Click to donate today!
The north gate . . . the south gate.
North and south in religion
Ezekiel’s temple sets forth the order, grandeur, and beauty of the Church in its vigour, and the life that shall go out from it in floods all over the world. It is the picture of the Gospel of Christ in its social aspect and in its healing and regenerating influence. What can be meant, then, by declaring regarding this temple that those who go in by the south door shall go out by the north, and that those who go in by the north shall go out by the south? A man may enter either by the north deer or the south. There is perfect liberty here. But there is no liberty as to what he shall do after that. He shall go right through. He shall make for the “over against.” Has not this a very plain meaning for us--that we should not sit still at that side of religion which first attracted us, not keep going beck over the old ground, but strive to go through the whole breadth of religion. There is a north and a south in religion. There is a bright, sunny side. It is always warm and genial there. And there is a cold, dark side, which only gets the sun on the longest days. Some come in by the one side, and some by the other. Some come with grief and tears, driven by bitter cold or wild blasts. Others come in by the door of hope and joy, drawn by bright promises. They come calm, easy, and radiant, as to an old home which they had never lost. Religion has many opposites, though no contradictions. The Bible is continually speaking of the importance of joining opposites together, such as prayer and praise, working and waiting, digging and crying, resting and running, weeping and rejoicing, past and future, time and eternity. The truth taught in the text, then, is a most practical as well as suggestive one, and one that lies very near to the root of success--that we should go on to the opposite good of that which we possess, not simply further than where we are, but that we should strive to reach and embrace the directly opposite attainment, not leaving or undervaluing what is possessed, but uniting to it that which may seem contrary or which may possibly have been considered by us as wholly antagonistic and incompatible. We shall find that it is these opposites which not only preserve from exaggeration and caricature, but that they are needful even for proper rooting and strength. When one finds out how opposites coalesce and help each other, need each other, claim each other, and are only themselves when they find each other, he is fortified against moral scepticism and against religious unrest. What I contend for is not a compromise, but a junction in which each remains to strengthen and develop the other. Do we wish to see examples of this in human life? Are not great generals who have a power of wide and far arrangement also remarkable for the opposite, the attention to small details? So men who have organised and sustained large mercantile enterprises have been remarkable combinations of opposite qualities, cautious and bold, cool and intense, patient and ardent, careful of little things, observant of the slightest signs, while conceiving great projects. If a painter is happy in outlines, it will not profit him much unless he studies minute effects; if he excels in form, he must try to excel also in colour. Everything in actual life needs its opposite to give it substance, pith, and permanence. We need to be often reminded of this truth, for everyone is inclined to some particular side of things, by temperament, by habit, or surroundings.
I. Truth. The truth of God has many sides, and there are truths which stand as opposites: whole classes of truths stand as opposites. A healthy, religious life seeks to lay hold of both of these.
1. Religion embraces truths that are mysterious and truths that are clear and plain. Can we be right if we seek merely clear things and neglect the vast mysteries, or if we are fascinated by the mysteries and despise or forget things easy to understand? Every man needs the plainest truths constantly, for religion is not mainly an exercise for the intellect or a discipline for faith, but rest and food for the feeblest. But let no man say, The plain and simple things are all I want; I care not for mysteries. They perplex me; they weigh upon me. I avoid them, I pass them by. Do you really think, then, that you have got hold of these plain truths while you thus act? The plain truths need the vast and unsearchable to give them force. You yourself need to be awed and mastered, ay, even bewildered and perplexed by the inscrutable.
2. There are truths of theory and truths of practice. Let the one class be added to the other. Theology ought to be the most inspiring of all sciences. If you have entered the temple by this door, it is well; but do not stay there. Religion is more than theology. A man may be very theological, and only a very little religious. But you never get a real hold of theology till you learn the elementary experiences of religion. Truly to pray and be contrite, and hold fellowship with God opens up theology.
