place; the earth reels like a drunken man; sceptres are broken; dynasties tremble; the diadem is removed and the crown taken off; thrones are burnt in the open streets; kings flee for their lives to foreign shores; men’s hearts are failing them for fear, and for looking after those things that are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven are shaken.
I. National revolutions are symptomatic of moral disorder. They are the result of one or more causes of an evil, or a series of evils, which have been long accumulating and gathering force and strength, until the terrible crisis comes, when, like the central fires of the earth rushing to the volcano, an eruption takes place, and men are filled with astonishment and oppressed with awe. All the manifestations of injustice are evidences of the moral disorder to which I allude.
1. Religious persecution.
2. The withholding of political rights.
3. Positive oppression.
II. National revolutions are in harmony with individual experience and material phenomena. The individual is the type of the nation. The nation is but the individual on a broader scale. The body politic is congregated men. The mass is the man multiplied. We are firmly persuaded that the security of a nation is not in the form, but in the moral integrity of its government. “Righteousness exalteth a nation.” We deprecate injustice, whether it emanate from a throne or a presidential chair; and tyranny, whether it come from a man or a mob; and slavery, whether it exist under a despotism or a republic. Again, as in the individual, so in the nation; if there be the conservative power of health, it will struggle for the mastery. The accumulated moral disease must destroy vitality, or be thrown to the surface by revolution. We find another analogy in material laws. The inequality of the earth’s surface is conducive to the health of vegetables and animals. The roaring cataract stuns the beholder, but he inhales not there the poison of the stagnant pool. The sweeping wind makes the forest to groan, but it causes its roots to strike deeper in the earth, and the juices of vegetable life are increased. The thunders of heaven, with their herald-lightnings, appall and terrify us, but they are the physicians of the atmosphere, and drive pestilence from the land.
III. National revolutions are the voice of God speaking to the world.
1. They proclaim the vanity of all artificial greatness. “The Lord is known by the judgment which He executeth.” “He leadeth princes away spoiled, and overthroweth the mighty.” “He poureth contempt upon princes, and causeth them to wander in the wilderness where there is no way.”
2. By these revolutions God utters His protest against tyranny. God is the God of justice, the Friend of the needy, the Avenger of the oppressed; and those that walk in pride He is able to abase. His voice, if despised in His word, is lifted up in the storm, the tempest, the plague, and the revolution; and it is the protest against injustice and oppression.
3. Another lesson read to the their victories worthless; their wars, sin; their pride, rebellion; their honours, transient; their wealth, evanescent; their glory, a fading flower; and their destiny, extinction from under these heavens.
IV. These revolutions are forerunners of the Redeemer’s righteous reign. The Redeemer will come again--not to be betrayed, mocked, and crucified; but to be glorified in His saints, and admired in all them that believe; to be hailed as the Prince of peace--the liberator of every bondman--the joy of every loyal heart--the desire of all nations; to be crowned, amid the hosannahs of an exulting world, while the smiling heavens are vocal with the intermingling hallelujahs of angels and men. (W. Leask.)
I will overturn, overturn, overturn it: and it shall be no more, until He come whose right it is; and I will give it Him.
War, a means of advancing the kingdom of Christ
1. War has its own work to accomplish. It is not a chance. It is of God (1 Chronicles 5:22). War, like pestilence or famine, is under His command, and warriors are the executioners of His will, though they know Him not. Jehovah hath a work to do, which war is the fittest instrument to accomplish. He saves by the Gospel; He “overturns” by the sword.
2. The foundation of all true religion lies in obedience to the first commandment of the law (Exodus 20:2-3). But the heathen nations “have gods many, and lords many” (1 Corinthians 8:5). Idolatry has been more prevalent than the worship of the true God in all ages and nations, since the time of the patriarchs. And idolaters outnumber the worshippers of the living God in the present day. This wide defection from truth is not to be attributed to ignorance, but to depravity (Romans 1:21; Romans 1:28). Ignorance is not the chief evil in our race, but sin,--“all have sinned” (Romans 3:23,--so that “every mouth must be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God” (Romans 3:19).
3. Now it is necessary that this matter be thoroughly understood, in order that we may vindicate the righteousness of God in permitting the nations of the earth to remain so long unsaved while He has visited them so often with His sore judgments, of which the sword has not been the least. Heart depravity gave birth to idolatry, and idolatry ministers to that depravity. When “the light becomes darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:23). When God is rejected, the devil reigns. Crime is everywhere the religion of Paganism, and its universal fruits are envy, lust, rapine, misery, murder, death, hell. It is nothing that the Gospel of Jesus has; it hath everything the Gospel has not. It is directly antagonistic to Christ. And if the power of heathenism were not brought down by the sword, the whole of its institutions, laws, priesthood, and systems of government, combined with the sinfulness of the human heart, would present an impenetrable barrier to the admission of the truth. War must throw that barrier down. Christian churches are not to furnish the warriors; Christian missionaries are not to lead on a band of holy crusaders; but God will find the instruments, and by them He will do the work. “I will overturn, overturn, overturn.”
