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A measuring reed.
The measuring reed
It is a complex and mysterious thing,--this human life which it is appointed us to live. At first glance it seems as if it were simply the outflowing of ourselves from day to day, very much as water flows from a jar, without effort or design or law of movement, Take the history of a day, or the larger history of a life from the cradle to the grave; what subtle breaths of desire, of affection and repulsion determine its movements! What accidents, casual contacts, unexpected pressures of circumstance carve its outlines! Day by day the tapestry is woven. We cannot stop the play of the loom. But what a wilderness of aimless lines comes out in the fabric! What a blur of unfinished patterns, overlying each other! What a tangle of broken threads! But a deeper glance reveals to us the persistent and inexorable action of law in the shaping of our life. Indeed it is easy to formulate a theory of life in which it seems as if it were all law, nothing but law, law that crushed all freedom and spontaneity out of life. This happens when you try to reduce life to a department of physics. You find everywhere law; only the law lies not so much in the life as in the things that press upon it and give it direction. The water that flows from a jar falls and sparkles and runs on the ground with no choice of its own. Every drop is the slave of law. So it seems when we look upon life and treat it as a chapter of mechanics; as if it were simply the product of the forces that beat upon it, as if the measure of the forces gave the measure of the life, as if the colours and shapes it takes in its outflow were all determined by the angle of the sunbeam that strikes it, and the lay of the ground where it falls. It is evident that this conception of life is inadequate and false. It is all the more dangerous, because it falls in with a current fashion of thought and contains a half-truth. We read so much nowadays of force and law, that it is natural to speak of the energy of life under these terms; only, if we take our conceptions of force and law entirely from the physical world, we reduce all the intricate and mysterious movement of life to the irresponsible throbbings of a machine. The life which each of us is living is neither a formless, accidental jumble of thoughts, words and deeds, which link themselves together without any compelling force or law of combination; nor is it the fixed and inevitable result of forces that lie outside the domain of the will, and that beat resistlessly upon our life for good or evil. There is both freedom and law in our life; freedom working within law, along the lines of law. Every human life is a structure like that temple in the prophet’s dream. It is built up stone by stone. And every stone has a meaning. It falls into its place in obedience to a law. The design of the structure determines the position of the stone. The building grows according to the law of the design. But what determines the design? Here is where the element of choice comes in. We can choose one design or another. But the design once chosen determines the character of the building. It gives the law of measurement to every stone and door post and pinnacle. It is like a man with a measuring reed standing in the gate. Now there are certain things which, you will agree with me, fall entirely within our choice, which have such power and influence in the shaping of character that they become the measuring reeds of life. They give the design on the lines of which the structure of the life is built. One of these things is a man’s estimate of himself. What a man holds himself to be, he tries to be, and in the long run becomes. If he count himself a cur, his life will be a kennel, whatever money he may lavish on it and however richly he may decorate it. If he recognise and hold himself true to a royalty of soul, his life will be a palace. Though it have the dimensions of a hut, and the roof cover but a single room, that room will be a throne chamber. Have you never noticed how Christ, in His effort to lift men to higher levels of life, kept in sight this law? Never was such dignity dreamed for human nature as He gave to it. He called men God’s children. And all, that He might win them to a life that had the purity and beauty of God in it, a life that should be worthy of the sons of God. Christ recognised the law: man is the measure of his life. His estimate of his own worth gives the quality of his daily deed and word. The law runs from the sublime heights to which Christ carried it, to the beaten paths where men pass to and fro on the business of the world. If you hold yourself copper, your life will be copper. If you count yourself gold and diamond, your life will be gold and diamond. You must first estimate yourself as something cheap and mean, before you can sell yourself to a cheap and mean sin. But there is another measuring reed of life. As he goes on with the years, every man makes not only an estimate of himself, but also a philosophy of life. If we choose to explain life as a selfish, brutal struggle for existence, as a dull, lingering misery to be borne simply with patience or defiance, as a hunt for pleasurable sensations, as a plot for the mastery of our fellows, as a school for the education of character, as an opportunity of lighting up this earth with something of the life that pulses in the heart of God; in every case, life rises up and answers: “Yes, that is my explanation of myself. I can furnish proofs of your theory. You have translated the cipher on my heart. Take me, read me, treat me as you choose; I will supply you with plenty of facts to substantiate your philosophy of me.” Life echoes back our own answer. She comes to us and sits down by us and goes to and fro over our threshold, in the very feature, step, and accent of our theory. The smallest details of life take tone and colour from our creed. Our life makes a constant effort to adjust itself to our theory. How can it be otherwise? Our theory is a measuring reed, with which we stand in the gate, and which we apply to every stone and beam that go into the structure of our life. Is it any wonder that the whole structure is simply a sort of flower, which has blossomed on the stalk of our measuring reed? (W. W. Battershall, D. D.)
To the intent that I might shew them unto thee.
A good intent
I. The purpose of God to stain the pride of the glory of all flesh. We may gather some instruction upon this from the 4th chapter of Daniel. The testimony that Nebuchadnezzar himself bore at the last, seems to me to be very expressive, and may be, as it were, put into the mouth of everyone that God has humbled. It is truth that we all do need humbling by the power of God. Happy man you will be if you are brought to nothing. It is one of the hardest things in the world to be nothing--to be nothing but a sinner; not a good thought, not a good word, not a good work, not a single grain or atom of goodness, but a thing of nought altogether. Now God has purposed this; He has purposed to stain the pride of the glory of all flesh; and He has purposed to do so first in mercy, and then He will do so in wrath; that is, those that He does not deal so with in their lifetime as to humble them down that they may receive His truth, He will deal with in wrath at that last great, that tremendous day. Every man’s natural spirit is a spirit of ignorance, a spirit of unbelief, a spirit of enmity against God. Wherever true conviction enters, the soul is divided from the spirit of ignorance, and the soul comes into the knowledge of its own condition; the soul is divided from the spirit of unbelief, and comes into the faith of the Gospel; the soul of the man, his immortal soul, is divided from the native enmity of the spirit; for the natural spirit that is in us lusteth to envy, desireth to envy; it is the very desire of it, the very essence of it. Now when God begins His work it severs the soul from this spirit.
II. The purpose of the Lord in bringing His people to receive the truth. If the Lord has thus brought you down far enough, then I will name now the truths that you will be glad to receive. The man that is from his own experience prepared to receive that testimony certainly is not far from the kingdom of God; the man that is prepared from his heart and soul to receive that testimony in the understanding of it, in the love of it, and to abide thereby--there never was one so poor in spirit, there never was one so humbled, there never was one so led, and at the same time lost. If we are really brought down and know our nothingness, our hearts are prepared to receive the testimony in the 1st chapter of Second Timothy. The apostle knew the tendency; he knew that Timothy would get no worldly honour; he knew it would make Timothy rather what they call narrow-minded; he knew it would be offensive to many professors, but he says, “Be not thou ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me, His prisoner,” as I am a prisoner for that testimony. Now comes what the testimony is. “Who hath saved us”--that is the first thing He did. Believest thou this? Art thou brought down low enough to trace up thy salvation to this Divines this pure and heavenly source? “And called us with an holy calling not according to our works”--no--“but according to His own purpose and grace,” etc. There is a clear epitome of the Gospel itself. Doth this offend you, or doth it please you? Are you sorry such testimonies are on record? or can you set your seal to it, that unless you are saved after that Divine order you never can be saved at all? Then, if so, I may apply to you the words here, which the Lord spake to Ezekiel,--“Son of man, behold with thine eyes.” So I say to you,--Behold with your eyes; see after what a Divine, see after what a righteous, what a lovely, what a gracious, what a merciful, what a glorious way God hath saved thee. “And hear with thine ears, and set thine heart upon all that I shall shew thee; for to the intent that I might shew them unto thee art thou brought hither.” So, poor sinner, you may set your heart upon these truths, and you will never have to take it away again.
III. The special purpose of bringing Ezekiel to where he was brought, as meant in our text. Ezekiel was brought to the river of God. First, its source--it came from under the threshold, just the same as we read in the last chapter of the Revelation of a river proceeding from the throne of God and the Lamb. That river I take to represent the Gospel in the life and blessedness thereof. That is one thing, then--its source. The second is its increase--it went on increasing. And just so the Gospel, in direct contrast, as we sometimes say to this life. For soma of us are getting into the shades a Lit; and this is narrowing and that is narrowing, and the time is drawing nigh when we shall say we have no pleasure in this life. But, then, there is pleasure there--the river of God’s pleasure--and those who drink of that river, “they shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing”! Bless the Lord for this. And then mark also the power of this river. There is a lake on the southeastern side of Judea, about forty-five miles long, and from perhaps twelve to fifteen wide; that lake has nothing in it in a way of life. Nothing can live in it; it is so bituminous, so nauseous, and so deadly, that nothing can live in it. Now this river was to turn this lake into a fresh-water lake; for the river was to come down into this Dead Sea, and the waters were to be healed. You can see what that means, can you not? that the souls of men are in a state of death and bitterness. And this water of the Dead Sea, all travellers tell us, is nasty to the last degree to drink; you could hardly be put to a greater punishment than to be obliged to drink half a pint of it; you would not forget it for a twelvemonth. And just so the mind--the soul. Ah, could we see ourselves as God sees us, could we see sin as He sees it, we should indeed stand aghast; for “the heart is,” even beyond angelic comprehension, “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Yet these waters were to heal this Dead Sea, turn it into a fresh-water lake. Just so the Gospel comes, destroys the bitterness, destroys all that is unpleasant, and turns the soul into that that is pleasant, to holiness, to righteousness, as pleasant to God as it was before unpleasant. There is another view of the river that I may just name, and that is that on its banks were trees whose leaves faded not, and that brought forth new fruit “according to their months.” Let these trees all of them represent Jesus Christ, and let their leaves that never fade represent His promises; and let the fruits that are perennial and immortal represent the blessings that come to us by those promises. (J. Wells.)
Declare all that thou seest to the house of Israel.--
Taught that we may teach
I. The manifestations with which certain of God’s servants are favoured.
1. The Lord Jesus Christ does draw near in a very special manner to some of His people. He will show Himself to any of you who seek Him. He will unveil the beauties of His face to every eye that is ready to behold them. There is never a heart that loves Him but He will manifest His love to that heart. But, at the same time, He does favour some of His servants who live near to Him, and who are called by Him to special service, with very remarkable manifestations of His light and glory.
2. These revelations are not incessant. I suppose that no man is always alike. John was in Patmos I know not how long; but he was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” on one occasion, and he specially notes it. Days of heavenly fellowship are red-letter days, to be remembered so long as memory holds her seat.
3. Yes, and it is noteworthy that the occasion of these manifestations was one of great distress. Saints have seen Jesus oftener on the bed of pain than in robust health.
4. It appears, in this case, that the manifestation to Ezekiel was made when he was put into an elevated condition. God has ways of lifting His people right up, away, away, away from mortal joy or sorrow, care or wish, into the spiritual realm. And then, when the mind has been lifted above its ordinary level, and the faculties are brought up by some divine process into a receptive state, He reveals Himself to us.
5. When He had elevated him thus it appears that He conducted him to certain places, for He says, “For to the intent that I might shew them unto thee art thou brought hither.” God’s children are brought in experience to unusual places, on purpose that they may get clearer sights of the love and grace and mercy of God in Christ than they could obtain elsewhere.
6. However, it is not outward circumstances that can affect the Divine purpose, there must always be a movement of the Divine Spirit. In the third verse you read, “He brought me there.” We never learn a truth inwardly until God brings us to it. We may hear a truth, we ought to be careful that we do not hear anything but the truth; but God must bring that truth home.
II. The responsibility of these chosen men while they are thus favoured. When the Spirit of God favours you with light, mind that you see; and, when there is a sound of grace, mind that you hear. We tell our children to learn their lessons “by heart.” If we put the full meaning into that expression, that is the way to learn the things of God.
1. “See with thine eyes.” What are the eyes for but to see with? He means this,--look, pry, search with your eyes. Looking to Christ will save you, but it is looking into Christ that gives joy, peace, holiness, heaven.
2. “Hear with thine ears.” Well, a man cannot use his ears for anything else, can he? Ay, but hear with your ears. Listen with all your might.
3. “Set thine heart upon all that I shall shew thee.” Oh, but that is the way to learn from God--by loving all that He says--feeling that, whatever God says, it is the thing you want to know.
4. The Lord bids us do this towards all that He shall shew us. “Set thine heart upon all that I shall shew thee!” We are to be impartial in our study of the word, and to be universal in its reception.
III. What is God’s reason for manifesting Himself to His servants? The object is this,--“Declare thou all that thou seest to the house of Israel.” First, see it yourself, hear it yourself, give your heart to it yourself, and then declare it to the house of Israel. Dear brother, you cannot tell who it may be to whom you are to speak, but this may be your guide: speak about what you have seen and heard to those whom it concerns. Have you been in gloom of mind, and have you been comforted? The first time you meet with a person in that condition, tell out the comfort. Have you felt a great struggle of soul, and have you found rest? Speak of your conflict to a neighbour who is passing through a like struggle. Has God delivered you in the hour of sorrow? Tell that to the next sorrowing person you meet. Ay, but still this is not all your duty. God has shown us His precious word that we may tell it to the house of Israel. Now, the house of Israel were a stiff-necked people, and when Ezekiel went to them, they cast him aside, they would not listen. Yet, he was to go and teach the word to them. We must not say, “I will not speak of Christ to such a one; he would reject it.” Do it as a testimony against him, even if you know he will reject it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
And he brought me by the steps whereby they went up to it.
The steps of the sanctuary
There are no such steps as these to be found anywhere in the world. A step to honour, a step to riches, a step to worldly glory: these are everywhere, but what are these to the steps by which men do ascend to the house of the Lord! He, then, that entereth into the house of the Lord is an ascending man; as it is said of Moses, he went up into the mount of God. It is ascending to go into the house of God. The world believe not this; they think it is going downwards to go up to the house of God. The steps, then, by which men go up into the temple are, and ought to be, opposed to those which men take to their lusts and empty glories. Hence such steps are said not only to decline from God, but to take hold of the path to death and hell (Psalms 44:18; Proverbs 2:18). (John Bunyan.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezekiel 40". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany