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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezekiel 33". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ ezekiel-33.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezekiel 33". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
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Whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet.
The trumpet call
I. The analogy between the watchman on the walls of Zion and the preacher of the Gospel of the grace of God.
1. The qualifications needed in a watchman: vigour, courage, intelligence, loyalty, fidelity.
2. The duties: vigilance, to watch; obedience, to warn.
3. The responsibilities: account of the service must be rendered to those who appointed him; safety of the city depended largely upon the faithful discharge of the watchman’s duties.
II. The analogy between the sound of the watchman’s trumpet and the message of the Gospel preacher. Here we are reminded of the trumpet call of alarm on the approach of danger in time of peril. The call was to be definite, distinct, emphatic, rousing. “Warning every man.” The Gospel trumpet is to arrest the attention of men, call them to repent, to surrender, lay down their weapons of rebellion; and then, armed with the whole armour of God, go forth manfully to fight His battles. The Gospel message is a trumpet call to advance, and “no surrender”; it is never the call to retreat, or the proclaimer of defeat. There must be “no uncertain sound,” for all truth is dogmatic, and ought to be definitely proclaimed.
III. The analogy between the responsibility of those who heard the watchman’s trumpet and those who hear the sound of the Gospel. The watchman on the walls of Zion simply sounded the alarm; it was for the people to believe and obey. So the Gospel hearers of today are responsible for the effects produced upon their hearts and minds by the Gospel message. (Homilist.)
He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him.
The warning neglected
In all worldly things men are always enough awake to understand their own interests There is scarce a merchant who reads the paper who does not read it some way or other with a view to his own personal concerns. In politics, in everything, in fact, that concerns temporal affairs, personal interest usually leads the van. Men will always be looking out for themselves and personal home interests will generally engross the major part of their thoughts. But in religion it is otherwise. In religion men love far rather to believe abstract doctrines, and to talk of general truths, than the searching inquiries which examine their own personal interest in it.
I. The warning was all that could be desired. When in time of war an army is attacked in the night, and cut off and destroyed whilst asleep, if it were possible for them to be aware of the attack, and if they had used all diligence in placing their sentinels, but nevertheless the foe were so wary as to destroy them, we should weep; we should attach no blame to anyone, but should deeply regret, and should give to that host our fullest pity. But if, on the other hand, they had posted their sentinels, and the sentinels were wide awake, and gave to the sleepy soldiers every warning that could be desired, but nevertheless the army were cut off, although we might from common humanity regret the loss thereof, yet at the same time we should be obliged to say, if they were foolish enough to sleep when the sentinels had warned them; if they folded their arms in presumptuous sloth, after they had had sufficient and timely notice of the progress of their bloodthirsty enemy, then in their dying we cannot pity them: their blood must rest upon their own heads. So it is with you.
1. The warnings of the ministry have been to most of you warnings that have been heard--“He heard the sound of the trumpet.” In far off lands the trumpet sound of warning is not heard.
2. The trumpet was not only heard, but more than that, its warning was understood. If ye be damned, I am innocent of your damnation; for I have told you plainly, that except ye repent ye must perish, and that except ye put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ there is for you no hope of salvation.
3. Again, this sound was startling. Then, sirs, if ye have heard the cry of fire, if ye are burned in your beds, your charred ashes shall not accuse me.
4. In many of your eases the warning has been very frequent. A hundred times every year you have gone up to the house of God, and far oftener than that, and you have just added a hundred billets to the eternal pile.
5. This warning that you have had so often has come to you in time. You are not warned on a sick bed at the eleventh hour, when there is but a bare possibility of salvation, but you are warned in time, you are warned today, you have been warned for these many years that are now past.
II. Men make excuses why they do not attend to the Gospel warning, but these excuses are all frivolous and wicked.
1. Some say, “Well, I did not attend to the warning, because I did not believe there was any necessity for it.” There was enough in reason to have taught you that there was an hereafter; the Book of God’s revelation was plain enough to have taught it to you, and if you have rejected God’s Book, and rejected the voice of reason and of conscience, your blood is on your own head.
2. “But,” cries another, “I did not like the trumpet. I did not like the Gospel that was preached.” Well, but God made the trumpet, God made the Gospel; and inasmuch as ye did not like what God made, it is an idle excuse. What was that to you what the trumpet was, so long as it warned you?
3. But another says, “I did not like the man himself; I did not like the minister; I did not like the man that blew the trumpet; I could hear him preach very well, but I had a personal dislike to him, and so I did not take any notice of what the trumpet said.” Verily, God will say to thee at last, “Thou fool, what hadst thou to do with that man? to his own master he stands or falls; thy business was with thyself.”
4. There are many other people who say, “Ah, well, I did none of those things, but I had a notion that the trumpet sound ought to be blown to everybody else, but not to me.” Ah! that is a very common notion. “All men think all men mortal but themselves,” said a “good poet; and all men think all men need the Gospel, but not themselves.
5. Well, says another, “But I was so busy; I had so much to do that I could not possibly attend to my soul’s concerns.” What will you say of the man who had so much to do that he could not get out of the burning house, but was burnt to ashes.
6. “Well,” says another, “but I thought I had time enough; you do not want me, sir, to be religious in my youth, do you? I am a lad; and may I not have a little frolic, and sow my wild oats as well as anybody else?” Well--yes, yes; but at the same time the best place for frolic that I know of is where a Christian lives; the finest happiness in all the world is the happiness of a child of God.
III. Then the last thought is, “His blood shall be on his own head.” Briefly thus--he shall perish; he shall perish certainly; he shall perish inexcusably.
1. He shall perish. And what does that mean? There is no human mind however capacious, that can ever guess the thought of a soul eternally cast away from God.
2. But again, he that turneth not at the rebuke of the minister shall die, and he shall die certainly. This is not a matter of perhaps or chance.
3. Now, the last thing is, the sinner will perish--he will perish certainly, but last of all, he will perish without excuse,--his blood shall be on his own head. When a man is bankrupt, if he can say, “It is not through reckless trading--it has been entirely through the dishonesty of one I trusted that I am what I am;” he takes some consolation, and he says, “I cannot help it.” But oh, if you make bankrupts of your own souls, after you have been warned, then your own eternal bankruptcy shall lie at your own door. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I have set thee a watchman.
The true watchman
I. The true watchman’s vision of his own work. He sees--
1. It entails great responsibility on himself. Failure of duty here is nothing less than “blood guiltiness.”
2. It involves the greatest results to his hearers.
3. It utters the emotions of God.
4. It proclaims both the hope and the method of men’s improvement. The hope is in God; the method is from God. The hope is in His call and promise of love; the method is in penitence, “pine” for sins; return; pardon, “none of his sins shall be mentioned”; rectitude, “doing righteousness.”
II. The true watchman’s vision of the conduct of others. He is emphatically the seer. For he not only has to gaze steadily, reverently, intelligently at the truth of God he has to reveal to men, he has to look bravely, fixedly, tenderly at the condition and character of men. The old English watchman, to whom the care of our streets by night was formerly entrusted, often uttered in his hourly cry of “All right” what was indeed a sorrowful satire. For under the pall of night what concealed felons, what secret assassins, were plotting their cruelty and wrong! No such misleading watchman must be ours. In his vision of the conduct of others the true watchman sees--
1. The gross sins of many of them.
2. The hypocrisy of many more. The cloak of the hypocrite’s profession, the words of flattery that trifle with himself, fail to mislead the true preacher. (Urijah R. Thomas.)
Sermon to ministers
We are called to be messengers, watchmen, stewards of the Lord.
I. The Divine appointment. A faithful minister is a watchman appointed of God Himself. The vows of the Lord are upon us. How have we fulfilled them? What efforts have we made, with a single eye, to serve God for the promoting of His glory and the edifying of His people?
II. The solemn duties.
1. The first part of a watchman’s duty is to watch for himself and over himself. The sentinel at his post is ever exposed to the watchful eye of the enemy; and so the Lord’s watchman is, more than others, always exposed to the ever-watchful eye of Satan. He stands forth as a mark against which the fiery darts of the wicked one are ever being hurled.
2. The watchman has to watch over and for the souls committed to his charge. We are assailed with the changeable winds of doctrine in all their force; we have the same blight of formality resting on the outward church; the same seeds of error and discord sown now as in the days of old. Against all these we must watch as we love the souls of our flock; yea, we must lift up our voice, and spare not, warning them against all the evils of sin, Satan, and the world.
I shall conclude with a word of exhortation and a word of warning.
1. As to the warning; that we be not unfaithful.
2. But if the warning voice of Scripture speaks loudly to the unfaithful watchman, not less loudly and powerfully do the promises of the Scriptures speak, to exhort and encourage the faithful. True, our responsibility is very deep, our difficulties very great; but let us remember, we stand not alone; if truly called of God and man, we may take to ourselves the promise, “Lo, I am with you.” (Evangelical Preacher.)
God’s ministers the watchmen of Israel
I. The reason and propriety of this representation. The Christian Church may be considered as a large and extensive country, bordering upon the world, a country yet more large and extensive. The spiritual watchman is to view what passes in both, and to give his own countrymen, the true Israelites, information and warning (Isaiah 21:5-8; Habakkuk 2:1). Or, the Church of Christ is a city (Psalms 87:1; Isaiah 60:1-22; Isaiah 62:1-12; Hebrews 12:22; Philippians 3:20 --Gr.) under one Chief Magistrate, Christ; who has appointed the laws, customs, and language thereof. This city should be at unity with itself within, and surrounded, as by walls and bulwarks, with salvation by the Lord, and by the faith, prayers, and watchfulness of the citizens. And on these walls, elevated by their knowledge, God having shined into their hearts (2 Corinthians 4:6), and by their Divine appointment, and secured by the Divine protection (Revelation 2:1), the ministers of the Gospel are placed as “watchmen.” This country of Christianity is liable to be invaded from without, and this city of the Church of God to be attacked by the world and its prince. It may be invaded and attacked in its doctrines, by error; in its duties, by sin; in its privileges, by unbelief, despondency, formality, lukewarmness, and sloth. The watchman gives notice and warning. This country or city is liable also to commotions and disorders from within. As to individuals, from the flesh and its lusts. They may become luxurious, wanton, covetous, ambitious, proud, self-willed, discontented, impatient, etc. Or, as to the whole community, by surmises, jealousies, envyings, enmities, evil-speakings, which things would destroy the peace and unity of its members, and produce strife, contention, parties, divisions. The “watchman” must warn and reprove the citizens, and lay their conduct before their Prince.
II. What is especially the office and duty of ministers under this character. They must regard no toil, labour, or suffering. They must be faithful to the Lord and the people (Luke 12:42). They must distrust themselves, and apply to and depend on the Lord for supernatural aid. The Chief Shepherd only can keep, feed, and rule the flock, and, in another view, that “unless the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain” (Isaiah 62:6-7). But, more particularly, their duty is set forth (Habakkuk 2:1-2). We are not at liberty to imagine or conjecture or suppose this or that as necessary or expedient to the people over whom we watch, or retail our own opinions or fancies to them, but must come to our hearers with “Thus saith the Lord,” and that, with respect to doctrines to be believed, privileges to be enjoyed, precepts to be obeyed, promises to be expected, and threatenings to be revered. We must observe, all mankind are naturally wicked, all need repentance, all have encouragement to repent (Ezekiel 33:11; Ezekiel 33:14); that repentance implies not merely confession of sin, and a partial reformation, but a turning of the heart from sin to righteousness, followed by its proper fruits, and that without this there is no salvation (Luke 13:1). Nor is repentance sufficient without faith (John 3:18; Mark 16:16). Nor is faith sufficient without love; an ardent, admiring, grateful, complacent love to God, especially in consideration of His goodness to us, and an affectionate, disinterested, active love to all men, in imitation of God’s love to them (Hebrews 12:14). And we must persevere (Ezekiel 33:12-13; Ezekiel 33:18; John 15:4; John 15:6; Romans 11:17-22; Hebrews 10:38).
III. The consequence of neglecting, or fulfilling, their duty.
1. “If thou do not warn the wicked”--sincerely, earnestly, frequently, with repeated admonitions, as the word signifies, giving them light by thy instructions, and making the matter clear and evident to them. Thus the apostle warned all (Acts 20:31)--He “shall die in his iniquity.” But is not this a hard case? No. For, though not particularly warned by any messenger of God, he had the Word of God in his hands, or, at least, he had the fight of nature, and knew more or less of what was required of him.
2. If the watchman fulfil his duty, he at least derivers his own soul (Ezekiel 33:9). The faithful watchman glorifies God. For it is much for the glory of all his attributes that sinners should be warned, whether they take the warning or not; e.g., His holiness, justice, mercy, love. He receives a reward in proportion to his labours (Isaiah 49:4-5; 1 Corinthians 3:8). The Lord always gives him some success (Matthew 7:16-20; John 10:2-5; 1 Timothy 4:15-16). (J. Benson.)
Faithful dealing with men’s souls
The following incident occurred on his first visit to Waterbeach when Charles Spurgeon was a lad of seventeen. “He was put up for the night at the house of Mr. Smith, and shared a bed with Mr. Smith’s son, then a young boy. Charles Spurgeon, before retiring, went upon his knees, but his companion tumbled into bed without prayer, and lay down. No sooner had young Spurgeon finished his devotions than he inquired of his bedfellow if he were not afraid to go to bed without asking God for protection during the night: ‘What a fearful thing would it be,’ he said, ‘if you went to your last sleep without a prayer and a Saviour.’ For an hour or more the young preacher talked to the boy, and his earnestness was so evident that the boy was moved. Charles Spurgeon had him out of bed, and prayed with him, and that night the lad was converted. He is now an honoured deacon at Waterbeach.” (Christian Age.)