4. Here let us pause, and survey the events of the present and preceding century in heathen lands, that “we may declare the work of God, and wisely consider of His doing” (Psalms 64:9).
II. Its issue.
1. We know not what events may lie before us, nor how God may work by divers instrumentalities, both good and evil; but the ultimate result of the unsheathed sword, and of His overturning, He hath plainly declared. “I will overturn, overturn, overturn it; and it shall be no more, ‘until He come whose right it is.’”
2. This design of God cannot be frustrated; His purposes shall assuredly stand. Every war has been hitherto made subservient to the kingdom of His Son.
3. But in what way, some might inquire, can the war in which we are now unhappily engaged conduce to the coming of His kingdom, whose right it is to reign? It may not be easy to answer that question. How God will work we know not, nor do we wish to know; it is sufficient that our faith at present should rest upon His Word. Still, however, without venturing beyond our line in the way of predictions, we may argue on probabilities that present themselves to a reflecting mind.
4. It only remains that we notice, with commendation, those peculiar features of this war which demand our grateful acknowledgments to Almighty God. The first is, the extreme reluctance with which we entered upon it. Every method diplomacy could prevent to avoid conflict was exhausted. It was not always thus with nations. It was not always thus with England. We hail the change, even while we hear a proclamation of war, as indicating the approach of that blessed period when war shall be no more. Secondly, the humane manner of conducting the war is worthy of the highest praise. (W. J. Shrewsbury.)
Social changes subservient to the kingdom of Christ
There is a well-known phrase which has been applied by one and another to various things in the world, just as anything happened to be a favourite of prejudice or fancy, “Esto perpetua.” But methinks a sober and enlightened looker on the world will not find very many things on which he can deliberately pronounce it. He certainly cannot begin with the state of his own mind, taken entire and as it is. And if he cast a rapid glance of survey over the world, his attention will soon be arrested by many things which he would not wish exempted from such a denunciation as that of the text. Perhaps we should not proceed without first protesting against the passion for mere change and commotion; a restless discontent that everything should continue as it is. Yet Providence may occasionally make use even of this for its great purposes; may let loose the wild violence, and direct its operation, on what is decreed to be demolished. However, a good man wants not to excite to activity any such spirit while he beholds the things he wishes overturned. What things? At different times you have been moved with regret and indignation and almost horror as the several grand evils that are oppressing and blasting the world have unfolded their deformity and malignant effects to your view.
I. Perhaps the first that will occur to the mind is--false, pernicious religion. Religion! the light of the world! turned into error, delusion, and darkness! Religion! the sacred bond of the creature to the glorious Creator! rent and reformed into a bondage to all that is in opposition to Him! Religion! designed as the purifier and elevator of man,--transformed into the promoter, even the creator and the sanction, of his corruption and degradation! Religion, in short, the happiness of man on earth, and the preparation for eternal happiness, converted into a cause of misery here and hereafter! Then, “overturn! overturn!” Imagine, in any country, a mighty fortress of a cruel tyrant, constituting the main strength of his occupancy,--even the most dreadful earthquake would be almost welcome to the people, if they saw that it was prostrating the massive walls, the impregnable towers of this fortress; their own humble abodes might be seen falling, but “look yonder! something else is also falling!”
II. Again, what ruinations there must be on earth before Christianity is set quite clear and pure from all the corruptions of worldly policy. “Overturn!” will still be his prayer with respect to all systems and institutions, which, by their principle, put religion on any ground where it must be necessarily and primarily a secular affair; where the spiritual interests shall be made formally subsidiary and servile to the secular; where secular regards will necessarily have the ascendancy; where the leading considerations will naturally be those of emolument and ambition.
III. The history of the world presents, almost over its whole vast breadth, one melancholy spectacle of mankind subjected to the uncontrolled will of a few individuals, assuming the station of deities, and very many of them the worst of their race, “the basest of men!” Such a system resolutely maintained must come to a tremendous result. It will ultimately compel two vast orders of will and force into awful conflict; like that of the fire and water of the last day. For it cannot be that God has appointed the general human mind to subside in a quiet enslavement and stagnation. There will be mighty commotions; a “shaking of the nations,” in all probability. But the omens are very dark as to any speedy results from them of a hind to satisfy a Christian and philanthropic spirit. The gloomy omens arise from this,--that God has His own controversy with all the nations. (John Foster.)