II. Worship. Worship has many sides. It also abounds in opposites. Such are sorrow and joy, hope and fear, prayer and praise, supplication and promise, or resolve. How fully and impartially these are presented in the Word of God; yet how frequent it is for men to cling to one side of worship. How many enter at the north door of entreaty, and never really approach the south door of joy and praise. You must not remain in sorrow. Whoever has brought to God tears, sorrows, fears, doubts, burdens, let him bring great joy. He may find it hard to do this. It is called in the Psalms the sacrifice of joy. And truly it is a sacrifice and often the most costly that one can bring. It may cost you far more to bring joy to God than to bring labour and tears. So to pass over to the side of joy would really be the wholesomest endeavour that many a one could make. It would revolutionise his life. He would be renewed and made a spiritual man in the mere effort to bring to God joy. But there are those who find it easy to be glad and grateful, Depression, the awful burden of sin, bitter tears, or a sorrow that would find relief in tears, they have no experience of. Are they, then, under no obligation to sorrow! Can they ignore all that side of religion? Have they found their way to a region where it is superfluous? That cannot be if they are sinful men. He that does not know the secret of grief must be very much on the surface of things. There are those, again, who have been very earnest for themselves. They have pleaded and wrestled for pardon. They have cried many and many a time with all the earnestness of their nature after renewal, after deliverance from evil and attainment of Divine freedom; they have felt, as a crushing load, the burden of their own souls; but they have never felt the burden of the world’s evil and bondage. They must learn to be in thorough earnest about some object, and some person not their own, and that can bring no benefit to them. Only then is a soul truly emancipated, only then, when it takes up God’s cause and man’s and forgets itself, does it know the greatness of prayer.
III. Moral and spiritual life.
1. How common it is to decry feeling and exalt conduct and action. The tendency is certainly right as to the comparative value of these opposites if they are regarded as antagonistic. Action, conduct in the full sense of the word, the action of the man is the end and aim of all. But, on the other hand, feeling is the proper basis of action and conduct. Pity and compassion are feelings; can anyone be acting a wise or noble part who decries or ignores them? Sympathy and benevolence are feelings. Admiration is a feeling. Taken together, these form that supreme feeling called love. Zeal and enthusiasm are feelings. Men who speak slightingly of feeling must surely be uneasy when they reflect on the value which the great human heart sets on these things, and the immense sway they wield. Surely they must be uneasy when they reflect how very differently the Word of God speaks, and how intent it is on expelling wrong feelings and awaking right ones. No! The true course is for men not to excuse or vindicate their want of feeling, but to lament it, to bewail their poverty, and press across that they may become rich. There are those who, on the other hand, rest in emotion, who are pleased with themselves that they are so susceptible, and have such fine, earnest, lofty desires. This is a huge danger. Feeling is for the purpose of action. Those, therefore, who feel strongly should of all men particularly set their hearts on action, on being extremely, thoroughly, minutely practical. It is easier for them than other men to be diligent and thorough. Their glow and enthusiasm ought to give them wings.
2. Devotion and righteousness in like manner stand over against each other; in other words, some are mainly for God, others mainly for man. There are those who feel strongly the claims of God and have a constant drawing to worship. The pleasure they take in devotion is real, but their conscience and their human affections are dormant. They need to have it strongly brought home to them that there is a whole side of things of the utmost moment which they are ignoring, that if a man love God he must love his brother also, and that this is the love of God to keep His commandments. And is not the opposite type frequent? The feeling of this class is expressed in such phrases as, The best worship of God is to do what is right. The best worship of God is to help men. The best worship of God is to be like Him. What shall we say to this? The helping of men may be a worship of God, but it may not. It will not be a worship of God unless there is first, and as the foundation of the life, direct worship of God. God claims direct worship, and the soul needs it. From whence will you draw your inspiration and your power to help men if you do not come into contact with God? (J. Leckie, D. D.)
The prince in the midst of them, when they go in, shall go in; and when they go forth, shall go forth.
The Prince in the midst
The Prince shall mean to us the man Christ Jesus, whom God has exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour. Isaiah calls Him the “Prince of Peace”; and Peter, the “Prince of Life.” I don’t know where the Prince’s central palace is, nor where He holds His court. It is in the far country which no human eye has ever explored; somewhere beyond the unknown seas which no embodied soul can navigate, and from which no traveller has come back to tell the tale. But I live in hope, the hope that stirs many another eager heart, that on some fair morning I shall see this King in His beauty, in the land that won’t be far off then! But this verse tells us something quite good enough and bright enough for us to know: “The Prince is in the midst of them.” It is not often that the royalties of earth occupy a place like that; some of them are shut up in splendid seclusion. Most men know only the names of the great and noble; all of them are removed from the society of the poor. But our Prince has no preference, no selection, no priority. He is in the midst of His people, and His light and smile are always to be seen. The gifts of His bounty are as free to the man who is lowly, to the sons of poverty, as to the sons of wealth. But it is not everybody who recognises the presence of the Prince when He is here. He may smile as royally as the sunlight, and yet you may be so insensible as never to know He is near. Do you acknowledge His rule? Do you submit to His authority? Do you obey His command? A prince has laws,--do you honour them? A prince has reverence,--do you reverence Him? This Prince covets your affections,--do you love Him? I knew a Christian woman who was always found early in the sanctuary. She was quite deaf, and heard neither song nor sermon. I asked her why she came and whether she was the better for it, and her answer is worth recording: “The communion of saints is sweet in itself, and a neighbour always finds the lessons and the text for me, and the Lord speaks to me, and His voice is very sweet to me.” You see that her loyalty brought her into the presence of royalty. The Prince was there to speak, touch, and smile to her. And the Prince in the midst of them when they go in shall go in with them. You see that the loyal hearts that honour Christ bring Him with them. They cross the threshold together with Christ, and sit together with Him in the pew. I am afraid that there is too little of this with us. We should seek to be prepared for the house of prayer beforehand, that we and the Prince may come there hand in hand. “When they go forth.” That is the best test of any sanctuary service. Do we carry with us the companion, the guest who says to us as we go forth from the house of God, what He said to Zacchaeus when He called that publican, “I must abide at thy house,” thy house. Always understand that where the Prince’s subjects are, those who are loyal to Him, in whose hearts He reigns--ruling in the life,--that the Prince is always with them. He does not part company with them at morning prayer; He does not breathe a benediction on them at the family gathering, and then retire to the throne of His glory. But He takes His place, too, in the tram, the ‘bus, or the train. He cheers and gives the strength and power to the ordinary doings of the day. If we would but remember to realise this, what a grand and noble business the daily round and common task would be! Don’t you think the company and oversight of our Prince is to be desired? I do believe in a religion that has to do with every five minutes of our time. Sure am I that your burdens would be lighter, your cares lessened, your hands strengthened, and your hearts cheered, if you could but feel that your Prince was present to smooth your path and to dwell within prayerful reach of you all the time; and oh! what a defence that would be against the continuity of temptations that assail us through life. I remember reading of a lad who was tempted to steal his master’s goods by one of his fellow workmen. “John, you can do so-and-so now; the master has gone now; the master is not in.” “No,” said the lad, “my Master is always in.” Well done, John! that is the true principle of life. His Master was the Prince. Christ had gone into the shop with him. I want you to see that my text is especially grandly and beautifully true in the days of our suffering and trial. If you yourself are called on to drop your tool, to lay down your pen, to retire awhile from actual life, and to prepare for illness, the Prince, when you go in, shall go in too; for there, more than ever, He is near to comfort and to bless. His voice is then so gentle, His touch so tender, and His companionship so sweet. He makes the sick chamber the house of God, and the gate of heaven. And my text says a little more than that. The Prince in the midst of them when they go forth shall go forth too. This is a promise