Warning the impenitent
If at an assize town at the time of any celebrated trial, and the prisoner had been found guilty, and sentenced to death, Whitefield would, at the close of his sermon, his eyes full of tears, pause for a moment, and then, after a tenable denunciation upon those who neglect so great salvation, exclaim, “I am now going to put on my condemning cap; sinner, I must do it. I must pronounce sentence against you.” And then he would repeat the awful words of our Lord: Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” (R. Winter.)
Latimer told the clergy in his time that, if they would not learn diligence and vigilance of the prophets and apostles, they should learn it of the devil, who goes up and down his diocese, and acts by an untired power, seeking whom he may destroy. When the wolves are abroad, the shepherd should not sleep, but watch, remembering that he were better have all the blood of all the men in the world upon him, than the blood of one soul upon him, by his negligence or otherwise. (T. Brooks.)
O wicked man, thou shalt surely die.
Office and responsibility of ministers
I. What God saith to the wicked.
1. The people addressed are all who do not unfeignedly turn from sin to God.
2. Death is here denounced as the judgment to be inflicted on all who turn not to their God; and to the same effect the inspired writers uniformly speak (Isaiah 3:11; Romans 6:23; James 1:14-15).
3. There is an implied assurance that the wicked, if they will repent, shall not die. And this is expressly stated in the following context: verse 14-16, so that, awful as this passage is, it is no less encouraging than it is awful; because it assures the contrite and believing sinner that he shall never perish.
II. The necessity imposed on ministers to proclaim it. The consequences of neglect in any minister are declared in two respects:
1. The person whom he neglects to warn will perish. If, through the sloth or treachery of the sentinels, a, camp be surprised at midnight, nothing but confusion and ruin can ensue. Thus if a person appointed to warn the wicked neglect to do so, the wicked will continue regardless of their impending doom, till it is too late to avert it. And it will be to no purpose to say, “I was not aware of my danger; my minister has betrayed me.” No; the wicked have means of information within their oval reach, independent of their ministers; and they have secret intimations in their own consciences that they ought to repent: and therefore they must take the consequences of their own wickedness: “they must die in their iniquity.”
2. He himself also will be dealt with as the author of that sinner’s destruction. As a sentinel who, by neglecting to give notice of the enemy’s approach, occasioned the overthrow of the army to which he belonged, would be chargeable with all the consequences of his neglect, so will the blood of all that perish through the minister’s neglect “be required at his hand.” (Skeletons of Sermons.)
The important message
I. The end in which the evil ways of the children of men terminate is an awful end. It is a way that terminates in death, and that not temporal death alone, but eternal death. Many are the terrific views which are given of the world of woe; but what view can be more terrific than that of dying forever, and yet to be never dead after all? It will be awful in its nature, and still more so in its duration. The misery will be inconceivable, and the misery will be interminable. Banishment from all blessedness forever! Blackness and darkness, weeping and wailing, forever!
II. The realisation of this awful end is an object which the blessed God, far from desiring, deprecates and deplores. It is not your death that He desires, but your life.
1. By way of confirming this encouraging truth, we would remind you, in the first place, of what God is in Himself. His nature is love--that is the endearing name by which He is revealed; and as His name is, so is He. Benevolence of the highest, noblest, purest kind constitutes the very essence of His all-perfect character.
2. In connection with what God is in His nature, we would advert to what He has done for our salvation. He has “so loved the world that He gave,” etc.
3. His dealings with the children of men in all ages. How has He borne with them in the face of their innumerable provocations?
III. It is the consequent duty of sinners to forsake their evil ways, the termination of which, if persisted in, will be so disastrous, and to turn at once to him who waiteth to be gracious. “Turn ye, turn ye, from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” Many strange things have been done or endured before now, which appeared unaccountable; and yet there have been substantial reasons to justify them. To see an individual in an unresisting posture, patient and resigned, while persons with their saws and knives were severing one of his limbs from his body, seems a strange sight; and yet there may be no difficulty in proving that such an operation was necessary and desirable, since the sacrifice of a man’s limb has often been the means of saving a man’s life. For multitudes to give their bodies to be burnt; to welcome cruel mockings and scourgings; to abandon their homes, and wander in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth: all this appears to be unaccountable. But there may be the strongest reasons adduced in justification of such severe sacrifices. Hence it is declared of the ancient: worthies, that they were tortured, not accepting deliverance; and why? That they might obtain a better resurrection. But for your course, poor sinner, no reason can be given. (Anon.)
The certainty of death to the wicked
I. Who are the wicked? Profane and gross sinners, who indulge themselves in notorious immoralities (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; Colossians 3:5-6; Revelation 21:8). In this black list you not only find such gross vices as are scandalous in the common estimate of mankind, but also such as are secret, seated in the heart, and generally esteemed but lesser evils.
2. All who knowingly and wilfully indulge themselves habitually in any one sin, whether it be the omission of a commanded duty or the practice of something forbidden (1Jn 2:4; 1 John 3:8; 1 John 3:10; John 14:23-24). I grant that good men sin, and that they are far from perfection of holiness in this life. I grant also that some of them have fallen, perhaps once in their life, into some gross sin. But after all, I must insist that they do not indulge themselves in the wilful habitual practice of any known sin, or the wilful habitual neglect of any known duty. St. John expressly tells us (1 John 3:9), he cannot sin habitually; again, he cannot sin wilfully--that is, with full bent of soul.
3. All who are destitute of those graces and virtues which constitute the character of positive goodness. Wickedness is a moral privation, or the want of real goodness. The want of faith, the want of love, repentance, benevolence, and charity does as really constitute a wicked man, as drunkenness, blasphemy, or any notorious immorality.
4. All who still continue in their natural state; who have never been regenerated, or experienced a thorough change of their views and dispositions, towards God and divine things (John 3:6; Romans 8:8; Ephesians 2:3).
II. What kind of death shall the wicked man die? It is true, natural death is the universal doom of all the sons of men (Ecclesiastes 2:16). The highest attainments in piety cannot secure an earthly immortality. But though there be no difference in this respect, there is a wide difference in another, and that is, the death of the wicked is quite another thing, or comes under quite a different notion, from the death of the righteous. The death of the wicked, like an officer from their offended sovereign, strikes off the fetters of flesh, that they may be carried away to a place of execution. Then, farewell, a long, and everlasting farewell, to the comforts of this life, and all its agreeable prospects: farewell to friends; farewell to hope and peace; farewell to all the means of grace; farewell, God, and Christ, and angels, and all the blessedness of heaven. Now nothing awaits them but wrath and fiery indignation. But even this, dreadful as it is, is not all--there is besides this, that dreadful something called the second death (Revelation 21:8; Revelation 2:11; Revelation 20:6; Revelation 2:14)--which thou, O wicked man, must die. The soul will be forever dead to God and holiness--dead to all the means of grace, and all the enjoyments of this life; dead to all happiness and all hope; dead to all the comfortable purposes of existence; dead to everything that deserves the name of life--in short, dead to everything but the torturing sensations of pain; to these the soul will be tremblingly alive all over, to eternity; but, alas! to be alive, in this sense, alive only to suffer pain, is worse than death, worse than annihilation.
III. What you must do to be saved.
1. Betake yourselves immediately to serious thoughtfulness.
2. Break off from those things that hinder your conversion.
3. Diligently use all means that may instruct you in the nature of true religion.
4. Earnestly pray to God.
5. Endeavour to receive and submit to the Lord Jesus as your only Saviour.
6. Do not delay to follow these directions. (President Davies.)
As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live.
The sincerity of Divine expostulations
1. What a contrast are God’s thoughts of man to man’s thoughts of God!
2. How opposite are God’s feelings towards man to man’s feelings respecting God!
3. How different God’s estimate of man from man’s estimate of God!
4. How unlike God’s purposes to man’s! God says to man, “Live”; man says to God, Let Him die the death; crucify Him; this is the heir; come, let us kill Him.
5. How far asunder are God’s ways from man’s!
I. The state of man’s heart in reference to God.
1. He murmurs against God for not giving him life. God proclaims His willingness to give it. I have no life. Is He not mocking me? Christ promises rest. I have none. Can He be sincere?
2. Nay, more, he casts the whole blame of his death on God. He says, I see that I must just die; there is no help for it; the blame is not mine, but God’s. My fallen nature, my education, my circumstances, my temptations, these are my excuses.
II. The state of God’s heart in reference to man.
1. He has no pleasure in their death. He did not kindle hell in order to gratify His revenge. He does not cast sinners headlong into its endless flames in order to get vent to His blind fury. He will finally condemn the unbelieving, but not because He delights to do so, but because He is the righteous Lord that loveth righteousness.
2. His desire is, that the wicked shall turn and live. It is to life--life everlasting--that He points your eye, sinner. It is of life that He desires to make you partaker. And surely it is life that you need. For what one word more fully or more terribly describes your present state than death? Dead, not like the withered leaf or the uprooted tree; that would at least be unconsciousness of loss, and ignorance of what might have been won. But you are dead to all that is worth living for, and yet alive to all that makes life a burden and a woe. Do you say, If God wants me to live, why does He not at once give me life? In other words, why does He not force life upon my acceptance, and burst through every barrier? I ask in return, Is God bound to take your way in giving life? I ask again, Do you really suppose that a person is not sincere in his kindness because he does not carry out that kindness by every means, lawful or unlawful? Is it not possible that there may be a limit to that kindness compatible with the most perfect sincerity?
III. The expostulation, with which all this closes, is one of the most urgent importunity on the part of God, proving yet more Fully His real desire to bless. It is like one vehemently enforcing an invitation upon an unwilling listener,--making a last effort to save the heedless or resisting sinner. Is it within the remotest bounds of possibility or conceivability that He is insincere; that He does not really mean what He says? The ways from which He calls on them to turn are named by Him “evil ways”; and what He calls evil must be truly so,--hateful in His eyes, as well as ruinous to the soul. The end of these ways He pronounces to be death; so that sinners must either turn or die. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
Pleading and encouragement
(with Ezekiel 18:23; Ezekiel 18:32):--Notice, that in each of my texts the Lord declares that He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but in each following passage the statement is stronger. The Lord puts it first (Ezekiel 18:23) as a matter of question. As if surprised that such a thing should be laid to His door, He appeals to man’s own reason, and asks, “Have I any pleasure at all,” etc. In our second text (Ezekiel 18:32), God makes a positive assertion. Knowing the human heart, He foresaw that a question would not be enough to end this matter, for man would say, “He only asked the question, but He did not give a plain and positive statement to the contrary.” He gives us that clear assurance in our second text: “I have no pleasure,” etc. But still, as if to end forever the strange and ghastly supposition that God takes delight in human destruction, my third text seals the truth with the solemn oath of the Eternal.
I. Notice, first, the assertion that God finds no pleasure in a sinner’s death. Really I feel ashamed to have to answer the cruel libel which is here suggested; yet it is the English of many a man’s doubts. I will only bring forward certain evidence by which you who are still under the deadly influence of the falsehood may be delivered
1. Consider the great paucity of God’s judgments among the sons of men. There are such things, but they are wonderfully rare in this life, considering the way in which the Lord is daily provoked by presumption and blasphemy. Does not the Lord Himself say that judgment is His strange work”?
2. The length of God’s long-suffering before the Day of Judgment itself comes proves how He wills not the death of men.
3. Furthermore, remember the perfection of the character of God as the moral Ruler of the universe. Aversion to punishment is necessary to justice in a judge.
4. If any further thoughts were necessary to correct your misbelief, I would mention the graciousness of His work in saving those who turn from their evil ways. As if God were indignant that such a charge should be laid against Him that He delighteth in the death of any, He preferred to die Himself upon the tree rather than let a world of sinners sink to hell.
II. God finds no alternative but that men must turn from their wicked ways, or die. It is one or the other: turn or burn. God, with all His love to men, cannot discover any third course; men cannot keep their sins and yet be saved.
1. Be it known to you, first, that when God proclaims mercy to men upon this condition, that they turn from their ways, this proclamation is issued out of pure grace. God saves you, not because of any merit in your turning, but because He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy, and He has decreed to save all who turn from the paths of evil.
2. If there be no repentance, men must be punished, for on any other theory there is an end of moral government. The worst thing that could happen to a world of men would be for God to say “I retract My law; I will neither reward virtue, nor punish iniquity; do as you like.” Then the earth would be a hell indeed.
3. Sin must be punished; you must turn from it or die, because sin is its own punishment. Even the omnipotence of God cannot make an impenitent sinner happy. You cannot be married to Christ and heaven until you are divorced from sin and self.
4. I believe that every man’s conscience bears witness to this if it he at all honest.
III. God finds pleasure in men’s turning from sin. Among the highest of the Divine joys is the pleasure of seeing a sinner turn from evil. When your heart is sick of sin, when you loathe all evil, and feel that though you cannot get away from it, yet you would if you could, then He looks down on you with pitying eye. When there is a new will springing up in your heart, by His good grace--a will to obey and believe, then also the Father smiles. When He hears within you a moaning and a sighing after the Father’s house and the Father’s bosom; you cannot see Him, but He is behind the wall listening to you. His hand is secretly putting your tears into His bottle, and His heart is feeling compassion for you. When at last you come to prayer, and begin to cry, “God be merciful to me, a sinner,” God is well pleased; for here He sees clear signs that you are coming to yourself and to Him. His Spirit saith, “Behold, he prayeth!” and He takes this as a token for good. When you unfeignedly forsake sin God sees you do it, and He is so glad that His holy angels spy out His joy. I will tell you what pleases Him most of all, and that is when you come to His dear Son, and say, “Lord, something tells me that there is no hope for me, but I do not believe that voice. I read in Thy Word that Thou wilt cast out none that come unto Thee, and lo, I come! I am the biggest sinner that ever did come, but, Lord, I believe Thy promise; I am as unworthy as the devil himself, but, Lord, Thou dost not ask for worthiness, but only for childlike confidence. Cast me not away--I rest in Thee.”
IV. God therefore exhorts to it and adds an argument. “Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” He perceives His poor creature standing with his back to Him, looking to idols, looking to sinful pleasures, looking towards the city of destruction, and what does God say to him? He says, “Turn!” It is a very plain direction; is it not? “Turn.” or “Right about face!” That is all. “Turn ye, turn ye.” See, the Lord puts it twice. He must mean your good by these repeated directions. Suppose my man servant was crossing yonder river, and I saw that he would soon be out of his depth, and so in great danger; suppose I cried out to him, “Stop! stop! If you go another inch you will be drowned. Turn back! Turn back!” Will anybody dare to say, “Mr. Spurgeon would feel pleasure if that man were drowned”? It would be a cruel cut. What a liar the man must be who would hint such a thing when I am urging my servant to turn and save his life! Would God plead with us to escape unless He honestly desired that we should escape? I trow not. “Turn ye, turn ye.” He pleads each time with more of emphasis. Will you not hear? Then He finishes up with asking men to find a reason why they should die. There ought to be a weighty reason to induce a man to die. “Why will ye die?” This is an unanswerable question in reference to death eternal. Is there anything to be desired in eternal destruction from the presence of the Lord, and the glory of His power? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God has no pleasure in the sinner’s death
I. What the death spoken of is not.
1. Manifestly this death cannot be merely the death of the body; for all will die this death, whether they turn to God or not, and whether they live a spiritual life or not.
2. The death spoken of cannot be spiritual, or a state of sinfulness; for God represents them as being already in this state.
II. Positively the death spoken of must be the opposite of the life here referred to. This life cannot be natural life; for all, both saint and sinner, are conceived of as being alike in natural life. Of course, the life must be salvation--eternal life--that blessedness which saints enjoy in the favour and love of God, begun here, prolonged forever hereafter. Now, if such be the life alluded to, the death, being, in contrast with it, must be eternal death; the misery experienced by all God’s enemies,
III. Why has God no pleasure in the sinner’s death?
1. The death of saints in which God takes a special interest is only the death of the body; but the death of the wicked is the death of both soul and body together. Both together are involved in misery and ruin.
2. God has no pleasure in the sinner’s death, because He is a moral being, and it is contrary to the nature of moral beings to delight in suffering for its own sake.
3. God cannot have pleasure in the sinner’s death, because His character forbids it. God is not only by nature a moral agent, but He is in character a good moral agent--a being of infinite benevolence. God pities the self-ruined sinner; never rejoices in his dreadful doom, for its own sake.
4. It must be that God regards the death of the sinner, viewed in itself, as a great evil. No finite mind can begin to conceive how great and dreadful this evil is. It needs the sweep of an infinite mind to measure its length and breadth, its depth and its height.
5. God can have no pleasure in the death of sinners, because it is a state in which He can wisely show them no more favour. Mercy has had its day; simple justice must henceforth have unimpeded exercise.
6. Another reason still is that when sinners have out-lived their probation and are cut off in their sins, their depravity will be thenceforward restrained. How shocking it must be to the pure and holy God to see His creatures giving themselves up to utter and unrestrained depravity--to see them giving boundless scope to the most odious and horrible rebellion!
IV. Why does not God prevent the death of the wicked? If He takes no pleasure in it, why should He suffer it to be?
1. You are aware that men have often inferred from God’s benevolence that He will not suffer the wicked to be lost. But who has any right to infer this? How does it appear that benevolence cannot inflict a lesser evil for the sake of preventing a greater?
2. God does not prevent the death of the wicked, for the good reason that He cannot wisely do it. For God to act otherwise than with wisdom must be wrong.
3. God could not have prevented their destruction by refusing to create them. He saw it would be wise to create moral agents who would sin, and some of whom would be lost; and how could He act other than wisely without forever condemning Himself for wrongdoing?
4. God could not wisely have done more than He has done for the sinner’s salvation. It is plain that God could not wisely abridge the liberty of moral agents, nor indeed could He save them, even if He should, for the very idea of the salvation of a moral agent implies his own voluntary turning from sin.
5. God cannot save men without their concurrence; in the nature of the ease, they could not be holy without their own concurrence; how, then, could they be happy without it?
6. Another reason why God does not prevent the death of the wicked is that He regards it as a less evil than to interpose in any way possible to Himself, to save them. If they would turn under such influences as He can wisely use, He would rejoice; but He is already going to the utmost limit of His discretion, and how can He go further?
7. Yet another reason is that, although the evil of the sinner’s death is great, yet He can make a good use of it. He can overrule it for important good to others and to various interests in His kingdom.
V. The only possible way in which the sinner’s death can be avoided, is for the sinner himself to turn from his evil ways and live. God’s government being what it is, repentance and faith in Jesus Christ are natural and necessary means of the sinner’s salvation. He might as well ask Jehovah to come down from His throne, as ask Him to do anything more or anything different from what He is doing to save sinners. Remarks--
1. The goodness of God is really no encouragement to those who continue in sin.
2. The goodness of God is not the security of the impenitent sinner’s salvation, but the guarantee of his damnation.
3. The death of the wicked is not inconsistent with God’s happiness.
4. God will have the eternal consciousness of having laid Himself out to the utmost to save sinners.
5. The death of the wicked will not be inconsistent with the happiness of heaven. When saints reach heaven they will have more confidence in God than many people have now. With enlarged views they will see most clearly that God has done right, perfectly and infinitely right. (C. G. Finney.)
The death of the wicked not pleasing to God
I. The purposes of God. Before He exercised one act of creating power, He saw all the consequences of His creation, knowing then, as perfectly as now, and as perfectly as he ever will know, all the results of felicity and wretchedness that would ever be realised in heaven, earth, and hell, And with all these before Him, as the certain consequences of that constitution of things He was about to establish, and that creative energy He was about to exert, still He resolved, that under such a constitution, such a creation should rise. He spake and it was done.
1. We have no right to conclude that the Almighty is the sole cause of the miseries of His creatures, from the fact that He is the Author of their existence, that He knew, before He created, all the consequences of His creating, and that none of His expectations and purposes are frustrated. Before we can apply the purposes of God to particular things--to our conduct, our destiny, or the pleasure of the Deity--we must know the method of application; we must know the particular character of the purposes; we must be able to understand how they affect the particulars.
2. If it is lawful for us to infer, from the purposes of God, that He has pleasure in the destruction of the wicked, then it is lawful for us, on the same principle, to infer that He has pleasure in that wickedness itself, which leads to destruction. We may conclude, therefore, on this principle of reasoning, that God is pleased with sin! This is the result of attempting to reason from the secret purposes of God.
3. The consideration which should correct this error is, the narrow limits of our understandings. We have not the least knowledge of the nature of the connection which exists between the purposes of Jehovah and the actions of His creatures.
4. But though we are incapable of unfolding the Divine purposes, and proving thereby, that the Deity has no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked, and that these purposes do not render sin and death unavoidable, yet we have other methods of showing this. He who alone knows perfectly those purposes and the dispositions of the wicked, has told us, and we have, therefore, the strongest of all possible evidence.
(1) He has told us in the text if the purposes of God were of such a nature as to compel the wicked to his wickedness, and thus bring him to eternal death unavoidably, this declaration could not be true.
(2) He has told us so in those explicit declarations which charge our destruction upon ourselves: “Oh, Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself.” Now, if the Divine purposes forced men to sin, or placed insurmountable obstacles in the way of their salvation, I can conceive of no sense in which this declaration could be true.
(3) He has told us so in those numerous passages which expressly declare that He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
(4) He has told us so in those tender expostulations and earnest entreaties, which He employs to win sinners to Himself.
(5) He has told us so in those lamentations which He utters over the doom of the wicked.
(6) He has told us so when He calls us to contemplate those attributes with which He clothes Himself--attributes of mercy, forbearance, long-suffering, and tender compassion.
II. The nature of religion. Those whose minds have surmounted one difficulty in religion often meet with another. When we have learnt that the purposes of the Deity do not infringe upon our liberty, and oblige us to be lost, the nature of religion comes up to lend to our mistake a lame apology. But let us hush the murmur with two reflections--the one humbling to our pride, the other complimentary to our nature. The first is, that the difficulties which beset us in our attempts after religion are mostly, if not altogether, placed there by ourselves, through our own wickedness and folly. The other is, that that very characteristic of our nature which renders us capable of religion, or of sensibility to its difficulties, is the very characteristic which distinguishes us from the lower order of creatures. Our Creator, in forming us such as we are, has given us an exaltation. And if we still complain that we have so much to do in the religion that God requires, let us remember that this activity is absolutely to the enjoyment of that felicity which religion proposes. We are moral beings, and religion treats us as such.
1. Its mysteries perplex you. But what have you to do with its mysteries? Are you required to understand them? No, not at all--you have simply to believe what is recorded concerning them. Are you required to regulate your practices by them? Not any further than they are plainly revealed, and have thereby lost (so far) the character of mysteries.
2. I grant that the Bible contains some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable do wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction. But everything necessary for us to know is fully revealed, as far as it is necessary that we should know it.
3. Christian morality is extremely plain. All those things which concern our present and immediate conduct are not difficult to be understood.
4. There is self-denial in religion. Men often think it too severe. But whence does the necessity of this self-denial arise? It arises wholly and in every part of it from sin. It is benevolence, therefore, which imposes it. For what purpose? To preserve the whole man from hell. The necessity of it arises from corruption alone. Would you have a religion proposed to you which should leave you at liberty to sin? which should impose no restraint? which should plunge you into immorality and vice? which would multiply your crimes thick upon you, and promise to take you to heaven at last? You would reject such a religion.
5. Perhaps you are troubled with the humility of our religion. But why should this trouble you? Does the requiring of this prove to you that the Deity would confine you in sin, taking pleasure in your destruction? The very aim of this humility is to exalt us.
6. Men must repent; and this troubles you. What, then, is repentance? It is sorrow for sin--hatred, abhorrence of it, and forsaking of it. Very well: if you have sinned, erred, done wrong, should you not be sorry for it?
7. You are troubled because God requires you to trust in His mercy--to believe in Jesus Christ. But if you cannot trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, where can you trust?
8. Do not the motives of religion compel you to believe that God has no pleasure in your death? What can you soberly and really desire, that religion does not offer to you?
III. The condition of man is called in as an excuse or plea for irreligion. This condition is alleged to be of such a nature that the individual cannot extricate himself from it, and attain salvation.
1. The first characteristic of this apology for irreligion is, that it is altogether hasty. How does this irreligious man know that his depravity is invincible? What right has he to conclude that his condition is such, that he cannot accept religion, repent, and be saved? If he had tried--if he had made a full experiment in the matter, and, after doing all he could do (as sinners sometimes say they have), had found all his efforts unavailing, then there would be some ground for his conclusion. But he has not tried. (Men do err when they say so.) Some little, feeble, unfrequent attempts perhaps he may have had. But he has not done all he could. There are three proofs of his hasty conclusion gathered from the experiment itself which he affirms he has made.
(1) It was an unwise one.
(2) It was a feeble one.
(3) It was a short one.
2. The second characteristic of this apology is its illegitimate application. Impotent as the unrenewed man may be for bearing the fruits of the Spirit, he is under no necessity, from that impotence, of running into those courses, or those vices and crimes, which so rapidly sear his conscience, and degrade his nature, or those vanities which take off his mind from everything good. He resembles a prisoner furnished with a key to unlock his prison, who, instead of using it, flings it away. He resembles a man in a gulf, from which he is unable to extricate himself, and who, instead of availing himself of the aid proffered for his deliverance, turns from the hand that would lift him out, and plunges still deeper down the chasm that stretches its unfathomable abysses beneath.
3. The third characteristic of this apology is its tendency to excuse from moral virtues. Because external conduct is not internal grace, because the moral virtues have not necessarily the nature of evangelical religion (though such religion invariably leads to them), sinful men often mistake the bearing of these virtues. The man who lives in the neglect of them (virtues of which by nature he is capable) is taking the most direct course to render himself insensible and inaccessible to the motives and means of an evangelical religion. Those who have learnt to be shameless before man, have taken one step toward being fearless before God.
4. The fourth characteristic of this apology is its direct irreligious tendency: it is taken as an excuse for the neglect of those religious duties which every irreligious man is capable of performing. The external duties of religion lie quite within the scope of his ability, and if these are neglected, what shall show that it would not be the same with all spiritual duties if they lay as much within the range of his power? And if he is unable, while not born of the Spirit, to render spiritual worship and service, surely there is the more urgent reason for coming as near to it as he can.
5. The fifth characteristic of this apology is the idleness attending it. Hope is an active principle. Despondency is an inactive one. Where has God told us that we can accomplish nothing in working out our salvation? Where has He told us to rest contented, or rest discouraged, till He converts us? Where has He said, that striving to enter in at the strait gate will be of no avail? Where is the Christian who ever became a Christian in his idleness?
6. The most strange perversion of all, is the argument from the depravity of nature, for not seeking the aids of grace--the saving efficiency of the Holy Spirit. Aside from the Holy Spirit, his case is just as hopeless as if judgment had already proceeded upon him. And this is the great reason why he should besiege the throne of grace, as standing upon the very borders of the pit, that God would save him from going down to eternal death! This he can do. His condition does not prohibit it. This he ought to do. His condition demands it. (L. S. Spencer, D. D.)
God does not delight in the ruin of sinners
I. This appears from the creation of man and the original constitution of his nature. God created man in His own image. This is the only law, so far as we know, according to which rational creatures can enjoy happiness. Only, he was created mutable--he had power to stand, but he was also liable to fall--he might obey and live, or he might transgress and die.
II. This is evident from the plan of recovery he has formed. Although eternal death had passed on all who sinned; it would have been impossible to have affirmed that God delighted in the death of sinners. But in the redemption by Christ, the character of God comes forth in brighter glory,--a glory that shines without a cloud, a proof so overwhelming of the character of God, and of His designs of mercy to our family, that it requires only to be stated that its force may be felt. Where is the man who will affirm that God finds pleasure in the death of angels? and yet what has He done for them compared with what He has done for us?
III. It is evident from the means God employs to carry this plan into effect.
1. The means which is obviously of first importance is the incarnation, the obedience, and the death of His Son. Every sorrow of His humbled estate, every word He spake, and every action He performed on our world, is a proof of our text.
2. The ordinances of grace. Many of the blessings of God are so common, that we have ceased to prize them, and never think what our condition would be were they to be taken from us. The air we breathe, and the sun that shines on us, are instances of this in the natural world. The same may be said of the ordinances of grace. We have enjoyed them so long, in such abundance, and with so little effort of ours, that we are now insensible to the greatness of the blessing. And yet it is not easy to imagine in what condition we would have been today had we never enjoyed them, or in what condition we would be tomorrow were they to be taken from us.
3. The mercies of all kinds which God confers on men. We are surrounded by the love of God, not only in grace, but in nature, and in providence, and that love is designed to work on our hearts and lead us to repentance.
4. Afflictions and chastisements. These wound the body and often administer the cup of gall to the spirit, but their tendency is salutary, and therefore we conclude that their design is beneficent. It is mercy, when the sinner is in the way that leads to death, to beat him back although it should be with the rod of trouble,--to hedge up his path, although with the thorns of affliction.
5. The strivings of the Spirit. There are moments of fear, of trembling, of alarm, in the life of every sinner; he starts up, he looks around, and he would flee for safety if he only knew where he might be at rest. These are the strivings of the Spirit of God: to pluck him as a brand from the great burning, and, though they should never issue in his salvation, they are sufficient to show that God has no pleasure in his death. There are others who are “begotten again to a lively hope” by the Word of God; into their hearts the Spirit enters, restores the palace which was lately in ruins, and makes it a glorious temple in which God may be worshipped, and in which the Spirit may dwell. This exhibits God not only as employing means to prevent the death of the sinner, but as actually averting his destruction, and, therefore, it is the highest possible evidence that He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. (The Scottish Christian Herald.)
The goodness and severity of God
I. The goodness of God. He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked.
1. The very commission which Christ gave to His apostles, and which has been handed down to their successors, proves this. “Go ye into all the world,” etc. Tell the vilest, the very chief of sinners, without any reserve or any hesitation, that Christ died for him: that Christ hath redeemed him and all mankind.
2. And this is to be told to men who are living in sin, rebelling and sinning with a high hand against God.
3. Nay, such is the goodness of God, so little pleasure has He in the death of the wicked, that He commissions His ministers to entreat and beseech sinners to return to Him; to come and receive a full and free pardon.
4. We see His goodness yet further illustrated when these invitations are neglected and sinners perish in spite of mercy.
5. The strong and repeated expressions or delight when His warnings are heeded, and His invitations accepted, speak loudly the goodness of God.
II. The severity of God. It is implied in the text. For though He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, they will die notwithstanding. (R. W. Dibdin, M. A.)
An appeal to the heart
Life and death are words pregnant with the highest meaning.
I. The terrible event. “The death of the wicked.”
1. The wicked is that person, whatever he may be as regards externals, whose will is not in unison with the will of God.
2. The wicked, far down in the dark abyss of destruction, will ever remain conscious of his loss, his wretchedness, and the intolerable anger of an offended God. His death will be his loss of God’s favour, and his own personal happiness.
3. Why is the wicked doomed to die?
(1) Because death is the inevitable tendency of the great principle that rules his soul. The wicked man is governed by selfishness--he is the slave and victim of sin. This principle is fatal to everything that is elevated, pure, and life-giving, in the spiritual world. It tends to destroy all peace of mind, to quench hope, to fetter the intellectual powers, to dissolve friendship, and to fit the soul for the gloomy regions of despair.
(2) Because death is the desert of sin.
(3) Because death is the effect of a Divine decree respecting disobedience.
II. The cheering fact. Can there be anything more consolatory to a sinner than this Divine affirmation? God takes no pleasure in the misery of His creatures.
1. It is contrary to His benevolent nature to do so. Nature, conscience, and scripture, testify that His delight is in making all beings happy.
2. The ruin of a soul gives no satisfaction to the Divine justice.
3. The design of God in all His dealings with sinners is to save them. All the powers of His infinite love, all the pathos of His infinite compassion, all the influences of His infinite Spirit, are employed to turn the wicked from his evil way, and to save his soul. It is not God’s pleasure, brother, that you should die. Your destruction must be your own act. There may be written over the portals of hell, in large letters of fire, the inscription--self-destroyed.
III. The stirring appeal.
1. It is an appeal addressed to man’s higher nature. Think--give a reason for such mad conduct. This is God’s method of dealing with men’s souls: He appeals to their reason. He wants to know the cause of our determination to reject the offers of redeeming love. “Why will ye die?” There is nothing in the Divine purposes, nothing in the sacrifice of God’s beloved Son, nothing in the agency of the Holy Spirit, yea, there is nothing in God’s remedy for diseased souls, why any sinner should die.
2. It is an appeal which implies the necessity of immediate personal attention.
(1) The duty is important: God is most urgent in His appeal. It is a matter of life or death to the soul.
(2) The duty is personal--“O house of Israel, why will ye die?” The appeals of the Gospel are pointed, they aim at the heart, they are applied to the individual conscience.
(3) The duty requires immediate attention. We have no time to procrastinate.
3. It is an appeal which conveys the strongest motive for obedience. Have you any doubt about the reception of a penitent sinner? Think of the oath of God. Remember the encouraging words of Jesus, “He that cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out.” (J. H. Hughes.)
God calling the wicked to repentance
I. The declaration.
1. The import of the declaration.
(1) He tells us, in what He hath not pleasure. “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” And yet the wicked dies. In full view of this awful fact, Jehovah asserts His benevolence. If a stranger, visiting this country, looked in on the homes made wretched by vice, some of which are not very far removed from the palace; or into the cells of our prisons, which are so prominent and so costly as government institutions, throughout our land; or on the sad scene of an execution at which agents of the crown were present;--would he be justified in coming to the conclusion that our sovereign was not benevolent--that such a state of things under her government was an evidence of our queen’s lack of clemency? The mercy that winked at crime would produce more calamitous results than the sternest tyranny. Even goodness demands a restraint on crime, and punishment for the convicted criminal. And let it never be forgotten that the death we are now considering, in relation to the government and character of God, is “the death of the wicked.” We must think of his having resisted the will, disowned the authority, dishonoured the name, hated the being, and defied the power of God. Can we think of God as infinite in His being, glory, and goodness, without being constrained to conclude that eternal death is the wages due to all who thus sin against Him? Could we worship a God who, in the full knowledge of what He was, would award a punishment less than this? The one pregnant difficulty is the existence of wickedness. While this fact must be assumed, it points to what must, to us, forever remain an insoluble mystery in its relation to the will of God. But it is due to God, because of His infinite love of righteousness, that His relation to the origin of sin should be regarded without any suspicion; and it is also due to Him, as Supreme Governor, that to His mind alone the perfect rectitude of this relation should appear. If the existence of sin forms a dark background before which the glory of Him who alone is immutable all the more brightly appears, let our thoughts regarding its relation to Jehovah’s sovereign will, produce the calmness of adoring silence behind the awe which overwhelms us as we think of its moral hideousness and of its everlasting results. But there is more than this. Such is the character of God, as revealed in the Gospel, that it is impossible for Him to find pleasure in the death of the wicked. The fullest exhibition of His character, and the overwhelming proof of His having no pleasure in the death of the wicked, are given to us in the Cross of Jesus Christ. Whatever be His purpose, it is abundantly evident that “God is love.” That is the character of Him to whom you are called to return. You are called to meet that love in the Son as Jesus the Christ, and to present yourself on His blood as a suppliant for all the blessings of the covenant of grace. What more can you desiderate?
2. He tells us in what He hath pleasure--“that the wicked turn from his way and live.” The repentance of the wicked is an occasion of delight to God; for it is the first acknowledgment of His being “the true God”; the first tribute to His Godhead from the creature of His hand; the first movement of a lost one from “the wrath to come”; the first rupture between Him and that abominable thing which God hateth; the first act of homage to His Anointed, who is also His Son; the first fruit of the Spirit’s work of grace--it is grace returning to the fountain whence it came, and bringing a “wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” sinner back to be “filled” with “all the fulness of God.” As our greatest pains and pleasures reach our hearts through their love, the measure of love must indicate the capacity for joy. But who can conceive what must be the gladness resulting from the gratification of infinite love! And there is a three-fold love of God, through the gratification of which He receives pleasure from the penitence and life of the wicked.
(1) His infinite love to His people. Oh, think of joy in heaven over one whose sins made the Son of God “a Man of Sorrows”!
(2) His infinite love to His Anointed One. Each case of conversion is an instalment of reward to Hint for doing the will, and glorifying the name, of Him who sent Him.
(3) His infinite love to Himself, and to righteousness. “God is love.” He is so when contemplated in the unity of the eternal Godhead. Oh, infinitely holy sphere! Oh, sphere of infinite loving--the unapproachable sphere of the interrelations and fellowship of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost! And “God is love” to righteousness in His relation to His moral government. And when He makes manifest that He is love to His people, He does so in such a way as to secure that in their salvation there shall appear to His view, to His infinite delight, all to which He is love,--as to afford an opportunity of expressing what He is as love to Himself, what the mutual love of the Trinity is, and how He loveth righteousness.
3. The declaration is in the form of an oath--As I live, saith the Lord. It is meet that such a declaration should have such a form, for thus only could earnestness, springing from infinite love, express itself fitly in words. Is this Divine earnestness to be met by indifference? Oh, yield not to the unbelief that would dare to prefer a charge of perjury against Him for whom it is impossible to lie!
II. The call. From out of the midst of Divine glory, from off the Divine throne of grace, and intense with Divine earnestness, comes the call to the house of Israel--“Turn ye, turn ye, from your evil ways.”
1. Whence? “From your evil ways.” Every way in which you depart from the fellowship and service of God is evil. Burdened and filled with sin, having no righteousness to cover your persons, and no excuse to hide your guilt, and while there is nothing in all your consciousness but sin, all over and all through,--with no ability yours but the fell power to transgress,--you are called to receive all the pardoning mercy and all the saving grace you need.
2. Whither? To Himself God calls you. To Himself as revealed in the declaration going before--to Himself as on His throne of grace--to Himself through Jesus Christ.
3. How? In willingness to accept the terms proposed by God, as terms of salvation and of service. Turning thus, you will verily be debtors to His grace for all you need. And you may be hoping debtors, for He raiseth the poor from the dust, He bringeth the fallen from out of the horrible pit, and He gathereth, as He calleth, outcasts from the very ends of the earth. (John Kennedy, D. D.)
The salvation of sinners desired by God
I. The state of mankind as sinners.
1. A state of moral evil. The plural “ways” is here employed to intimate that the courses pursued by sinners are various in their kinds.
(1) There are ways of rebellion, or opposition to God’s authority; they are open and avowed (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21); or they are secret and concealed (Mark 7:21-23).
(2) There are ways of impenitence, or contempt of God’s mercy: in which God is forgotten (Jeremiah 2:32); and not sought (Psalms 10:4; Psalms 107:10-11).
(3) There are ways of self-deception, or vain delusive hope (Proverbs 14:12); such is the way of self-righteousness (Jeremiah 17:5-6; Isaiah 1:11); and such also is the way of antinomianism (Proverbs 30:12; Matthew 7:21; Hebrews 12:14).
2. A state of imminent danger;--a state in which they are certainly exposed to death, even eternal death (Romans 6:23).
II. Their duty and privilege as sincere penitents.
1. Their duty is to turn from their evil ways.
(1) Turn from your ways of rebellion, by entire reformation (Isaiah 55:7; Ezekiel 18:27).
(2) Turn from your ways of impenitence, by earnest prayer (Hosea 14:1-2; Luke 18:13).
(3) Turn from your ways of self-deception, by coming to God, trusting in Christ’s mediation (John 14:6); and by seeking a new creation (Galatians 6:15-16; Psalms 51:10).
(4) Turn seasonably; without delay (Isaiah 55:6; Job 22:21).
(5) Turn perpetually; without defection (Jeremiah 50:5).
(6) Turn believingly; in confident expectation of salvation (Hebrews 10:19-22).
2. Their privilege is, to be saved from death, and enjoy life.
(1) All genuine believers in our Lord Jesus Christ are saved from death by being delivered from the dominion of spiritual, and the sentence of eternal death (John 1:25-26).
(2) The life enjoyed by them is comprehensive: including an interest in God’s manifested favour (Psalms 30:5; Psalms 63:3); actual devotedness to God’s service (Romans 6:13); and the eternal possession of heaven (Romans 2:6-7).
3. The attainment of this privilege is as certain as it is desirable.
(1) From God’s earnest command.
(2) From God’s solemn oath.
(3) From God’s gracious expostulation.
1. Why will ye die? By continuing in sin you choose death, the worst of all evils; and eternal death, the worst of all deaths. This is murder, self-murder of the blackest description.
2. Why will ye die? By what arguments can you justify your conduct at the bar of your own consciences? Is not God a better master than the devil? Is not holiness better employment than sin? Are not the treasures of grace and heaven better enjoyments than hell and damnation?
3. Why will ye die? Ye men! concerning whom there is still hope of salvation. Ye Britons! the peculiar favourites of heaven; who enjoy the clearest gospel light, the greatest religious liberty, and the highest advantages for piety, in the richest abundance (Psalms 147:20). Ye professing Christians! who are called by the name of Christ, and are encouraged in His word to seek Him (2 Chronicles 7:14); who are baptized in the name of Christ, and bound by the most solemn vows to serve Him alone (Ecclesiastes 5:4).
4. Why will ye die? Remember, if thou die eternally, it must be because ye will die; your death must be the result of your own deliberate choice; for God wills your salvation. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
The compassion of God for the unconverted
The compassion of God for the unconverted shows us how miserable the condition of such an one is. The first trait--the root and origin of all your misery--is sin; you are miserable because you are sinners. “Sin is the transgression of the law.” Transgression is not weakness, but it is revolting against order, it is the overthrowing of the law, which is order and rule; it is total irregularity and confusion. Such law, such transgression; such order, such disorder; he who transgresses any law offends against the order of the whole region over which that law extends its empire. He who offends against domestic law, offends against domestic order; he who transgresses the law of a nation, offends against the order of a nation; he who transgresses the law of this world, offends against the order of this world; and he who transgresses the law of the universe, offends against the order of the universe. But more remains. Sin is the transgression of the law of God: but of which law of God? for there are two laws of God: there is His material law, which regulates the visible world, to which the sea, the sun, the heavenly bodies belong; and there is His spiritual law, which governs the invisible world, to which the soul of man belongs. The law which sin transgresses is the second law, the spiritual law, which regulates the invisible world. Man sins, and the harmony of the invisible world is disturbed; but though man sins, the sea observes its limits, and the sun pursues his course, and the celestial bodies remain in their places. It is for this reason that the disorder of sin is less striking to us, carnal as we are and enslaved to visible things; but it is exactly for this reason that it ought to strike, amaze, and alarm us more. For, which is the grander and more glorious of these two worlds, the invisible or the visible world? Behold then the disorder which sin hath produced! And by a necessary consequence, since the seat of this disorder is in the sinner’s heart, there is the sinner’s misery and wretchedness; there is your wretchedness, your own individual wretchedness; and this is the reason why the God of all compassion is moved, conjures you, and says, “As I live,” etc. Sin does not only throw you into disorder, it exposes you also to the chastisement of God; and if you can blind your heart so that it can reconcile itself to disorder, you cannot blind God to exempt you from punishment. Vain would be your hope of persuading yourselves that your sin deserves no punishment because you were born in sin, and that it is only in the first man it should be in justice sought for. Have you never done anything which you knew to be sinful, though you had power to avoid committing it? If this has been the case, have you not felt the reproaches of conscience? Well, then, when you have done what you knew to be wrong and what you had the power of not doing, you have committed on your part what Adam did on his, and you have spiritually shared in the fall of all your race; and when your conscience has reproved you for it, you have testified against yourself that you have deserved a punishment. And what is the punishment that God reserves for sin? (Galatians 3:10) A curse!--this single word has something in it which makes us tremble. Yet the malediction of any man might be unjust. If I have the approval of God and of my own heart, I could take refuge in the sanctuary of my conscience, out of the reach of man, and lift up my eyes in peace to heaven and say unto the Lord: “Let them curse, but bless Thou.” And even if the malediction of man were merited, it is powerless of itself. But if God, all just, all good, almighty, should curse me, what would this malediction be, but all the Divine perfections arrayed against me; the justice of God overtaking me, His power overwhelming me, and, what is more terrible, His goodness aggravating the horror of His judgments, and of my remorse, and constituting my severest torture? Ye unconverted ones, be not emboldened by the consideration that you do not feel anything commensurate with such dreadful denunciations, and do not reason in this manner within yourselves: “No, I do not feel myself accursed of God.” Whether you feel yourselves accursed or not, you are so, for God says it. If you feel it not, know that this insensibility is the sign of a hardened heart and the first-fruits of this very malediction. If you do not feel it now, know that you will one day feel it, when the visible things through which you are now able to disguise your condition from yourselves shall have perished. This malediction, under which you are resting, is eternal; insomuch that if you were to appear at the tribunal of Jesus Christ without having been converted, you would be condemned to endless punishment (Matthew 25:41-46). I shall assume that you are sincerely desirous of conversion, and that you are determined to do, as far as in you lies, all that you can and ought to do on your part towards it. It is beyond doubt that your conversion cannot be effected by your own will; that it can only be by the will of God; that it can only be a work of God, a gift of God, a grace of God; and that a converted soul has cause to acknowledge with humility that its entire change proceeds from God, and from the very first commencement. But it would be decidedly wrong for you to conclude, that, because your conversion is the work of God and not your own, its success is less certain; on the contrary, it is more so. If your conversion be the work of God, the success depends upon the power and the perseverance, the faithfulness and the wisdom of God; and have you not everything to gain by placing your trust in such firm and sure hands,--provided only you have the assurance that God favours your conversion? But I have something to ask you: hear me with singleness of heart. Do not ask me to explain to you how it is equally true from God’s Word that no one attains conversion without the grace and election of God, and yet that you are answerable to God if you do not “turn” to Him, He having done for each of you all that is necessary for your conversion. Both these truths are equally attested by Scripture: this sufficiently authorises me to preach both one and the other, and this ought to be enough also to lead you to receive both. Let us apply to the things which concern our salvation that spirit of simplicity and good sense that we exercise in the ordinary affairs of life. Suppose your house on fire: the flames extend, they spread and reach the apartment in which you are; a beam over your head takes fire, is rapidly consuming and momentarily threatens to fall upon you . . . a way of escape is presented to you;--will you say, in such a case, I cannot escape from the flames unless it is ordained by God that I should; otherwise I shall perish, do what I may; I can do nothing to save myself, therefore, I will remain where I am? No, but you will see in the way opened to you a sign that God willeth your deliverance, and you will hasten to escape, without perplexing yourself to inquire whether you are destined to escape from the fire or not,. Exercise the same prudence in whatever relates to the salvation of your soul. Flee only, and you will be one of the elect. Whatever may happen, nothing on the part of God raises an obstacle to your conversion; on the contrary, everything invites, favours, and ensures its success; God willeth your conversion. What has He refused you that is necessary for your conversion? Birth, baptism, instruction, communion, preaching, Scripture, example,--what is wanting? Look around on all sides, what do you see, what do you hear but the invitations of God, but His graces, His promises, His menaces, which warn, which summon you, I had almost said, which compel you to turn? Have you ever considered, in what manner the preaching of the Gospel has reached you? Perhaps you think that it has been brought hither as to all other places where it is now known. But no; it has been borne hither by a series of special, astonishing, and miraculous dispensations, and in which a fixed design clearly appears to cause the Gospel to reach you in this country, notwithstanding all obstacles. There is not perhaps any spot on the globe which the Spirit of darkness--under all the successive forms which he has devised and assumed--has contested so pertinaciously and fiercely with the Spirit of truth, as the land that we tread, this revered land--this land covered with the most vivid and glorious reminiscences of Church history; and truth banished for a time has invariably retaken hold of this country, where it has ultimately established itself without violence before your eyes and for your benefit. I now go farther, and feel emboldened to assure you that there is nothing on God’s part to prevent you from turning to Him, nothing on His part to cause the delay of your conversion; nothing, absolutely nothing, to hinder your conversion this very day. If the work of conversion were your own, not only would it be impossible this day, but it could never take place; yet because it is the work of God it is as practicable this day as on any other. And God’s desire is not that you should postpone it: even this day He invites you to turn to Him. “Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” But an invitation to turn tomorrow, you will nowhere find in the Word of God: when conversion is the subject, Scripture does not know the word tomorrow, except to protest against all delay. Scripture presents many instances of persons turning as soon as they are called. Lydia hears Paul, and the Lord opens her heart. The jailor of Philippi hears the Gospel, and is converted the same night. The nobleman of Capernaum sees his servant healed by Jesus Christ, and believes with all his house. Zaccheus seeks Jesus, finds Him, receives Him, and performs works of faith--all in one day. The thief humbles himself, is converted, and receives the promise of life whilst he is on the cross. “All things are now ready” for the conversion of souls. On the King’s pare all is ready: “the oxen and fatlings are killed,” the dinner is prepared, the tables are covered, the places are arranged, the doors are open, the servants are sent, the guests are invited, they have only to enter and sit down at the feast. All is ready since the world began, for anyone who is now desirous, has desired, or will desire to be converted. But if God desire your conversion, and desire it this day; if on His side all is encouragement, invitation, will, disposition; and if He does all that can be done, all that can be imagined--except compelling you--in order that you should turn; from whom then arise the obstacles which impede your conversion, or the delays which retard it? From whom, if not from yourselves? from yourselves, who wilt not enter when God opens His door to you, who will not open to Him when He knocks at yours, who, in short, will not turn to Him? What prevents you from taking up your Bible and reading it with attention, perseverance, prayer? from praying to God for His grace and His Spirit, for faith, and a new heart? from confessing your sins to the Lord, and beseeching Him to blot them out with His blood? from doing what God enjoins in His Word, and ceasing to do what He forbids? from seeking the encouragement and advice of experienced Christians who are within your reach? what, in fine, prevents you from hearing God who speaks to you, from following God who calls you, from opening to God who knocks, and from doing, in a word, all that is necessary to your conversion? (A. Monod.)
Life by repentance unto life
God is here; revealing the secret thoughts of many hearts on the subject of sin, and the hopelessness of deliverance from its dominion and the impossibility of coming to life or salvation, if that salvation is to consist in separation from sin in the inner and outer man. Salvation, or eternal life, by redemption from sin, and reconciliation with God in repentance, and its fruit, or fulfilment, regeneration, this is to be the message of every minister of the Gospel, which is not only to be proclaimed so plainly and loudly that it cannot be mistaken, but to be pressed on the conscience of his people with the intense earnestness of affection, and fervent longing for their soul’s salvation, which will breathe the very spirit of the Divine love, to which the minister but gives expression.
1. A false persuasion possesses the minds of innumerable members of the Christian Church as thoroughly as it pervaded the Jewish on the subject of sin, salvation, and the righteousness, as well as grace, of God’s providence, or judgment, in His dealings with sinners. Do Christians in general, any more than Jews in Ezekiel’s day, connect consciously in their own minds, as things inseparable, sin not repented of and death eternal, or damnation, sin repented of and life eternal, or salvation? Is the way of the Lord in their eyes equal, by a revelation which has commended itself to their consciences of a way of righteousness that is invariable in the case of every sinner, the saved and the lost equally, and as unchangeable as the life of the eternal God Himself, being one of the laws of the kingdom of heaven, indeed; the fundamental law on which the kingdom eternally rests? Is life, in their faith, separation inwardly and outwardly from sin? Is salvation, in their view, salvation from sin, and reconciliation with God, or return to God on the sinner’s part by repentance unto life, and regeneration to newness of spiritual life? Do they see that such is the salvation of the Gospel?
2. What, then, is to prepare the way of the Lord in the Christian, as formerly in the Jewish church? What but the proclamation of the antidote to the former life in the message of the prophet which forms the second lesson of the text? What but repentance unto life revealed to be the Gospel way of salvation, the way of salvation open to every sinner equally without respect of persons, and the only way of salvation to any sinner, because the only possible way by which a sinner can become a saint?
(1) God, as He is now revealed in Christ, wishes the salvation of every sinner, and has no pleasure in the death of any. This is not only a matter of certainty, an unquestionable truth to which the Gospel bears testimony in innumerable passages. It is the fundamental truth on which the whole Gospel of salvation rests, because it is the thing revealed in the revelation of God as a Redeemer, who has no respect of persons,--a Saviour of sinners, whether they be Jews or Gentiles, a Father of every prodigal son.
(2) God, as He is now in Christ revealing this His purpose of love universal, has proclaimed the way of salvation in the case of every sinner alike to be repentance unto life. Enter in by repentance, for in repenting thou art turning thy back on hell, and all that is infernal and of the wicked one; thou art taking part with thy true Lord and Redeemer against those very enemies and powers of darkness from which He came to set thee free; thou art allowing, and inviting, and beseeching Him to turn thee “from darkness to light,” etc.
(3) God in the Gospel of Christ has now commanded His ministers to preach repentance unto life as the way of salvation to all sinners, and to press it earnestly and incessantly on the consciences of all, with all affection, as the only way of escaping death or damnation.
(i) It is a man’s own fault--God is not to bear the blame--if the man, although a sinner, does not come to life and salvation.
This is the purpose of a Gospel ministry, to bring you to repentance, and so to salvation; to baptize you with the baptism of repentance, through faith in Jesus Christ for you crucified, and so bestow on you remission of sins, and all the other spiritual blessings of the kingdom of heaven.
Whatever be the actual result to you personally, “the way of the Lord is equal,” and impartial. God is gracious, and to you gracious, whether you believe so or disbelieve. God is righteous, and will deal with you righteously in His providence, and judge you in righteousness according to your way and works, whether you come to repentance, and so forsake sin, or refuse to come to repentance, and so remain ungodly, unrighteous, unregenerate. (R. Paisley.)
Why will ye die, O House of Israel?--
Why go to hell
I. A horrible resolution. A resolution to die--a determination to be damned. “Stay, sir,” says one, “that is far too strong an assertion; who ever heard anyone say that he intended to go to hell?” I never said anyone had been heard to say so, all I say is, they determine to.
1. A man may De said to have resolved to die when he uses the means of death. There is a black mixture, sweet to the natural taste of man, but labelled by God “slow poison,” called sin. The result of taking it is declared, in language that cannot be mistaken, to be certain death. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” “The wages of sin is death.” “Sin when it is finished bringeth forth death.” These are a few of the red labels of caution that God has put upon sin.
2. A man may be said to have determined to die, who spurns all that could save him from death. It is possible to ensure death by simply refusing to accept anything that could rescue from it. The poison is in your blood, working death, and in rejecting Christ you have given as awful a proof of determination to die, as ever you could have given by the vilest of lives.
3. A man may be said to have determined to die who surmounts all obstacles placed in his way in order to prevent him. God only knows how many obstacles you have overcome in your race to ruin. In early days a mother stopped your path, but you soon evaded her, and broke her heart. A Sunday school teacher did his best to arrest you, but he proved no great obstacle; you soon left his class when you found he was satisfied with nothing less than the salvation of your soul. Hundreds of sermons have been flung across your path, but you have somehow got over them all.
II. A plaintive question. “Why will ye die?”
1. Is hell so pleasant a place you want to enter there?
2. Is it because heaven has no charms?
3. Is eternity in your estimation a trifle? I could better understand your indifference to salvation--or, as we are describing it tonight, your preference for perdition--if the future state was in either case of only limited duration. But to risk the loss of a soul, when forever and forever is part of the contract, is almost sufficient to stagger belief, were there not so many sad witnesses to the fact.
4. Do you consider a soul worthless? You value your health, you value your home, you value your friends, but you set no value on your soul. Is it so? Surely that which will outlive all the other possessions of a man must be of some worth. Remember also that if you count it of but little value, it has been differently estimated by One who ought to know, considering that He made it. Christ considers that the worth of one soul outweighs the accumulated wealth of a universe.
III. A glorious truth, full of hope for sinners. If this text proclaims anything, it declares with trumpet tongue that hell is not unavoidable. It steps in the path of the sinner, throws a barrier before him, and argues with him to wean him from his fatal resolve.
1. God does not desire the sinner’s ruin.
2. Hell was never prepared for man at all, but for the devil and his angels, and it is only if man prefers Satan to God on earth, that he must reap the consequences of his choice in eternity by dwelling forever in the home of the one he has preferred.
3. Although God hates sin, He loves the sinner, with a love unutterable. (A. G. Brown.)
Christian teachers are always talking to men about conversion, change of heart, and consequent change of habit. The Christian teacher seems to be intent upon pressing upon the attention of men a certain scheme of thought. He will not speak to us so much about practical life, conduct, habit, manners, and the like; he persistently addresses himself to the exposition and enforcement of certain abstract or metaphysical arguments. The idea is that if you can really alter a man’s thought, you at the same time alter the man’s fife. The Christian teacher, therefore, if really sent from God, begins with the heart, he does not come to wash the hands, but to cleanse the soul; knowing that when the heart is really clean, thoroughly purified, the hands cannot be foul. He would make the fountain good that he may purify the stream; he would make the tree good that the fruit which it brings forth may also be good. The motive determines the quality. If a man be building from the outside and only on the outside, then be sure he is not a durable builder. Hence the slowness, or the apparent slowness, of the Christian movement. You can write a programme in a few moments; you can, by using proper instrumentalities, organise a demonstration for fourteen or ten days, and it shall be quite impressive and portentous to some minds and eyes; but it means nothing unless there be behind it a conviction, a spiritual reality, a noble motive, then it must win. When your minds are full of right thoughts we need take no further care of you. You are under the government of God; but whilst you have cast out the evil thoughts and have not received the good thoughts you are yourselves a temptation and an opportunity to the devil. First of all, then, we lay down this proposition, that a man must be born again; not merely restored, reformed, redressed, rehabilitated, but born, born again; starting life as a babe, with a babe’s heart, and a babe’s eye of wonder, and a babe’s trustfulness. Who is Christ? Have you begun at the right name? My Lord hath a thousand appellations, yea by ten thousand names is He known to all the adoring angels, but to me He is known first and midst and last by the sweet name--Saviour. What man wants in the first instance is the distinct consciousness that he needs a Saviour. Until he gets that consciousness he can make no progress. Only broken heartedness can pray; only helplessness can cry mightily to heaven; only agony has e he key of the Cross. When a man does not thirst he does not inquire for the stream, but when his throat is burning with thirst his lips are full of heat because of want of water; he tries to say, though chokingly, Where is the well, where is the stream? Then a child might load him; but so long as that necessity is not biting him, burning him, scorching him, he holds his head aloft, he will not be talked to, he will not have any dogmatic teaching; let him alone. The time will come when he will ask the least child that can talk to tell him where the living stream doth flow. The Christian idea is that there is only one Saviour. But He is a thousand Saviours in one. He has all man needs, and man needs all He has. It is a very complex problem, though simple in some of its aspects. Man never knows how great a being he is until he knows Christ. Christ makes the man himself so much larger. He addresses Himself to the very mystery of our manhood. He does not ignore our will. He knows that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, He knows that He is dealing with the handiwork of God, for a moment spoiled by the devil; therefore He saith, What wilt thou, poor blind man? what wilt thou, lonesome leper? Therefore saith He, “Believe ye that I am able to do this?” and when He reproaches us He says, “Ye will not come unto Me that ye might have life”; and in that last, grandest, sublimest plaint He says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! killer, stoner of prophets and missionaries, how often would I have gathered thee together as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not”: and these words He could hardly speak, for He was choking with emotion, and the tears were running from His eyes. Christianity is a pleading religion, it is a missionary religion; it goes out after that which is lost, and will not come until it hath found it. The Gospel has only one time--now! The Gospel has no tomorrow; “Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.” All earnestness has only one time. Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might, with a will, with a tremendous concentrated energy, for in the grave there is no device. Christianity has only one way--believe! How this word has been maltreated! To believe is to give the soul over to the keeping of the way of God. Belief is not assenting to something, saying, That is true: I see no reason against it: in the meantime your proposition seems to be wholly impregnable, your position is invincible: on the whole I accede and consent. That is not faith; that is a mere intellectual action. To believe is to nestle the soul in God. Christianity has only one purpose--holiness. Christianity ends in conduct. Christianity begins in motive, but it ends in character, in manhood. We are to be perfect men in Christ Jesus, we are to be as He was in the earth; we are to breathe His Spirit, repeat His deeds, follow His footsteps, and represent Him to mankind. Christianity has only one test--service. To die for Christ, to work for Christ, to be always repeating Christ’s great mission to the world. Lord, what wilt Thou have me do? Watch a door, light a lamp, or preach Thy Word? Not my will, but Thine be done; only dismiss me not Thy service, Lord! (J. Parker, D. D.)
Man is bent on his own destruction
1. Men break the law of God, knowing that the penalty of breaking this law is their everlasting ruin. If a man should pass through the streets, plunging a dagger into the heart of everyone he met with, if we had evidence that he had his reason, we should say that he meant to tempt the law to do its best for his destruction.
2. The same truth is manifest from the fact that sinners reject Jesus Christ, the only medium of their pardon and their salvation. If one had broken the law of man, and should refuse to receive pardon from the hands of his chief magistrate, although he should go daily to his prison, and offer that pardon, and solicit his acceptance, we should say that he intends to die. If the conditions were that he should receive that pardon at the hands of the chief magistrate, with due acknowledgments, and without any necessary degradation, we should say that he not only intends, but deserves to die.
3. From other facts, it is evident, that sinners are determined to die, inasmuch as they reject the influence of the Holy Ghost, the only power that can make them clean, and take their feet out of the horrible pit and miry clay, and set them upon a rock. If one had fallen into a deep cavern, and there was but one ear that could hear, and but one arm that could save, and he should refuse to be aided by that arm, we should say that he certainly means his own destruction.
4. The same truth is evident from the fact that men are going on to form a character for perdition, when they know that a totally different character is requisite to fit them for heaven.
(1) Will it prove you brave to dare the Eternal to His face?--to rush upon the thick bosses of Jehovah’s buckler, and browbeat the sacred and terrible anathemas of the whole law and the whole Gospel? Would a man rush into the mouth of a cannon or leap into the crater of Vesuvius, to show himself brave? Would he not thus evince himself a natural fool?
(2) Will it prove you wise to place so small a value upon the soul, and expose it to endless ruin? Would it not place you too by the side of him who sold all the honours of his birthright for a mess of pottage?
(3) Let me inquire whether it will prove you good? O, can a good being place so little value upon the glory of the Eternal, and put so low a value upon the blood of Christ! (D. A. Clark.)
Why will ye die
1. One will die because his heart is engrossed with worldly cares.
2. Another, because he is ashamed to have it known that he is anxious.
3. Another, because he is unwilling to give up some sinful companion.
4. Another, because he is unwilling to leave his profession.
5. Another, because he is unwilling to pray in his family.
6. Another, because he is unwilling to confess Christ before men.
7. Another will lose his soul by talking about others.
8. Pride of consistency will keep some out of heaven. They fear that if they commence a religious life they will not hold out, and so will not begin.
9. Some will lose their souls by spending their time in cavilling at Divine truth.
10. Others will perish in consequence of cherishing some secret sin, known only to God and their own consciences. (A. Nettleton, D. D.)
They hear Thy words, but they will not do them.
The religion of a formalist
I. The extent of a formal religion. There is unquestionably much about the characters here described worthy of respect and admiration. The pity is, so fair a form should conceal so vile a heart.
1. They entertained a high respect for the truth, and the messenger whom God had commissioned to proclaim it. How many treat the message and the messenger with respect, who have no share in the Divine and saving power they are appointed to convey! They have caught a feeble ray of light; it has something of beauty and lustre about it; but it is the cold moonbeam reflected from the church, and not the healing and life-giving ray of the Sun of Righteousness.
2. To respect, may be added a compliance with religious ordinances and duties. Custom, or education, or pride, or respect for the preacher, or the desire to see, and be seen, brought them here. Even their demeanour in the very presence of the eternal God, is not free from hypocrisy.
3. Further, there may be an apparent love for religion, and the doctrines it inculcates; for “with their mouth they show much love.” Religion is talked about and recommended. While it is the topic of conversation you observe an unusual glow of animation, a seeming zeal for its interests. Its doctrines and duties are defended against the cavils and objections of all opposers.
4. There may be the experience of deep and powerful emotions, under the preaching of the truth. The preacher is to them “as a very lovely song,” etc. A thrill of indescribable pleasure vibrates on the chords of feeling as he proceeds; but it is only the excitement of passions which would have been aroused with equal intensity and delight by the harmonies of a concert, or the representations of the stage. Yet is it unusual to mistake these emotions for religious feeling? or, can any impression be more delusive?
II. The deficiencies of a formal religion. The heart is the seat of the defect. It has never been the subject of Divine and regenerating grace; and, where this is the case, there may be every semblance of true religion, but reality there is none. See the objections which a heart-searching God prefers against the characters in consideration. They are these: “they hear Thy words, but they will not do them.” Here the will is at fault. The prime and governing power of the heart does not yield a just submission to the authority of Divine law. A little further on is a second charge: “their heart goeth after their covetousness.” The deficiency is here at once referred to the heart, whose affections have never been surrendered to Him who justly demands them. They remain fixed, with unchanging tenacity, to the creature, but the Creator is forgotten. Again, the first charge is reiterated, though in an altered form of expression: “They hear Thy words, but they do them not.” Wherefore, but because there is no heart to them? The understanding and affections must be renewed; the will become subject; the whole man be created anew in Christ Jesus, until the old nature is trampled under foot, and the love of God alone holds supremacy. If religion is designed to correct the evils and perversities of our nature, to what point should its influence be directed rather than the heart, which is the seat of man’s depravity, and out of which proceeds every thing that is capable of moral or religious impress?
III. The danger of a formal religion. The publication of the Gospel, with its riches of promise, implies the sad alternative, which must overtake all who do not heartily receive and obey its doctrines. No one can seriously imagine a religion of hollow compliments and specious disguises to be acceptable in the sight of God: to offer it in the place of a loving heart is to superadd mockery to rebellion. (John Lyth.)
The formalist and the Christian
I. There is a resemblance between the formalist and the Christian in the spirit of hearing and in the respect which is felt for the temple and the minister of the temple. So marvellous has been the spread of Christianity; so thoroughly has it leavened society with its influence, that that which was formerly a badge of shame has become at once a talisman of safety, and a certificate of honour, and the cross, formerly dishonoured and reproachful, is now the sign beneath which armies march to battle. It glitters as the symbol of our faith on the domes of Christian temples, and is traced in baptismal beauty on the foreheads of kings. The sort of respect which conventionalism bears to Christianity affords indirect encouragement to its formal profession. If there yawned the dungeon before every confessor--if the sword flashed over the head of every saint, as over the head of Damocles at the banquet, there might, perhaps, be fewer professors of Christianity, but they would be braver and more sincere. Men would be chary of entering upon their vows, but constant in their adhesion to the faith of their espousal. But now that the earth has taken upon itself to help the woman--now that a prayerless family, or a churchless household has a kind of disgrace affixed to it, it is not at all an uncommon thing that there should be an attachment to the temple and an eager hearkening to its message, in hearts that are as impervious as granite to the reception of the truth, and as set against its vital and quickening power as the most flippant witling who sits in the seat of the scornful.
II. The second point of resemblance between the formalist and the Christian is that the former complies with and has attachment to the ordinances of religion. “And they come unto thee as the people cometh.” They come into the sanctuary with a religious feeling. There is devotion in their responses; there is for the time sincerity in their approach to God. They come and sit just as the people sit--equally decorous, equally interested, equally attentive, equally impressible, and “with their mouth they show much love.” They pay homage to religion, to godliness, they regard it as the chief thing; they are not ashamed to talk about it as they pass down to the business of the day. They are fluent in its praise and in its advocacy. They talk glibly about a life of piety and the charms and hopes of religion, and the unparalleled attractiveness of the heaven to which it leads. They are ready-handed and open-hearted when distress pleads or benevolence prefers her claims. Oh, there are so many excellences about them that it wrings our hearts to think that they lack the one thing which alone can make those excellences of avail.
III. The resemblance between the formalist and the Christian is that the former feels under the minister’s discourse. They are neither heedless nor dissatisfied hearers. They hang upon the minister’s lips, they feast upon his discourse in all the luxury of intellectual pleasure. They have a delight in listening to him as great as when they were enraptured by the tones of some enchantress of song, or as when they sat breathless while the organ swelled out some psalmist’s inner soul. And I think when you consider the sort of ministry under which these people sat you will find there was a deeper emotion roused within them than ever mere elocutionary gratification produced. Ezekiel certainly was no carpet wizard, he was no dealer in literary millinery. He had a soul too brave and a purpose too strong to labour for tropes or to be content with platitudes. Under such a preacher there must have been the stirring of conscience, the convulsions of the heart, the agitation of the whole moral nature, as he brought home conviction of guilt, and launched against them the threatenings of doom. Yes, and so it is now. So it may be now. There may be, or there may not be, connected with the administration of the truth a refinement of intellectual pleasure. Paul may argue forcibly, or Barnabas tenderly win; Elijah may be imperial in his irony, and Ezekiel scorching in his rebuke, for there are diversities of gifts yet, and God hath given to everyone as it hath pleased Him. But there must be--it is inevitable--there must be wherever the Gospel is faithfully and evangelically preached--and I am bold to affirm that there has been faithful preaching, and preaching of the pure Gospel here--there must be impression and conviction--all the works of the accompanying Spirit. If you have felt the song to be sweet and the player to be skilful, you have felt the burning words, the power of the thoughts that have been expressed and impressed by the power of the Spirit upon your heart.
IV. The difference is that in the formalist the heart is not right in the sight of God. They are conscious that while they listen, and that while they are impressed, there is within them a stubborn and a resisting soul which has not been renewed by the washing of regeneration, and by the renewing of the Holy Ghost. They are not only attentive to the Word, but they acknowledge its reality and its momentousness, and yet there is a stubborn will that refuses submission, and an imagination that revels in the unclean chambers of its guilt. And the man, alas, is only beautiful outwardly, like a fair damsel whose cheek rivals the peach bloom, but in whose heart the pale fires burn, or like a gothic sepulchre whose gorgeous architecture conceals the habitations of death. You may alter the pointers and touch the regulators of a watch without ceasing, but if the mainspring is broken you can have no accurate note of time. Every stone in an arch may be proportioned and in its place, but if the keystone is wanting you will never rear it in strength. Bone may come to his bone, and skin may cover them, and it may be fenced with sinew and covered with flesh as the skeleton, but unless the quick pulses are alive with the flowing blood there will be no lighted house of life. Religion is a thing of the heart; it is not a mere dogmatism of creed; it is not a mere timorous morality; it is not even a flatteringly faultless observance of devotion: it is a warm life welling up from a renewed heart; it is a new affection expelling or controlling the old; it is the embodiment of a passion which is neither sordid nor servile, but which in deep gratitude for its deliverance offers itself a living sacrifice, and in the generosity of its ungrudging service can never say, “It is enough.” Do you see the point of difference now? How is it with yourselves? Have you turned to the Lord with full purpose of heart? (W. M. Punshon.)
A false people and a true prophet; or, an old picture of modern life
1. Some people have true prophets. What is it that constitutes a true prophet? Is it superiority of native power? This we hold to be a necessary element. A man must have more brain and heart force than I before he can become my prophet. The man in the pulpit, whose mind is constitutionally inferior to his congregation, is not their true prophet. But although this is necessary, it is not all. There must be, in connection with this, a reigning sympathy with God’s truth, character, and will. This is the inspiration of the true prophet.
2. Some true prophets have false people. People in all ages have wrongly treated the true prophets. Jewish history abounds with examples; and even now, I think, we shall find men treating God’s ministers as Ezekiel was treated by his hearers.
I. They conversed much concerning their prophet.
1. This practice is very common now. To church-going people the minister is one of their most constant themes of conversation.
(1) In some cases this habit implies ignorance.
(2) In some cases it implies depreciation--to find fault with his reasoning, or impugn his motives. By doing so they blunt the edge of his appeal to their conscience.
(3) In some cases it implies pride. Their minister, perhaps, has won some sort of fame.
(4) In some cases it implies superstition. The minister’s virtues and talents are exaggerated. There is no one like him. He has “bewitched” them.
2. This practice is frequently very injurious. It tends to neutralise the power of the ministry. A minister of God is not an individual who is to appear before people merely to be looked at, admired, and talked about; or who is to utter opinions which are to be submitted to criticism, or become points of social converse and debate. But he is an ambassador from God; “in Christ’s stead” he is to beseech men to be reconciled to their Maker.
II. They were interested in the ministry of their prophet They invited each other to his ministrations. “Come, I pray you,” etc. Strangers, observing them pressing their way to the scenes of devotion, or sitting with solemn face and rapt attention in the assembly, or hearing them speak so lovingly and admiringly of the servant of God, might infer that they were saints of the first type. A deep interest in the ministry of a true and talented prophet is no proof of piety. There are many things in such a ministry to interest a man. It meets many of the native cravings of the soul. It meets the desire for excitement. It meets the desire for knowledge. A desire for information and intellectual exercise is common to us all. It meets the desire for happiness. “Who will show us any good?” This is the most vehement cry of humanity, and it is the cry of an impulse that keeps the world in action. The ministry of Divine truth meets it. Its every aim is to reveal “the way of life.”
III. They were spiritually unreformed by the ministry of their prophet.
1. Divine truth is preached, that it may be practised. Unless ideas lead to actions, they have no influence upon character; and unless our character is changed we can never reach happiness, nor obtain the approbation of God.
2. It will never be practised, if the heart go after covetousness.
IV. They were destined to discover, when too late, their terrible mistake in relation to the ministry of their prophet. All attendants on a true ministry will one day feel this--feel that a true prophet had been amongst them. This will be felt by all, in one of three ways--
1. in the reproaches of a guilty conscience.
2. In the felicities of experimental religion.
3. In the mysterious horrors of retribution.
All true prophets will one day be valued; their words will burn in the experience of every soul to whom they have spoken. (Homilist.)
The prophet and the people
I. A beautiful picture. Man is saying to man, “Come, let us hear the word of the Lord.” That is the only thing worth doing. All other things derive their value and importance from that central thought, that vital action. How charming, then, is the idea that man is saying to man, Come, and hear what God the Lord will say; come, and listen to the true music, the only music, and your hearts will be made glad. This invitation expresses the action of a very profound instinct in human nature; not only so, it expresses a need, an aching yearning need of the heart. The heart needs a voice other than human; the soul says, I have not seen all my relatives: I hear their voices, and I like them; some of the tones are good: but the tones are more suggestive than final: I hear the ocean in the shell. Where is that ocean? Where is that mighty roar? I am not content with the shell; I want to go and see the instrument out of which there comes such thunderous, solemn music. So give the soul fair play, let it talk itself right out in all its native frankness, under the inspiration of necessity, rather than under the force of merely mechanical instruction, and the soul cries out for the living God. When the soul is no longer conscious of an aching, a gnawing hunger, the man is dead: he may try to talk himself into a kind of spasmodic life, but in the secret of him he is dead; when the earth satisfies him, when time is enough, when the senses alone bring him all the contentment or all the joy he needs, he is a dead man.
II. A distressing possibility (verse 31). The people come to hear the letter only, and there is no letter so disappointing as the letter of the Bible. If you stop at a certain point you miss everything; you are surrounded by mountains, but they are so high that you cannot see any sky beyond them, and therefore they become by their very hugeness prison walls. Ezekiel’s hearers were formal, not vital. With their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. This is not ancient history, whatever else it may be. If Ezekiel could have lived upon “loud cheers” he would have been living now; if he could have satisfied himself with popular applause, he would have reigned as a king: but he said, I do not want your mouth worship, I want to find you at the Cross.
III. Misdirected admiration (verse 32). What is wanted in every congregation is earnestness. No man should come to church except to hear God’s word, and so to hear it as to be compelled to do it. Many men who cannot understand Christian metaphysics can do Christian charities, can exemplify Christian tempers, and so can interpret concretely the subtlest, profoundest metaphysics of Divine thinking. The true metaphysician will by the degree of his truthfulness be compelled to be earnest as well as subtle, and the hero who knows nothing about spiritual metaphysics will see that in doing God’s will he is becoming a great scholar in God’s school.
IV. A too late discovery (verse 33). Who has not heard men complain that they have neglected their educational advantages? They played truant when they were children; they did not attend to the instruction that was given to them; they had an opportunity of becoming really well informed and highly instructed, but they allowed the opportunity to pass by without improvement. Too late! the greatest realisation of loss is that a prophet has vanished, a prophet has been here and gone. Will he not return? Never. Foolish are they who stretch their necks to look over the horizon to see if the prophet is not coming. The prophet is never far away if you really want him. Your mother could be a prophetess to you if you wanted to pray; your father, who is probably not a great scholar in the literal sense, could speak things to you that would open your imagination to new universes if you really wanted to be guided in upward thinking and heavenly action. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Thou art unto them as a very lovely song.
These words are spoken of the prophet Ezekiel; he is as the lovely song, as the pleasant voice, as the instrument of music, all this even to the worldly mind; yet we might have thought otherwise; so full is he of woe, of the wrath of God; and how dark and obscure are his visions! It might then at first sight appear inconsistent with tiffs that the prophet Ezekiel should in style be considered so engaging, that even to those to whom he was sent with heavy tidings he should be as one that had a “pleasant voice”; in like manner, that although the roll which is given him is “written within and without,” “with lamentations and mourning and woe,” yet it should be in the mouth of the prophet, that is, to the natural man, “as honey for sweetness.” Yet this is in accordance with much we find in Scripture; for instance, what could be more sternly severe and full of reproof than St. Stephen’s speech at his death? But on that occasion, “looking steadfastly on him, they saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.” Thus God arrested their minds till His martyr should speak to them all his burden of sad admonition. Again, such types and figures have a life such as no mere words of themselves can have, they clothe themselves with form and spirit, and continue. Thus the images of Ezekiel not only speak of themselves in the place where they are found; but they come up again and are of frequent occurrence in the Apocalypse, as if still waiting for their fulfilment. Thus, indeed, much that is in Ezekiel is also in St. John; things which already have been in some sense fulfilled; but even now are fulfilling themselves, and yet to be more largely and worthily fulfilled. The vision of the four living creatures, for instance, in Ezekiel, is found again in St. John; it is still before us; still new; we know much of what it means, but we have much more yet to learn. The glory of the Lord coming from the East; His voice like the noise of many waters; the earth shining with His glory; these and many such things in Ezekiel are reproduced in St. John. In both the angels of judgment are represented as waiting till the children of God are sealed with His “mark upon their forehead.” Gog and Magog with their armies are both, alike in Ezekiel and in St. John, as about to come forth in the times of the end. The assembling of the fowls to the great sacrifice is in both. And especially that subject of many chapters in Ezekiel, the measuring of the Temple and the vision of the Holy City, is marked in both as yet to be. Now, I have said that one effect of types and similitudes such as these is, that they may not die away and be forgotten; thus if we look to those subjects of Holy Writ which arrest at this day most attention in the world, we shall find it is such figurative prophecies. Such are some reasons for the symbolic language of Ezekiel; it is a language suited for all times and countries, that never grows out of date or loses its power. Add to which it may be naturally accounted for by the character and circumstances of the prophet, and the heavy tidings he had to bear. Strong feeling does always naturally express itself in figures and similitudes; it gives vent to itself in burning words that take form and are full of life. Thus as a plant which when crushed gives forth its sweetness, as from the grape trodden under foot is the Wine of God; and from the corn thrashed and ground is the Bread of Life: so was Ezekiel stricken of God that he might speak the more powerfully in the likeness of Christ. And oh, the blessedness of that suffering, the inestimable value of that affliction which gives us power to speak the words of God! And well did he need visions and words of power, for nothing else would reach the hearts of those to whom he was sent. For these reasons the prophecies of Ezekiel, like our Lord’s own miracles and parables, present things more to the eye than to the ear; for thus they more powerfully reach the mind. Hence the whole style and character of Ezekiel; where another prophet persuades, Ezekiel sees a sign or symbol and leaves that to speak. He is set as a watchman to watch for the morning, and descries its light from afar, while fires as of Mount Sinai blend with the milder radiance of Pentecost. He is the Prophet of Christ’s second coming no less than of His first. As in the Day of Judgment, amidst sights and signs the most sublime and terrible, will be manifested wonderful depths of God’s wisdom, the reach of His Providences, and the scales of eternal justice; so throughout this prophet, amidst visions and imagery, great, striking, and awful, there occur full and clear enunciations of God’s mercy and truth, the rising of His temple, the sublime and wonderful but most beautiful order of His ways on earth, bearing onward the throne of the Incarnate Son of God. St. Jerome says that he was used when young to go on the Lord’s day into the caves at Rome where the Apostles and Martyrs were buried; and there, in silence and darkness amid the chambers of the dead, to meditate on the visions of Ezekiel; and that thus he learned to approach them with awe and reverence, not with idle curiosity, and so in some measure to understand them; seeing light, he says as in the dubious obscure, and exclaiming, “I have found Him whom my soul loveth, I will hold Him fast and will not let Him go.” Thus, “in the cloudy and dark day,” in the times of affliction, we may understand him better than now we do. One word more of caution; a holy bishop, who has written largely on Ezekiel, the great St. Gregory, has applied it to the examination and correction of our own heart, and building up the soul in righteousness. Thus we know that the temple of God of which so much is said in Ezekiel is in one sense our own soul. Happy he who mourns for all pollutions and abominations that have been there, who puts out from thence all idols, and makes it fit for the indwelling of God. Blessed is he who keeps his heart tender and low to understand His prophets, whether the plaintive voice amidst the ruins of Israel or the dark harp by the waters of Babylon. (Isaac Williams, B. D.)
The songs our lives sing
I. Our lives sing various songs.
1. Some lives are set to wailing music, the lives that are far away from God, and separated by the great gulf of sin from all things good and holy. When the measure of such a song falls on our spiritual ears we are depressed and feel like weeping.
2. There are other life songs set to joyful music. They are sent to brighten up the earth, and, like the flowers, to make it more beautiful. These songs are the lives of those who love the beauties of the world, climb above its mists, and revel in the sunlight. They look on the bright side of life, feeling that it is better to laugh than to cry, to pluck the rose and leave untouched the thorn.
3. There are other songs given forth by lives that are fired with a sublime purpose to make the world better, and to lift it to a loftier plane of living. Such lives are set to stately music that broadens and deepens the hearts of those who hear.
4. But the sweetest song that ever fell on mortal ears is one that flowed out from Calvary two thousand years ago, and sounded down the ages to bless the fallen race, a song that rose to heaven, and angels climbed the everlasting hills to hear. Now and then a human life, a song from God, catches the metre of Jesus Christ, and when its music is heard hearts soften, nerves thrill, and teardrops fall.
II. We hear, but often do not heed, these life songs. In the days when the heart song of Ezekiel sounded out there were many who heard, and yet they heeded not. When the heart song of Jesus Christ sounded out there were many sordid souls who heeded not the music. God says to all such today, as to those who heard Ezekiel, that if they hear and fail to be benefited their blood shall not be required at the hands of the singer, but shall be on their own heads.
1. Our life songs always seem feeble to ourselves. When we are nearest to Christ there is deeper music in the heart than can be uttered by the lips or the life.
2. We must first learn to sing life’s songs here if we expect to sing them yonder. In the sight of God our lives upon this earth must be like the limping songs of childhood, but up yonder we shall be prima donnas and master singers in the choir of the skies. (Homiletic Review.)
Ezekiel had by this time become a successful preacher. He had not always been such; on the contrary, he had been for a long time disbelieved and disliked. Now, however, he had come to be highly regarded, partly on account of the singularity of his preaching, partly on account of the striking and unexpected fulfilment of his prophecies. He was the great sensation of the day; men thought it the proper thing to go and hear him, to listen with rapt attention to the impetuous torrent of his words, and, when they went away, to discuss his message in the gates or on the housetops. Yet was the alteration but a sensible one, the reformation only superficial; and in the text the Lord exposes the hollowness of it all. I need not say how exactly this state of things is reproduced in the case of every popular preacher. Men whose lives are cruel or impure, whose hearts are covetous, whose thoughts are bitter, crowd to hear the preacher of the day, because his words are sweet, because his eloquence is full of melody, because they feel themselves for the moment fascinated, captivated, carried out of, lifted above, themselves. And then they talk about “getting good,” not because they have the slightest practical intention to reform, but because they have had pleasurable emotions, and their religious feelings have been gently excited by the skilful touch of the preacher. In our own Church eloquence is so rarely heard that we are in little danger of such delusion. Ezekiel in his popularity is a type not only of all lesser preachers, but emphatically of Him who is the great Prophet and Preacher of the world, the Master of all ages, the Incarnate Word of God. A very lovely song it is which the Saviour sings; no poet, no prophet, no bard ever sung or ever dreamed, or even ever strove (and striving, failed) to express anything half so sweet, so full, so soul-subduing as the Gospel of the Grace of God. And He that sings it hath indeed a pleasant voice, for sweeter is the voice of Christ than the voice of any angel or archangel, or of any of the heavenly choirs--grander it is in itself, and sweeter far is it to us, because it is a Brother’s voice, and we can feel the sympathy, we can understand the finest, softest shades of meaning which are woven through its melody. And so it is true of the people now, as of old, that they hear Him gladly; if anyone will speak feelingly, if anyone can speak eloquently of the love of Jesus for sinners, they will crowd to hear him, they will listen with satisfaction and go away pleased,--but they will not do His words. Men love to hear the Saviour’s gracious invitation, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” but they will not come to Him in the practical ways which He has pointed out. They love, above all things, to listen to the melodies of that last holy and tender discourse with His own, recorded in the Gospel of St. John, but they will not follow His practical counsels to such as wish to be His own. There is nothing more gladly heard by the sick and dying than that passage which begins, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid”; there is nothing, alas! more persistently forgotten, even by the dying than the fact that these things were spoken only to those who had continued with Christ in His temptations, who had showed that they loved Him by keeping His commandments: they hear His words, then, eagerly, but they do them not. (R. Winterbotham, M. A.)
On the slender influence of mere taste and sensibility in matters of religion
You easily understand how a taste for music is one thing, and a real submission to the influence of religion is another--how the ear may be regaled by the melody of sound, and the heart may utterly refuse the proper impression of the sense that is conveyed by it. Have you ever heard any tell, and with complacency too, how powerfully his devotion was awakened by an act of attendance on the oratorio--how his heart, melted and subdued by the influence of harmony, did homage to all the religion of which it was the vehicle; how he was so moved and overborne as to shed the tears of contrition, and to be agitated by the terrors of judgment, and to receive an awe upon his spirit of the greatness and the majesty of God; and that, wrought up to the lofty pitch of eternity, he could look down upon the world, and by the glance of one commanding survey pronounce upon the littleness and the vanity of all its concerns? It is indeed very possible that all this might thrill upon the ears of the man, and circulate a succession of solemn and affecting images around his fancy--and yet that essential principle of his nature, upon which the practical influence of Christianity turns, might have met with no reaching and no subduing efficacy whatever to arouse it. Amid all that illusion which such momentary visitations of seriousness and of sentiment throw around the character of man, let us never lose sight of the test, that “by their fruits ye shall know them.” The faithful application of this test would put to flight a host of delusions. It may be carried round amongst all those phenomena of human character where there is the exhibition of something associated with religion, but which is not religion itself. Religion has its accompaniments; and in these there may be a something to soothe and to fascinate, even in the absence of the appropriate influences of religion. The deep and tender impression of a family bereavement is not religion. The love of established decencies is not religion. The charm of all that sentimentalism which is associated with many of its solemn and affecting services is not religion. They may form the distinct folds of its accustomed drapery; but they do not, any or all of them put together, make up the substance of the thing itself. We call for fruit, and demand the permanency of a religious influence on the habits and the history. How many who take a flattering unction to their souls, when they think of their amiable feelings and their becoming observations, with whom this severe touchstone would, like the head of Medusa, put to flight all their complacency! The afflictive dispensation is forgotten--and he on whom it was laid is practically as indifferent to God and to eternity as before. The Sabbath services come to a close, and they are followed by the same routine of weekday worldliness as before. The instances may be multiplied without number. A man may have a taste for eloquence, and eloquence, the most touching or sublime, may lift her pleading voice on the side of religion. A man may love to have his understanding stimulated by the ingenuities or the resistless urgencies of an argument; and argument the most profound and the most overbearing may put forth all the might of a constraining vehemence in behalf of religion. A man may feel the rejoicings of a conscious elevation, when some ideal scene of magnificence is laid before him; and where are these scenes so readily to be met with as when led to expatiate in thought over the track of eternity, or to survey the wonders of creation, or to look to the magnitude of those great and universal interests which lie within the compass of religion? We will venture to say that as much delight may emanate from the pulpit on an arrested audience beneath it as ever emanated from the boards of a theatre--ay, and with as total a disjunction of mind too, in the one case as in the other, from the essence or the habit of religion. We recur to the test. We make our appeal to experience; and we put it to you all, whether your finding upon the subject do not agree with our saying about it, that a man may weep and admire, and have many of his faculties put upon the stretch of their most intense gratification--his judgment established, and his fancy enlivened, and his feelings overpowered, and his hearing charmed as by the accents of heavenly persuasion, and all within him feasted by the rich and varied luxuries of an intellectual banquet! We want you to see clearly the distinction between these two attributes of the human character. They are, in truth, as different the one from the other as a taste for the grand and the graceful in scenery differs from the appetite of hunger; and the one may both exist and have a most intense operation within the bosom of that very individual who entirely disowns and is entirely disgusted with the other. The mere majesty of God’s power and greatness, when offered to your notice, lays hold of one of the faculties within you. The holiness of God, with His righteous claim of legislation, lays hold of another of these faculties. The difference between them is so great that the one may be engrossed and interested to the full, while the other remains untouched and in a state of entire dormancy. Now, it is no matter what it be that ministers delight to the former of these two faculties; if the latter be not arrested and put on its proper exercise, you are making no approximation whatever to the right habit and character of religion. The religion of taste is one thing. The religion of conscience is another. We recur to the test: What is the plain and practical doing which ought to issue from the whole of our argument? If one lesson come more clearly or more authoritatively out of it than another, it is the supremacy of the Bible. If fitted to impress one movement rather than another, it is that movement of docility, in virtue of which man, with the feeling that he has all to learn, places himself in the attitude of a little child, before the book of the unsearchable God, who has deigned to break His silence, and to transmit even to our age of the world a faithful record of His own communication. What progress, then, are you making in this movement? Are you, or are you not, like newborn babes, desiring the sincere milk of the word, that you may grow thereby? With the modesty of true science, which is here at one with the humblest and most penitentiary feeling which Christianity can awaken, are you bending an eye of earnestness on the Bible, and appropriating its informations, and moulding your every conviction to its doctrines and its testimonies? (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
A very lovely song
This is a very lovely verse, but a very solemn and awful sentiment is attached to it.
I. A description of the Gospel message. The subject of our preaching is the Word of God. And oh, what a sweet, sweet song is that blessed word! Take--
1. The history and stories of the Bible. Begin with the creation of the world. It is told in brief, all details are omitted, but the grand outline is perfect, and scientific investigation is only filling up the details; and when all the details are filled up, the grand old story will be found firm as a rock.
2. The life stories of Bible heroes, the romance of our early progenitors, the population of the world, the fall, the deluge, the touches of human nature, and the goodness and sins of man, all brought out in the vivid pictures of realism.
3. The story of our Saviour’s birth, His early days, His mighty manhood, broken by the wail of agony at His cruel death. Then swell the notes to the sky, and a jubilant strain tells of victory over sin and death and the grave. The song goes on in recitative till comes the final crash of the concluding chorus.
II. A description of the effect which this song produces.
1. It is listened to. The most obdurate and hardened will gaze at a lovely landscape. Beauty hath a charm; it is the most powerful of all human influence. Is it any wonder, then, that the world is attracted by the beauty of the Gospel message?
2. It is criticised. The human mind will criticise everything great. Now, there is nothing so great as the Gospel, and nothing has provoked so much criticism and controversy. Its history, its poetry, its truths, its message, its plan of salvation have all been the objects of unnumbered attacks.
3. It is approved. Not indeed by everyone, but by the generality. Reason, common sense, sound judgment, intellectual attainments, all must concur in approving its excellence. The wants and necessities of our own minds, the cravings of our souls, bring the truths it proclaims into harmony with human nature.
III. A description of the way in which it is generally received.
1. It is a sweet song, and nothing more. “They hear thy words and do them not.” How sad this picture of the world, and yet how true! Under the preaching of the Gospel you have often said, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” But what are you the better now? Nothing at all. The echoes of the song died away in the distance, you went to your daily toil, and the whole thing was forgotten.
2. The reason is plainly stated. You have heard, but you have not been doing. Salvation is a work just like any other work; it does not come of itself. Fancy a man who wanted to make a fortune listening to the life of Stevenson, and settling down to sleep. He would only die in the workhouse. Fancy a young man who desired to become a statesman, like Disraeli or Gladstone, spending his time in riot and dissipation; he would end where he began. And fancy an immortal soul, hearing the sound of the Gospel and the invitations of God, passing life in callousness and neglect.
3. A few words of inquiry as to why is this.
(1) It is for want of understanding. At the performance of a grand oratorio there are very few who have sufficient musical knowledge to understand the details of the composer’s work. So among the larger part of our congregations, the Gospel has no meaning beyond its pleasant sound.
(2) It is because of the hardness of the heart. The sound of the music, the voice of persuasion, the earnestness of invitation, fall on hearts as dead and seared as the rocky mountains of the desert. Not a seed can enter, for there is no soil to receive it.
(3) It is from love of the world. There are two forces which are ever acting on the soul--one would draw men to heaven, the other to earth. The generality of mankind are found between the two. Whichever predominates will determine the man’s destiny.
IV. A suggestion as to the remedy to be applied.
1. Awakening. Remember that pleasant as the Gospel is to bear, it is something more than a song. It is a power; it is the voice of God; it is the destiny of your soul; it is your heaven or your hell.
2. Labour. Lay hold of eternal life; get rid of the deadly idea that religion is something merely to amuse or employ your time. (J. J. S. Bird.)