Revolution and reformation
I. What things do now stand in the way of Christ’s glorious reign.
1. Every species of tyranny.
2. Idolatry, or the worship of false gods.
4. Heresy, or the disbelief of the great and fundamental doctrines of the Gospel.
II. By what means we may suppose God will overturn or remove all these things which stand in the way of the glorious reign of Christ.
1. By public calamities or desolating judgments.
2. We may suppose that God will employ human learning to enlighten the minds of ignorant, barbarous, tyrannical, and erroneous nations in respect to their civil and religious tyranny, and their absurd and vicious customs and manners.
3. We may be confident that God will employ the Gospel as the principal external instrument to overthrow and remove all obstacles in the way of Christ’s final and most glorious reign upon earth. This is suited at once to enlighten the understandings, awaken the consciences, and subdue the hearts of all who are opposed to the kingdom of Christ.
4. God will pour out His Spirit as the efficient cause of making all the other means that have been mentioned effectual, “to the pulling down of strongholds,” etc.
III. Why may we confidently expect that God will accomplish His gracious design of giving the kingdom to His Son by the means that have been mentioned.
1. Because these are the means which He has hitherto usually employed for accomplishing this purpose.
2. Because He can make the means which have been mentioned effectually answer his great purpose in view.
3. He has expressly promised to do it.
1. If the things which now stand in the way of the glorious reign of Christ must be removed in the manner that has been mentioned before His reign commences, we have no reason to think that His kingdom will soon come.
2. If God has done so much already, and will do a great deal more to prepare the way for the coming of Christ in His millennial glory, then we may justly expect that the world will be very happy under the reign of the Prince of Peace.
3. If God will remove the obstacles which still tie in the way of the latter-day glory of Christ in the manner that has been mentioned, then good men have a great deal to do to promote this great and good design.
4. It appears from what has been said, that Christians have great encouragement to exert themselves vigorously and wisely in preparing the way for the glorious reign of Christ.
5. This subject calls upon all to rejoice in what God has done and is doing, by the instrumentality of man, to fill the earth with His glory, under the reign of the Prince of Peace. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
I. They have a sad successiveness. They do not run out and expend themselves; but one makes place for another. All mutations in schools, markets, churches, kingdoms, only pass away as waves on the shore, to be succeeded by other advancing billows. There is nothing settled.
II. They transpire by Divine arrangement. There must be perpetual fermentation where evil is. How does God effect these changes?--
1. By the revelation of right and truth to human consciousness.
2. By the procedure of His providence.
III. They will only be terminated by the advent of the rightful King. The world is Christ’s. He has a right to rule. So truthful, benevolent, and just will be His sway that all opposition will be subdued. (Homilist.)
The three-fold overthrow of sell
I. The Lord repeats three times the expression, “I will overturn it.” It may indeed be said with respect to this repetition of the words three times, that it may signify the positiveness and certainty of God’s determination. But still I believe, if we come to look at it in a closer point of view, we shall find that it is literally true,--that the repetition of it three times does not merely intend to express the certainty of God’s overthrow of self in the soul, but that there are three distinct occasions--three clear, positive, and direct overturnings of self, and bringing it into utter ruin, in order to the setting up of Christ in His glory and beauty upon the wreck and ruins of the creature.
1. The first prominent feature of self is in some cases profane self; that is, many of God’s elect, before they are called by the blessed Spirit, are living in open profanity, in drunkenness, swearing, and the barefaced practice of notorious sins. But whenever the Spirit of God begins to work in the heart, He overturns profane self, that is, He brings such solemn convictions into the conscience--He shoots such arrows from the bow of God into the soul, that self in its profane shape is overcome and overthrown thereby.
2. Here, then, is a soul which stands overturned before God; a wreck and ruin before “the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” But what will a man do when he is reduced to these circumstances? Why, he will begin to build, and will endeavour to set up a temple in which he believes God will take pleasure, of which He may approve, and which shall, in some measure, recommend him to Jehovah’s favour. A second overturning, then, is necessary, an overthrow of righteous or holy self. And what is the Lord’s lever to overturn this second temple, built out of the ruins of the first, but not “the place of His rest,” as being still the work of men’s hands? A spiritual discovery of the deep pollution of our hearts and natures before Him. Profanity is overturned by the application of the law with power to the conscience; but this false holiness, this mock spirituality, is overturned by the discovery to our consciences of the deep pollution that lurks in our carnal minds; this is more or less the breaking up of “the fountains of the great deep,” and discovering with power to the conscience the truth of those words: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” As we try, then, to be holy, sin rises up from the depths of our carnal mind, and overturns that fabric which we are seeking to erect.
3. Now let us trace a little what course self will steer. Why, this restless wretch now runs in another channel, which is to slight the solemn inward teachings of God, and to take hold of the doctrines of grace by the hand of nature, without waiting to have these heavenly truths applied, from time to time, by the mouth of God to our hearts. And as some sweetness has been felt in them there seems to be some warrant for so doing. But presumption creeps upon us in such imperceptible and subtle ways, that we scarcely know we are in thus delusive path before we find a precipice at the end of the road. And what has led us there? Our pride and ambition, which are not satisfied with being nothing, with occupying the place where God puts us, and being in that posture where He Himself sets us down. We must needs grasp at something beyond God’s special teachings in the soul; we must needs exalt our stature beyond the height which God Himself has given us, adding a cubit to our dwarfish proportions. Here, then, is the third form of self which is to be overturned, as much as the two preceding forms, and that is presumptuous self.
II. The setting up of the kingdom of God on the ruins of self. “I will overturn, overturn, overturn it: and it shall be no more, until He come whose right it is; and I will give it Him.” There is one then to come “whose right it is,” there is a King who has a right to the throne, and to the allegiance of His subjects; a right to all that they are and to all that they have. But whence has He gained this right? “Until He come whose right it is.” It is His right, then, first, by original donation and gift, the Father having given to the Son all the elect. “Here am I,” says Jesus, and the children that Thou hast given Me.” “All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me.” Then, so far as we are His, Jesus has a right to our persons; and in having a right to our persons, He has, by the same original donation of God the Father, a right to our hearts and affections. But He has another right, and that is by purchase and redemption, He having redeemed His people by His own blood--having laid down His life for them, and thus bought and purchased them, and so established a right to them by the full and complete price which He Himself paid down upon the cross for them. This two-fold right He exercises every time that He lays a solemn claim to any one of the people whom He has purchased. “Until He come whose right it is.” Then there is a coming of Jesus into the souls of His people; not a coming into their judgments to inform their heads; not a coming into their minds merely to enable them to speak with their tongues concerning them, but there is a solemn coming of Christ, with power and glory and grace and majesty into the souls and consciences of His elect family, whereby He sets up His kingdom upon its basis, erects a temple for Himself, and builds up His own throne of mercy and truth upon the ruins of self. But this is not a work which is once done, and needs no more repetition. For we must bear in mind that this wreck and ruin of self is not a heap of dead stones. Self is a living principle; not a slaughtered and buried rebel, but a breathing antagonist to the Lord of life and glory. Self will ever work, then, against His supreme authority, and will ever rebel against His sovereign dominion. And therefore if we look into our hearts we shall find that day by day we need this overturning work to be done afresh, and again and again repeated in us. (J. C. Philpot.)
Messiah’s final triumph
I. Jehovah has given universal empire to Jesus (Psalms 72:1-11; Psalms 2:8; Psalms 89:27; Daniel 7:14; Zechariah 9:10; Philippians 2:10; Acts 2:32, etc.) Christ’s dominion is to embrace the whole world,--every empire, kingdom, continent, and island.
II. It is Christ’s right thus to reign. “Whose right it is.”
1. On His creative property in all things (Colossians 1:16). Satan is an usurper,--the world is alienated from its rightful Lord. But the right of Christ remains unaffected, and that right He will demand and obtain.
2. On His supreme authority as universal Lord. He is Lord of all, King of kings, etc. This authority is seen in controlling all events, in upholding all things, etc. In His infinite outgoings of benevolence and love.
3. He has a redeeming right. He became incarnate, He descended into the world, He brought the light of heaven into it, He gave His own life for it, He is the proprietor, etc. Here then is a right, ratified with His precious blood. He was willingly lifted up that He “might draw all men unto Him.”
III. God will overturn every obstacle until this be effected. “I will overturn,” etc. Ignorance must give place to light, error to truth, sin to holiness. Satan must be driven from his strongholds, and thus Jesus will enlarge His empire and extend His domains. There are, however, four mighty impediments which must be overthrown, entirely overturned.
1. Paganism, and all its multifarious rites.
2. Mohammedanism in all its earthly gratifications.
3. Judaism, with its obsolete rites.
4. Antichristian Rome.
Every thing that exalteth itself against God, or attempts the division of Christ’s merits, must be consumed before the brightness of Messiah’s countenance and the power of His truth. But you ask, How will God overturn, etc.? Doubtless His providence will subserve the purposes of His grace. He may cause science and commerce to open a passage for the message of truth. He may even overrule war, and may allow the military hero to pioneer the ambassador of peace. But he will do it by the power of the Gospel of truth. The doctrines of the cross are to effect it. “We preach Christ crucified,” etc. “Not by might, nor by power,” etc. (J. Burns, D. D.)