for the traveller. We travel much nowadays; travel rapidly and in a good deal of peril. What a promise for the traveller when he goes forth. He shall go forth too! What a promise for the emigrant as he says “Good-bye” to his friends. “Good-bye, my lad,” said an old man whom I knew, to a young fellow, “there is one thing that keeps my heart from breaking and that is that the Lord is with thee, lad.” Christ was going forth with the boy! What a promise that is for the youth leaving the parental roof! Or for the evangelist going out to proclaim the Gospel. The Prince is in the midst of them; when they go forth He shall go forth. Is not that a grand promise for us in view of our departure from earth? Our last exit, our going forth from the brief life which is here our portion, will come, perhaps, soon. At the bedside of the dying, Christ enters, and He shall not leave us alone then. I think the record of the goings forth from life of Christians is most encouraging. Rutherford was glorying in God when his very feet were on the shore, and he said , as he went, “I have gotten the victory, and Christ, my Savior, is holding out both arms to embrace me. Why is death called the dark valley, for it grows brighter and brighter, and it is now so bright I have to shut my eyes.” His lips parted in a smile. So he went forth, and the Prince went forth with him. Then his eyes were opened, to be shut no more. An English lady visiting the great Exhibition in Paris, was seized with sudden illness. But she longed to be loyal to the Prince whom she had long ago crowned with her heart. In her last moments her speech left her, but she managed to utter a simple word--Bring. Her friends offered her a drink of water, and she said again--Bring. Then they moistened her lips, and prayed. Then they thought she must desire to see some absent friend, and they whispered in her ear that he should be sent for, and she said, with a last effort, “Bring forth the royal diadem, and crown Him Lord of all.” And when the Prince, who was in the midst, when she went forth, went--yes, the two went forth together--Christ and the saved soul went forth into the silence of the great unknown. (J. J. Wray.)
Christ among His people
I. Christ the Prince.
1. His right.
(1) By virtue of Fatherhood, “Son of the Highest.”
(2) By appointment (Psalms 2:6).
2. His character. Grace not only poured into Christ’s lips, but is His distinction and beauty in all respects. Purity supreme; forbearance and tenderness distinguish His dealings; unspeakable condescension and love the spirit of His life.
3. His dominion, “Prince of the kings of the earth.” His rule is spiritual. Casts down moral opposition, overcomes enmity, unbelief, thoughts that exalt themselves against God, and brings into captivity to Divine will.
II. Christ in the midst of His Church.
1. As a Ruler among His subjects.
2. As a Teacher among His disciples.
3. As a Shepherd among His flock.
4. As a Physician among His patients.
5. As a Husbandman in His vineyard.
III. The intimacy of Christ’s fellowship.
1. When do we “go in”?
(1) At seasons of devotional retirement. Legends of saints sometimes speak of an angel as visible. The reality, though unseen, is more. Christ is with us. Prayer should be very precious; much exercised.
(2) When we worship in the sanctuary. Praise. Meditation. Adoration.
(3) When afflicted. Christ comforts agitated thoughts, sustains under distressing feelings, lifts mind to things above. To hearts despairing His voice is “like a falling star”--“It is I, be not afraid.”
2. When do we “go forth”?
(1) To business. Lay our plans in Him. Know His eye is on us.
(2) To manifold temptations. “Greater is He who is with us.”
(3) To all the forms and methods of Christian duty. “Lo, I am with you alway.” (G. M’Michael, B. A.)
Thou shalt daily prepare a burnt offering unto the Lord.
The Christian’s daily sacrifice
The old legend that the Grecian host lay weather bound in their port, vainly waiting for a wind to come and carry them to conquest; and that they were obliged to slay a human sacrifice ere the heavens would be propitious and fill their sails,--may be translated into the deepest verity of the Christian life. We may see in it that solemn lesson--no prosperous voyage, and no final conquest until the natural life has been offered up on the altar of hourly self-denial. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Each day needs its sacrifice
No one, who plunges himself into the affairs of the world without God, can easily escape out of two sad alternatives. Either he is utterly wearied and disgusted with their triviality, and dawdles out a languid life of supercilious superiority to his work, or else he plunges passionately into it, and, like the ancient queen, dissolves in the cup the precious jewel of his own soul. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezekiel 46". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany