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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Ezekiel 36

 

 

Verses 1-38

Verse 9

Ezekiel 36:9

And ye shall be tilled and sown.

A vision of the field

I. Man’s heart by nature is like a waste field.

1. He brings forth no fruit unto God. Leave him alone and he will live unto himself. He will live and he will die a strange monstrosity in the world--a creature that has lived without his Creator. Methinks I see the great God coming to look at the man, even as a farmer might come to look upon his fallow field. He looks the whole field through. There is no thought for God, no consecration of time to God, no desire to honour God, no longing to produce in the world fresh glory to God, no effort to raise up to Him fresh voices that shall praise His name. He lives unto himself or to his fellow men, and having so lived, he so dies.

2. Worse than this; the field that has never been ploughed or sown does produce something. There is an activity about human nature that will not let us live without doing. “No man liveth to himself.” Is there no wheat growing on that soil? no barley? no rye? Very well, then, there will be darnel, and cockle, and twitch, and all sorts of weed. So it is with the unrenewed heart. It is prolific of evil imaginations, wrong desires, and bitter envyings. As these ripen they bring forth ill words--idle, or, it may be, lascivious words, and perhaps atheistic, blasphemous words; and as these ripen they come to actions, had the man becomes an offender in his deeds, perhaps against man, certainly against God. The apples of Gomorrah hang plentifully upon him.

II. There is no hope for this field, unless God turn to it in mercy. “I am for you, and I will turn unto you.” Man never does of himself turn unto God, and that for obvious reasons. We are sure he never can, for he is dead in trespasses and sins. We are certain he never will, for by nature he hates anything like a new birth; and if he could make himself a new creature he would not, for Christ has expressly said, “Ye will not come unto Me that ye might have life.” If you have turned, you know that the Lord has done it. Give unto Him the glory. If you have not been converted, God help you to cry unto Him instantly and earnestly, “Turn us, and we shall be turned.” Look unto Him who is exalted on high to “give repentance and remission of sins.” Seek ye unto Him, and ye shall live.

III. When the field is to be put under cultivation it must be tilled. So when God turns to any man in His mercy there has to be an operation, a tillage, performed upon his heart. Common calling is addressed to every man, but effectual calling comes only to prepared men, to those whom God makes willing in the day of His power. Now, what is the plough wanted for? Why, it is wanted, first of all, to break up the soil and make it crumble. The more thoroughly pulverised the heart becomes, the better. The seed will never get into an unbroken heart. The plough is also wanted to destroy the weeds, for they must be killed. If the Lord save you, He must kill your drunkenness, He must kill your swearing, He must kill your whoredom, He must kill your lying, He must kill your dishonesty. These must all go; every single weed must be torn up; there is no hope for you while there is a weed living. The Lord make a clean sweep of the weeds, and burn them all! Well, now, mark you, in this tilling there are different soils. There is the light soil and the heavy soil; and so there are different sorts of constitutions. There are some men who are naturally tender and sensitive. Many, too, of our sisters are like Lydia: they soon receive the Word. There are others that are like the heavy clay soil; and you know the farmer does not plough both soils alike, or else he would make a sad mess of it. And so God does not deal with all men alike. Some have, as it were, first a little ploughing, and then the seed is put in, and all is done; but some have to be ploughed and cross ploughed; and then there is the scarifier and the clod crusher, and I know not what, which have to be rolled over them before they are good for anything; and perhaps, after all, they produce very little fruit. And, you know, the farmer has his time for ploughing. Some soils break up best after a shower of rain, and some do best when they are driest. So there are some hearts--ay, and I think almost all hearts--that are best ploughed after a shower of heavenly love has fallen upon them. They are in a grateful frame of mind for mercies received, and then the story of a dying Saviour comes to them as just that which will touch the springs of their hearts.

IV. Unless God has tilled the heart, it cannot be sown with any hope of success. After ploughing there comes the sowing. When the heart is ready God sows it--sows it with the best of wheat. The wise farmer does not sow tail corn, but, as Isaiah says, he casts in “the principal wheat.” The seed which God sows is living seed. It shall grow, for God has prepared the soil for it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 11

Ezekiel 36:11

I will settle you after your old estates, and will do better unto you than at your beginnings.

Hope for your future

I. What is there, then, so good in our beginnings?

1. One choice enjoyment was our vivid sense of pardon. Taken out of the bonds of iniquity, our hearts danced at the very sound of the redeeming name.

2. You had then a delicious enjoyment of the good things of the covenant of grace. You did not know a tenth of what you know now, but you intensely enjoyed what you did know.

3. And, at that time, we were like the children of Israel in a third matter, namely, that we had repeated victories. You marvelled to see how the adversary was subdued beneath the, foot of your faith. Those were good times, were they not--those beginnings?

4. In those days you had great delight in prayer. When alone with Christ, it was heaven below; and in the prayer meetings, when God’s people were warm at heart, how you delighted to unite with them!

5. In those days we were full of living fruitfulness. What marvels we were going to do; ay, and we did many of them by God’s good grace!

6. Then, if we had but little strength, yet we kept the Lord’s Word. If we had but one talent, we made as much use of it, perhaps, as some do with ten.

7. Oh, how we loved the Saviour when first we discovered how He had loved us with an everlasting love!

II. Can anything be better than this? Well, it would be a very great pity if there could not be, because I am sure we, when we were young beginners, were not much to boast of; and all the joy we had was, artier all, but little compared with what is revealed in the Word of God. In what respects, then, can our future be better than that which is behind?

1. I answer very readily, faith may be stronger. At first it shoots up like the lily, very beautiful, but fragile; afterwards it is like the oak with great roots that grip the soil, and rugged branches that defy the winds.

2. God gives to His people, as they advance, much more knowledge. We learn the art of dissecting truth--taking it to pieces, and seeing the different veins of Divine thought that run through it; and then we see with delight blessing after blessing conveyed to us by the person and sacrifice of our exalted Lord.

3. Love to Christ gets to be more constant. It is a passion always, but with believers who grow in grace it comes to be a principle as well as a passion. If they are not always blazing with love, there is a good fire banked up within the soul.

4. As Christians grow in grace, prayer becomes more mighty. If the Lord builds you up into true spiritual manhood you will know how to wrestle.

5. So, I think, it is in usefulness. Growing Christians, and full-grown Christians, are more useful than beginners. Their fruit, if not quite so plentiful, is of better quality, and more mellow.

6. In fact, this one thing is clear of all believers who have grown in grace--that the work of grace in them is nearer completion. They are getting nearer heaven, and they are getting more fit for it.

III. How can we secure that it will be better with us by and by than it is now?

1. I answer, first, keep to the simplicity of your first faith. Never get an inch beyond the Cross; for, if you do, you will have to come back. That is your place till you die: you nothing, and Christ everything.

2. At the same time, practise great watchfulness. We ought to have the eyes of a lynx, and they ought never to be closed. We know not which way the next temptation will come.

3. The next advice is, grow in dependence upon God. You cannot keep yourself unless He keeps you. Remember that.

4. Determine, at the very beginning, to be thorough. Daily dread lest in anything you should omit to do your Lord’s will, or should trespass against Him. In this way your joy shall be maintained, and you shall be settled after your old estates; and God will do better unto you than at your beginnings.

5. Seek for more instruction. Try to grow in the knowledge of God, that your joy may be full. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Better on before

In some parts of the Western Highlands of Scotland the traveller’s eye is delighted by the clear and sunlit waters of the lake, running far up into the hills. But as he climbs over the slopes and catches sight of the waters of the Atlantic, bathed in the glory of the setting sun, he almost forgets the beautiful vision which previously arrested him, for the latter scene is far superior. Thus do the growths of spiritual character unfold richer conceptions of Christ’s infinite love and character. (R. Venting.)


Verse 16-17

Ezekiel 36:16-17

Moreover, the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, son of man.

The messenger

Having scattered over an open field the bones of the human body, bring an anatomist to the scene. Observe how he fits bone to bone and part to part, till from those disjointed members he constructs a framework, which, apart from our horror at the eyeless sockets and fleshless form, appears perfectly, divinely beautiful. Now, as with these different parts of the human frame, so is it with the doctrines of the Gospel, in so far as they are intelligible to our limited understandings. There is a difference, which even childhood may discern, between the manner in which the doctrines and duties of the Gospel are set forth in the Word of God, and their more formal arrangement in our catechisms and confessions. They are scattered over the face of Scripture much as the plants of nature are distributed upon the surface of our globe. There, for example we meet with nothing that corresponds to the formal order, systematic classification, and rectangular beds of a botanical garden; on the contrary, the creations of the vegetable kingdom lie mingled in what, although beautiful, appears to be wild confusion. On the same moor, on the surface of the same meadow, the naturalist collects grasses of many forms, and finds both enamelled with flowers of every hue. And in those primeval forests which have been planted by the hand of God, and beneath whose silent and solemn shades man still walks in savage freedom, trees of every form and foliage stand side by side like brothers. Now, although over the whole surface of our globe plants of every form and family seem thrown at random, amid this apparent disorder the eye of science discovers a perfect system in the floral kingdom; and just as, though God has planted these forms over the face of nature without apparent arrangement, there is a botanical system, so there is as certainly a theological system, though its doctrines and duties are not classified in the Bible according to dogmatic rules. Does not this circumstance teach us that He intended His Word to be a subject of careful study as well as of devout faith, and that man should find in its saving pages a field for the exercise of his highest faculties?

I. That this portion of scripture, extending onwards from the 16th verse, presents an epitome or outline of the Gospel. Its details, with their minute and varied beauties, are here, so to speak, in shade; but the grand truths of redemption stand boldly up, much as we have seen from sea the summits of a mountain range, or the lofty headlands of a dim and distant coast. In the 17th verse, we have man sinning--“Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their own way and by their doings.” In the 18th verse, we have man suffering--“Wherefore, I poured My fury upon them.” In the 21st verse, man appears an object of mercy--“But I had pity.” In the 22nd verse, man is an object of free mercy, mercy without merit--“I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel.” In the 24th verse, man’s salvation is resolved on--“I will bring you into your own land.” In the 25th verse, man is justified--“Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean.” In the 26th and 27th verses, man is renewed and sanctified--“A new heart also will I give you,” etc. In the 28th verse, man is restored to the place and privileges, which he forfeited by his sins--“Ye shall be My people, and I will be your God.” “This land that was desolate, is become like the garden of Eden.” We have our security for these blessings in the assurance of the 36th verse--“I the Lord have spoken it, and I will do it”; and we are directed to the means of obtaining them in the 37th verse--“I will yet for this be inquired of,” etc. Such is the wide and interesting field that lies before us. But before entering upon it, let us consider--

II. Who is commissioned to deliver God’s message. Who and what is the chosen ambassador of heaven? An angel? No; but a man. “Son of man,” says the Lord. By this title Ezekiel is so often addressed that it forces all our attention Lord remarkable fact, that God deals with man through the instrumentality of man, communicating by men His will to men. The rain, in its descent from heaven, falls upon the surface of our earth, percolates through the porous soil, and, flowing along rocky fissures or veins of sand, is conveyed below ground to the fountain whence it springs. Now, although rising out of the earth, that water is not of the earth, earthy. The world’s deepest well owes its treasures to the skies. So was it with the revealed will of God. It flowed along human channels, yet its origin was more than celestial; it was Divine.

1. The kindness of God to man. The God of salvation, the author and finisher of our faith, might have arranged it otherwise. Who shaft limit the Holy One of Israel? The field is the world. And as the husbandman ploughs his fields and sows his seed in spring by the same hands that bind the golden sheaves of autumn, God might have sent those angels to sow the Gospel, who shall descend at the judgment to reap the harvest. But though these blessed and benevolent spirits, who are sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation, take a lively interest in the work; though watching from on high the progress of a Redeemer’s cause, they rejoice in each new jewel that adds lustre to His crown, and in every new province that is won for His kingdom; and though there be more joy even in heaven than on earth when man is saved, a higher joy among these angels over one sinner that repenteth than over ninety and nine just persons, yet theirs is little more than the pleasure of spectators. To man, however, in salvation, it is given to share, not a spectator’s but a Saviour’s joy; with his lips at least he tastes the joys of that cup for which Jesus endured the Cross and despised the shame. If theft parent is happy who has snatched a beloved child from the flood or fire, and the child, saved, and thus twice given hind, becomes doubly dear, what happiness in purity or permanence to be compared with his, who is a; labourer with God in saving souls?

2. The honour conferred on man. Did Moses occupy a noble position when, taking advantage of some rock, he stood aloft amid the dying Israelites, and there, the central figure of the camp, on whom all eyes were turned, raised high that serpent, at which to look was life? Nobler his attitude, much holier his office, who with his foot on a dying world, lifts up the Cross--exalts Jesus Christ and Him crucified--that, whosoever looketh and believeth on Him might not perish, but have everlasting life. What dignity does this world offer, what glittering stars, what jewelled honours flash on her swelling breast, to be for one moment compared with those which they win on earth, and wear in heaven, who have turned souls from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to the living, loving God? Each converted soul a gem in their crown, they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars, forever and ever. How has the hope of this touched, as with burning fire, the preacher’s lips, sustained his sinking heart, and held up the weary hands of prayer! It has proved an ample recompense for the scanty rewards which God’s servants have received at the hands of men, for the penury which has embittered their life, and the hardships which have pressed on their lot. You are “a son of man”; and as you bear the prophet’s title, whatever otherwise you may be, let me call you to the prophet’s office. The Master hath need, much need, daily need of you. Take a living, lively, loving interest in souls. Don’t leave them to perish. You are your brother’s keeper. Permanently and formally to instruct may be the duty of others, but to enlist is yours. “This honour have all His saints.”

3. The wisdom of God. However highly gifted he may otherwise be, it is a valid objection to a preacher, that he does not feel what he says; that spoils more than his oratory. Once on a time an obscure man rose up to address the French Convention. At the close of his oration, Mirabeau, the giant genius of the Revolution, turned round to his neighbour, and eagerly asked, Who is that? The other, who had been in no way interested by the address, wondered at Mirabeau’s curiosity. Whereupon the latter said, That man will yet act a great part; and added, on being asked for an explanation, He speaks as one who believes every word he says. Much of pulpit power under God defends on that; admits of that explanation, or of one allied to it. They make others feel who feel themselves. How can he plead for souls who neither knows nor feels the value of his own? How can he recommend a Saviour to others who himself despises and rejects Him? It is true that a man may impart light to others who does not himself see the light. It is true that, like a concave speculum cut from a block of ice, which, by its power of concentrating the rays of the sun, kindles touch wood or explodes gunpowder, a preacher may set others on fire, when his own heart is cold as frost. It is true that he may stand like a lifeless fingerpost, pointing the way on a road where he neither leads nor follows. It is true that God may thus in His sovereign mercy bless others by one who is himself unblessed. Yet commonly it happens that it is what comes from the heart of preachers that penetrates and affects the heart of hearers. Like a ball red hot from the cannon’s mouth, he must burn himself who would set others on fire. We have read the story of a traveller who stood one day beside the cages of some birds, that tuned their plumage on the wires, struggling to be free. A wayworn and sun-browned man, like one returned from foreign lands, he looked wistfully and sadly on these captives, till tears started in his eye. Turning round on their owner, he asked the price of one, paid it in strange gold, and opening the cage set the prisoner free; thus he did with another and another, till every bird had flown away singing to the sides--soaring on the wings of liberty. The crowd stared and stood amazed. They thought him mad, till to the question of their curiosity he replied, I was once a captive; I know the sweets of liberty. And so they who have experience of guilt, who have felt the serpent’s bite, the poison burning in their veins, who on the one hand have felt the sting of conscience, and on the other the peace of faith, the joys of hope, the love, the light, the liberty, the life that are found in Jesus, they, not excepting heaven’s highest angels, are the fittest to preach a Saviour; to plead with man for God, and with God for man. During a heavy storm off the coast of Spain a dismasted merchantman was observed by a British frigate drifting before the gale. Every eye and glass were on her; and a canvas shelter on a deck almost level with the sea suggested the idea that even yet there might be life on board. With all their faults, no men are more alive to humanity than our rough and hardy mariners; so the order instantly sounds to put the ship about; and presently a boat is lowered, and starts with instructions to bear down upon the wreck. Away after that drifting hulk go these gallant men over the mountain swell and roaring sea. They reach it; they shout; and now a strange object rolls from that canvas screen against the lee shroud of a broken mast. It is hauled into the boat. It proves to be the trunk of a man, bent head and knees together, so dried up and shrivelled as to be hardly felt within the ample clothes--so light that a mere boy lifted it on board. It is conveyed to the ship and laid on the deck. In horror and pity the crew gather around it. These feelings suddenly change into astonishment. The miserable object shows signs of life. The seamen draw nearer; it moves; and then mutters--in a deep sepulchral voice mutters--There is another man. Rescued himself, the first use the saved one made of Speech was to try to save another. Oh! learn that blessed lesson. Be daily practising it. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

They defiled it.--

The defiler

When with slow and lingering steps Adam and Eve came forth weeping from Paradise, and the gate was locked behind them, that was the bitterest home leaving the world has ever seen. Adam belay; the federal head of his family, they come not alone. A longer sad sadder procession follows them than went weeping on the road to Babylon. They are attended by a world in tears. Death has passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.

I. Let us look at man sinning. “Ye have defiled the land.” Sin is presented here as a defilement. Pluck off that painted mask, and turn upon her face the lamp of God’s Word. We start--it reveals a death’s head. I stay not to quote texts descriptive of sin. It is a debt, a burden, a thief, a sickness, a leprosy, a plague, a poison, a serpent, a sting; everything that man hates it is; a load of curses and calamities beneath whose crushing, most intolerable pressure the whole creation groaneth. But leaving what is general let us fix our attention on that view of sin which the text presents. Here it is set forth as a defilement; and what else in the eye of God can deform, and does defile? Yet how strange it is, that some deformity of body shall prove the subject of more parental regrets and personal mortification than this most foul deformity of soul! Your manners may have acquired a courtly polish, your dress may, rival the winter’s snow, unaccustomed to menial offices, and sparkling with Indian gems, your hands may bear no stain, yet they arm not clean; nay, beneath that graceful exterior may lie concealed more foul pollution than is covered by a beggar’s rags. This son of toil, from whose very touch your delicacy shrinks, and who, till Sabbath stops the wheels of business, and with her kind hand wipes the sweat of labour from his brow, never knows the comfort of cleanly attire, may have a heart within, which, compared with yours, is purity itself. Beneath this soiled raiment he wears, all unseen by the world’s dull eye, the “raiment of needlework,” and the “clean linen” of a Redeemer’s righteousness.

II. The nature of this defilement.

1. It is internal. Like snowdrift, when it has levelled the churchyard mounds, and, glistening in the winter sun, lies so pure, and white, and fair, and beautiful, above the dead that fester and rot below, a plausible profession may wear the look of innocence, and conceal from human eyes the foulest heart corruption. The grass grows green on the mountain that hides a volcano in its bowels. Behind the rosy cheek and lustrous eye of beauty, how often does there lurk the deadliest of all diseases! Internal, but all the more dangerous that they are internal, such maladies are reluctantly believed in by their victims. They are the last to be suspected and the hardest to cure. To other than the physician’s skill or a mother’s anxious look, this youthful and graceful form never wears bloom of higher health, nor moves in more fascinating charms, nor wins more admiring eyes, than when fell consumption, like a miner working on in darkness, has penetrated the vital organs, and is quietly sapping the foundations of life. Like these maladies, sin has its seat within. It is a disease of the heart. It is the worst and deadliest of all heart complaints. Needing not food, but medicine, a new nature, a new heart, a new life, this is the prayer that best suits thy lips and meets thy case--Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

2. This defilement is universal. Our world is inhabited by various races; different specimens, not different species of mankind. The Mongolian, the Negro, the race early cradled among Caucasian mountains, and the Red Indians of the New World; these all differ from each other in the colour of the skin, in the contour of the skull, in the cast and character of their features. But although the hues of the skin differ, and the form of the skull and the features of the face are cast in different moulds, the features, colour, and character of the heart are the same in all men. Be he pale-faced or red, tawny or black, Jew, Greek, Scythian, bond or free, whether he be the lettered and civilised inhabitant of Europe, or roam a painted savage in American woods, or pant beneath the burning line, or wrapt in furs shiver amid Arctic snows, as in all classes of society, so in all these races of men, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked”; “the carnal mind is enmity against God.” The pendulum, farther removed from the centre, vibrates more slowly at the equator than at the poles; the farther north we push our way over thick-ribbed ice, the faster the clock goes; but parallels of latitude have no modifying influence on the motions of the heart. It beats the same in all men; nor, till repaired by grace, does it in any man beat true to God. How can it be otherwise? The tree is diseased, not at the top, but at the root; and therefore no one branch of the human family can possibly escape being affected by sin. Man is the child of unholy parents, and how can a clean thing come out of an unclean?

3. This evil is incurable. Hear the word of the Lord, Though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before Me, saith the Lord. Again, Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil. Again, Why should ye be stricken any more, ye will revolt more and more? Of these solemn and humbling truths it were difficult to find a more remarkable illustration than that before us. What moral effect had God’s judgments on His ancient people? Were they cured by their afflictions, by trials that extended over long years of suffering? Did these arrest the malady? Had they even the salutary effect of preventing their sinking deeper into sin? By no means. As always happens in incurable diseases, the patient grew worse instead of better. “Seducers wax worse and worse.” As always happens when life is gone, the dead became more and more offensive. The brighter the sun shines, the more the skies rain, the thicker the dews of night, and the hotter the day, the faster the fallen tree rots; because those agents in nature which promote vegetation and develop the forms and beauty of life, the sounding shower, the silent dews, the summer heat, have no other effect on death than to hasten its putridity and decay. And even so--impressive lesson of the impotency of all means that are unaccompanied by the Divine blessing--was it with God’s ancient people. Trust not., therefore, in any unsanctified afflictions. These cannot permanently and really change the condition of your heart. I have seen the characters of the writing remain on paper which the flames had turned into a film of buoyant coal; I have seen the thread that had been passed through the fire, retain, in its cold grey ashes, the twist which it had got in spinning; I have found every shivered splinter of the flint as hard as the unbroken stone: and let trials come, in providence, sharp as the fire and ponderous as the crushing hammer, unless a gracious God send along with these something else, bruised, broken, bleeding, as your heart may be, its nature remains the same. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

Man sinning

Range the wide fields of nature, travel from the equator to the poles, rise from the worm that wriggles out of its hole to the eagle as she springs from the rock to cleave the clouds, and where shall you find anything that corresponds either to our scenes of suicidal dissipation or the blood-stained fields of war? Suppose that, on his return from Africa, some Park, or Bruce, or Campbell were to tell how he had seen the lions of the desert leave their natural prey, and, meeting face to face in marshalled bands, amid roars that drowned the thunder, engage in deadly battle. Would he find one man so credulous as to believe him? The world would laugh that traveller and his tale to scorn. But should anything so strange and monstrous occur, or, while the air shook with their bellowings, and the ground trembled beneath their hoofs, should we see the cattle rush from their distant pastures, to form two vast, black, solid, opposing columns, and, with heads levelled to the charge, should these herds dash forward to bury their horns in each other’s bodies, we would proclaim a prodigy, asking what madness had seized creation. But is not sin the parent of more awful prodigies? Fiercer than the cannon’s flash, flames of wrath shoot from brothers’ eyes. They draw; they brandish their swords, they sheathe them in each other’s bowels; every stroke makes a widow, every ringing volley scatters a hundred orphans on a homeless world. Covering her eyes, humanity flies shrieking from the scene, and leaves it to rage, revenge, and agony. Sooner would I be an atheist and believe that there was no God at all, than that man appears in this scene as he came from the hand of a benignant Divinity. Man must have fallen.

I. Apart from derived sinfulness we have personal sins to answer for. Come, let us reason together. Do you mean, on the one hand, to affirm that you have never been guilty of doing what you should not have done? or, on the other, that you were never guilty of not doing what you should have done? Could you be carried back to life’s starting post, leant you again an infant against the cradle, stood you again a child at your mother’s knee, sate you again a boy at the old school desk, with companions that are now changed, or scattered, or dead and gone, were you again a youth to begin the battle of life anew, would you run the self-same course; would you live over the self-same life? What! is there no speech that you would unsay? no act that you would undo? no Sabbath that you would spend better? are there none alive, or mouldering in the grave, none now blest in heaven, or with the damned in hell, to whom you would bear yourself otherwise than you have done? Have none gone to their account whose memory stings you, and whose possible fate, whose everlasting state fills you with the most painful anxiety? Did you never share in sins that may have proved their ruin, nor fail in faithfulness that might have saved their souls?

II. The guilt of these actual sins is our own. There are strong pleas which the heathen may advance in extenuation of their guilt; there are excuses which they, Stepping forward with some confidence to the judgment, may urge upon a just and merciful as well as holy God. What value may be given to these pleas, what weight they may carry at a tribunal where much shall be exacted of those who have received much, and little asked where little has been given, it is not for us to say, or even attempt to determine. But this we know, that we have no such excuse to plead, nor any such plea to urge, in extenuation of our offences, of one of a thousand of our offences. Supposing, however, that the plea were accepted, more than enough remains to condemn us, and leave guilt no refuge out of Christ. We talk of a natural bias to sin; but who has not committed sins that he could have avoided, sins which he could have abstained from, and did abstain from, when it served some present purpose to do so? Some years ago, on a great public occasion, a distinguished statesman rose to address his countrymen, and, in reply to certain calumnious and dishonourable charges, held up his hands in the vast assembly, exclaiming, These hands are clean. Now, if you or I or any of our fallen race did entertain a hope that we could act over this scene before a God in judgment, then I could comprehend the calm, the unimpassioned indifference with which men sit in church on successive Sabbaths, idly gazing on the Cross of Calvary, and listening with drowsy ears to the overtures of mercy. But are these, I ask, matters with which you have nothing to do? Beware! Play with no fire; least of all, with fire unquenchable. Play with no edged sword; least of all, with that which Divine justice sheathed in a Saviour’s bosom. Your everlasting destiny may turn upon this hour. Do you feel under condemnation? Are you really anxious to be saved? Be not turned from such a blessed purpose by the laughter of fools and the taunts of the ungodly. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)


Verse 18-19

Ezekiel 36:18-19

Wherefore I poured My fury upon them.

Man suffering

I. God is slow to punish. He does punish; He shall punish; with reverent be it spoken, He must punish. Yet no hand of clock goes so slowly as His hand of vengeance. He does pour out His fury; but His indignation is the volcano that groans loud and long before it discharges the elements of destruction, and pours its fiery lavas on the vineyards at its feet. Where, when God’s anger has burned hottest, was it ever known that judgment trod on the heels of sin? A period always intervenes; room is given for remonstrance on His part, and for repentance upon ours. The stroke of judgment is like the lightning flash, irresistible, fatal; it kills,--kills in the twinkling of an eye. But the clouds from which it leaps are slow to gather; they thicken by degrees: and he must be intensely engaged with the pleasures, or engrossed in the business of the world, whom the flash and peal surprise. The mustering clouds, the deepening gloom, the still and sultry air, the awful silence, the big pattering raindrops, these reveal his danger to the traveller; and warn him away from river, road, or hill to the nearest shelter. And, heeded or unheeded, many are the warnings you get from God. As these prove, He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked; He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Let us do the same justice to our Father in heaven that we would render to an earthly parent. Would it be doing a father justice to look at him only when the rod is raised in his hand, and, though the trembling lip and weeping eyes and choked utterance of his culprit boy, and a fond mother’s intercession, all plead with him to spare, he refuses, firmly refuses? In this, how stern he looks! But before you can know that father, or judge his heart aright, you should know how often ere this the offence had been forgiven; you should have heard with what tender affection he had warned that child; above all, you should have stood at his closet door, and listened when he pleaded with God on behalf of an erring son. Justice to him also requires that you should have seen with what slow and lingering steps he went for the rod, the trembling of his trend, and how, with tears streaming from his eyes, he raised them to heaven and sought strength to inflict a punishment which, could it serve the purpose, he would a hundred times rather bear than inflict.

II. How He punished His ancient people. These were the children of Abraham, beloved for the father’s sake, the honoured custodiers of Divine truth; God’s chosen people, through whose line and lineage His Son was to appear. How solemn, then, and how appropriate, the question, If they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry? Look at Judah sitting amid the ruins of Jerusalem, her temple without a worshipper, her silent streets choked with the dead: look at that bound, weeping, bleeding remnant of a nation toiling on its way to Babylon: look at these peeled and riven boughs; may I not warn you with the Apostle, If God spaced not the natural branches, take heed lest He also spare not thee. If we speak thus, it is for your good. We arm ourselves with these thunders only, in the words of Paul, “to persuade you by the terrors of the Lord.” We have no faith in terror dissociated from tenderness. And as we trust more to drawing than to driving men to Jesus, we entreat you to observe that He who is the good is also a most tender Shepherd. Among the hills of our native land I have met a shepherd far from the flock and folds, driving home a lost sheep, one which had “gone astray,” a creature panting for breath, amazed, alarmed, foot-sore; and when the rocks around rang loud to the baying of the dogs, I have seen them--whenever it offered to turn from the path, with open mouth dash fiercely at its sides, and so hound it home. How differently Jesus brings back His lost ones! The lost sheep sought and found, He lifts it up tenderly, lays it on His shoulder, and, retracing His steps, returns homeward with joy, and invites His neighbours to rejoice with Him. Catching grace from His lips, and kindness from His looks, I desire to address you as becomes the servant of such a gentle, lowly, loving Master. Yet, shall I conceal God’s verity, and ruin men’s souls to spare their feelings? If any are living without God and Christ and hope and prayer, I implore them to look here: turn to this dreadful pit. With what fire it burns! How it resounds with moaning wail and woeful groans 1 Now, while we stand together on its margin, or rather draw back with horror, ponder, I pray you, the solemn question, Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? It is alleged by travellers that the ostrich, when hard pressed by the hunters, will thrust its head into a bush, and, without further attempt either at flight or resistance, quietly submit to the stroke of death. Men say that, having thus succeeded in shutting the pursuers out of its own sight, the bird is stupid enough to fancy that it has shut itself out of theirs, and that the danger which it has ceased to see has ceased to exist. We doubt that. This poor bird, which has thrust its head into the bush, and stands quietly to receive the shot, has been hunted to death. For hours the cry of staunch pursuers has rung in its startled ear; for hours their feet have been on its weary track; it has exhausted strength, and breath, and craft, and cunning, to escape; and even yet, give it time to breathe, grant it but another chance, and it is away with the wind; with wings outspread and rapid feet it spurns the burning sand. It is because escape is hopeless and death is certain that it has buried its head in that bush, and closed its eyes to a fate which it cannot avert. To man belongs the folly of closing his eyes to a fate which he can avert. He thrusts his head into the bush while escape is possible; and, because he can put death and judgment and eternity out of mind, lives as if time had no bed of death, and eternity no bar of judgment. Be wise. Be men. Look your danger in the face. Flee to Jesus now. Escape from the wrath to come. To come? In a sense wrath has already come. The fire has caught, it has seized your garments; delay, and you are wrapt in flames. Oh! haste away, and throw yourselves into the fountain which has power to quench these fires, and cleanse you from all your sins. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

God’s punitive justice

Does man ask, Why am I born with a bias to sin? why has another’s hand been permitted to sow germs of evil in me? why should I, who was no party to the first covenant, be buried in its ruins? To these questions this is my reply: I shrink from sitting in judgment upon my judge. Clouds and darkness are round about Jehovah now; but I feel confident that, when the veil of this present economy shall be rent, and expiring Time, echoing the cry of the cross, exclaims, It is finished, it shall be seen that righteousness and judgment are the pillars of Jehovah’s throne, that there is no unrighteousness with God. But although the permission of sin is a mystery, the fact of its punishment is no mystery at all; and, while every answer to the question, How did God allow sin? leaves us unsatisfied, to my mind nothing is plainer than this, that, whatever was His reason for permitting it to exist, He could not permit it to exist unpunished.

I. The truth of God requires the punishment of sin. Some have fancied that they honour God most when, sinking all other attributes in mercy--indiscriminating mercy--they represent Him as embracing the whole world in His arms, and receiving to His bosom with equal affection the sinners that hate and the saints that love Him. They cannot claim originality for this idea. Its authorship belongs to the “father of lies.” Satan said so before them. It is the identical doctrine that damned this world. The serpent said to the woman, Ye shall not surely die. Are your hopes of salvation resting on such a baseless fancy? If so, you cannot have considered in what aspect this theory presents that God for whose honour you profess such tender regard. We almost shrink from explaining it. You save the creature, but save him at a price more costly than was paid for sinners upon the Cross of Calvary. Your scheme exalts man; but far more than man is exalted, God is degraded. By it no man is lost; but there is a greater Joss. The truth of God is lost; and in that loss His crown is spoiled of its topmost jewel, His kingdom totters, and the throne of the universe is shaken to its deepest foundations. It is as manifest as daylight that God’s truth and your scheme cannot stand together. “Liar” stands against either God or you; and, in the words of the Apostle, you make God a liar. Nor is that all; my faith has lost the very rock on which it stood, as I flattered myself, steadfast and unmovable. For however awful the threatenings in His word may be, if God is not true to them, what security have I that He will prove true to its gracious promises?

II. The love of God requires that sin should be punished. Let me at once prove and illustrate the point by a piece of plain analogy. This city, its neighbourhood, nay, the whole land, is shaken by the news of some most cruel, bloody, monstrous crime. Fear seizes the public mind; pale horror sits on all men’s faces; doors are double barred; and justice lets loose the hounds of law on the track of the criminal. At length, to the relief and satisfaction of all honest citizens, he is caught. He is tried, condemned, laid in irons, and waits but the sentence to be signed. To save or slay, to hang or pardon, is now the question with him whose prerogative it is to do either. And the law is left to take its course. Now, by what motive is the sovereign impelled to shut up his bowels of mercy, and sign the warrant for execution? Is it want of pity? No; the fatal pen is taken with reluctance; it trembles in his hand; and tears of compassion for this guilty wretch drop upon the page. It is not so much abhorrence of the guilty, as love of the innocent, and regard for their lives, peace, purity, and honour, that dooms the man to death. If he were pardoned, and his crime allowed to go unpunished, neither man’s life nor woman’s virtue were safe. Unless this felon dies, the peace of a thousand happy families lies open to foul attack. Love for those who have the highest claim on a sovereign’s protection requires that justice be satisfied, and the guilty die. There are scenes of domestic suffering which present another, no less convincing, and more touching analogy. It has happened that, from love and regard to the interests of his other children, to save them from a brother’s contamination, a kind parent has felt constrained to pronounce sentence on his son, and banish him from his house. How sad to think that he may be lost! The dread of that goes like a knife to the heart; yet, bitter truth! painful conclusion! it is better that one child be lost than a whole family be lost. These lambs claim protection from the wolf; he must be driven forth from the fold. Love herself, while she weeps, demands this sacrifice; and, just because it is most lacerating, most excruciating, to a parent’s heart, it is in such a case the highest and holiest exercise of parental love to bar the door against a child. There have been parents so weak and foolish as to peril the morals, the fortunes, the souls of all their other children, rather than punish one; and in consequence of this I have seen sin, like a plague, infect every member of the family, and vice ferment and spread till it had leavened the whole lump. Divine love, however, is no blind Divinity: and God, being as wise as He is tender, sinners may rest assured, that out of mere pity to them He will neither sacrifice the interest nor peril the happiness of His people. Bleeding, dying, redeeming Love shall bolt the gates of heaven with her own hand, and from its happy, holy precincts exclude all that could hurt or defile.

III. Unless sin is to be awfully punished, the language of scripture appears extravagant. The sufferings and misery which await the impenitent and unbelieving have been painted by God in most appalling colours. They are such that, for our salvation, His Son descended from the heavens and expired upon a Cross. They are such that, when Paul thought of the lost, he wept like a woman. They are such that, though a dauntless man, who shook his chain in the face of kings, whose spirit no sufferings could subdue, and whose heart no dangers could appall, who stood as unmoved amid a thousand perils as ever sea rock amid the roaring billows, he could not contemplate the fate of the wicked without the deepest emotion. What horror did David feel at the sight and fate of sinners! With his face turned up to heaven, you see a blind man approach the edge of an awful precipice; every step brings him nearer, nearer still, to the brink, Now he reaches it; he stands on the grassy edge. Oh, for an arm to reach him, a voice to warn him, a blow to send him staggering back upon the ground. He has lifted his foot; it is projected beyond the brink; another moment, a breath of wind, the least change of balance, and he is whirling twenty fathoms down. You stop your ears; shut your eyes; turn away your head; horror takes hold of you. Such were David’s feelings when he contemplated the fate of the wicked. The wrath of God is the key to the Psalmist’s sorrow, to an Apostle’s tears, to the bloody mysteries of the Cross. That was the necessity which drew the Saviour down. God certainly is not willing that you should perish; and by these terrors He would persuade you to accept salvation. Meditate on these words: pray over them--Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God. Still, it is not terror which is the power, the mighty power of God. The Gospel, like most medicines for the body, is of a compound nature; but whatever else enters into its composition, its curative property is love. God, indeed, tells us of hell, but it is to persuade us to fly to heaven; and, as a skilful painter fills the background of his picture with his darker colours, God introduces the smoke of torment and the black thunder clouds of Sinai to give brighter prominence to the Cross, to Jesus, and His love to the chief of sinners. His voice of terror is like the scream of the mother bird when the hawk is in the sky. She alarms her brood that they may run and hide beneath her feathers; and as I believe that God had left that mother dumb unless He had given her wings to cover them, I am sure that He, who is very “pitiful,” and has no pleasure in the meanest creature’s pain, had never turned our eyes on the horrible gulf unless for the voice that cries, Deliver him from going down to the pit, for I have found a ransom. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)


Verse 20

Ezekiel 36:20

They profaned My holy name.

How God’s name is profaned

Men sanctify Jehovah when they recognise that which He is, or ascribe to Him His true nature. On the other hand, when the iniquities of His people constrain Him to act in such a way as to disguise any of His great attributes, such as His power, in the eyes of the nations, so that they misinterpret His being, His holy name is “profaned,” as, on the contrary, He is “sanctified” in the eyes of the nations by the restoration of His people, and their defence when restored and righteous. (A. B. Davidson, D. D.)

The nations’ conceptions of Jehovah regulated by His people’s conduct

These disasters which the people of Jehovah brought on themselves led to the desecration of His name among the heathen. The nations judged Him weak, and unable to protect His people. In the eyes of the nations, the interests of the god and his people were one; if a people were subdued by another, it was because its god was too feeble to protect it. Naturally, the idea of a god exercising a moral rule over his own people would not yet occur to them. That Jehovah so rules is the lesson which the history of Israel, its dispersion and restoration, is intended to read to the nations of the earth. (A. B. Davidson, D. D.)


Verses 21-24

Ezekiel 36:21-24

I had pity for Mine holy name.

God’s motive in salvation

There is a land lying beneath a burning sky where the fields are seldom screened by a cloud, and almost never refreshed by a shower; and yet Egypt--for it is of it I speak--is as remarkable for the fertile character of its soil as for the hoar antiquity of its history. At least, it was so in days of old, when hungry nations were fed by its harvests, and its fields were the granaries of ancient Rome. Powers so prolific Egypt owed to the Nile; a river whose associations carry us upward to the beginning of all human history; on whose banks, in the tombs of forgotten kings, stand the proudest monuments of human vanity; the very name of which recalls some of the grandest scenes that have been acted on the stage of time. From the earliest ages the source of the Nile was regarded with intensest interest. Whence it sprung and how its annual flood was swelled were the subjects of eager but ungratified curiosity. One traveller after another had attempted to reach its cradle, and had failed or fallen in the enterprise; and when--travelling along its banks, from the shore where, by many months, it disgorged its waters into the sea, till its ample volume had shrunk into the narrowness of a mountain stream--our hardy countryman, boldly facing many dangers and difficulties, at length stood beside the long-sought fountain, this achievement won him an immortal reputation. How he enjoyed his triumph, as he sat down by the cradle of a river which had fed the millions of successive generations, and in days of famine long gone by had saved the race which gave a Redeemer to the world! Now, what this river, which turns barren sand into the richest soil, is to Egypt, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to the world. And if it be interesting to trace the Nile to its mountain source, how much more interesting to explore the stream of eternal life, and trace it upward till we have reached its fountain. Bruce discovered, or thought he had discovered, the springs of Egypt’s river, among cloud-capped mountains, at an elevation of many thousand feet above the plains they watered. All great rivers, Unlike some great men who have been born in lowly circumstances, boast a lofty descent. It is after the traveller has left smiling valleys far beneath him, and toiling along rugged glens, and pressing through deep mountain gorges, at length reaches the chili shores of an icy sea, that he stands at the source of the Alpine river, which, cold as the snows that feed it, and a full-grown stream at its birth, rushes out from the caverns of the hollowed glacier. Yet such a river in the loftiness of its birth place is but an humble image of salvation. The stream of mercy flows from the throne of the Eternal; and here we seem to stand by its majestic and mysterious fountain; in contemplating the words of the text, we look upon its spring--“I do this for Mine holy name’s sake.”

I. Attend to the expression, “My name’s sake.” The name of God, as employed by the sacred writers, has many and most important meanings. In the 20th Psalm, for instance, it embraces all the attributes of the Godhead. “The name of the God of Jacob defend thee”; that is, when paraphrased, may His arms be around; may His wisdom guide thee; may His power support thee; the bounty of God supply thy wants; the mercy of God forgive thy sins; may the shield of heaven cover, and its precious blessings crown thy head. Again, in Micah 4:5, where it is said, “We will walk in the name of the Lord,” the expression assumes a new meaning, and indicates the laws, statutes, and commandments of God. Again in the blessed promise, “In all places where I record My name I will come unto thee and I will bless thee,” the expression bears yet another meaning: it stands for religious ordinances and worship, and rears, by the hand of faith, a holy temple out of the rudest edifice, changing into heaven-consecrated churches those rocky fastnesses and lonely moors where our fathers found their God in the dark days of old. Contenting ourselves with these illustrations of the various meanings of this expression in Scripture, I now remark that here the “name” of God comprehends everything that either directly or remotely affects the Divine honour and glory; whatever touches, to use the words of our Catechism, His titles, attributes, ordinances, word or works; or anything whereby God maketh Himself known.

II. We are to understand that the motive which moved God to save man was regard to his own glory. This doctrine, that God saves men for His own glory, is a grand, a very precious truth; yet it may be stated in a way which seems as offensive as it is really unscriptural. Have you never observed how concave mirrors magnify the features nearest to them into undue and monstrous proportions, and how common mirrors, that are ill-cast and of uneven surface, turn the most beautiful face into deformity? Well, there are some good men whose minds appear to be of such a cast and character. Neither seeing nor exhibiting the truths of the Bible in their proper harmony and proportions, they represent our Lord in this matter of salvation as affected by no motive whatever but a regard to His Father’s glory, and even God Himself as moved only by a regard to this end. Excluding from their view the pity and love of God, or reducing these into shrunken and small dimensions, they magnify one doctrine at the expense of another; and thereby weaken, if not annihilate, some of the most sacred and tender ties which bind the believer to His God. I know that we should approach so high a theme with the deepest reverence. It becomes us to speak on this subject, and on anything else that touches the secret movements of the Divine mind, with profound humility. Yet, reasoning from the form of the shadow to the nature of the object which projects it, from the image to that of which it is the reflection, from man to God, I venture to say, that it is with Him as with us, when we are moved to a single action by the influence of various motives. To borrow an example from the place I fill. The minister ascends the pulpit to preach; and, in preaching, if worthy of his office, he is affected by a variety of motives. Love to God, love to Jesus, love to sinners, love to saints, regard to God’s glory, and also to man’s good--these, like the air, the water, the light, the heat, the electricity, the gravity, which act together in the process of vegetation, may all combine to form and inspire one sermon. They are present, not as conflicting but as concurring motives in the preacher’s breast. This difference, however, there is between us and a perfect God, that though--like the Rhone, which is formed of two rivers, the one turbid, the other pure as the blue sky above it--our motives are mixtures of good and evil, all the emotions of the Divine mind, and the influences that move God to action, are of the purest nature. Never, therefore, let us exalt this doctrine of the Divine glory at the expense of Divine love to sinners. His love to sinners is His mightiest, His heart-softening, as an old writer called it, His heart-breaking argument; and it were doing Him, His blessed Gospel and our own souls the greatest injustice if we should overlook the love that gives Divinity its name, which sent, in His Son, a Saviour from the Father’s bosom, and was eulogised by an apostle as possessed of a height and depth and breadth and length which passeth knowledge.

III. Observe that in saving man for His “holy name’s sake,” or for His own honour and glory, God exhibits the mercy, holiness, love, and other attributes of the Godhead. The truth is, that God saves man for much the same reasons as at first He created him. What moved God, then, to make man, or, when through the regions of empty space there was neither world rolling, nor sun shining, nor angel singing--when there was neither life nor death, nor birth nor burial, nor sight nor sound, no wave of ocean breaking, no wing of seraph moving--when God dwelt alone in silent, solemn, awful, but complacent solitude, what moved Him to make creatures at all, and with these bright worlds, suns, and systems, to garnish the vacant heavens, and people with its varied inhabitants a lonely universe? These are the deep things of God, and it becomes us with our finite and fallible minds to approach them modestly. Still, by turning the eye inward on ourselves, we may form some conception of the mind of God; even as a captive child, born and retained in a dark dungeon, may learn something of the sun from the beam that, streaming through a chink of the riven wall, travels the grey lonely floor; or even as, though I had never walked its pebbly shore, nor heard the voice of its thundering breakers, nor played in summer day with its swelling waves, I could form some feeble conception of the ocean from a lake, from a pool, or from this sparkling dew drop, which, born of the womb of night, and cradled in the bosom of a flower, lies waiting, like a soul under the Sun of Righteousness, to be exhaled to heaven. Look at man, then. Is he a poet or a philosopher, a man of mechanical genius or artistic skill, a statesman or a philanthropist, or, better than all, one in whose bosom glow the fires of piety? It matters not. We perceive that his happiness does not lie in indolence, but in the gratification of his tastes, the indulgence of his feelings, and the exercise of his faculties, whatever they be. Assume the same to be true of God, and the conception, while it exalts, endears our heavenly Father to us. Does it not present Him in this most winning and attractive aspect, that the very happiness of Godhead lies in the forthputting, along with other attributes, of His goodness, love, and mercy? The minnow plays in the shallow pool, and leviathan cleaves the depths of ocean; winged insects sport in the sunbeam, and winged angels sing before the throne; but whether we fix our attention on His least or greatest works, the whole fabric of creation seems to prove that Jehovah delights in the evolution of His powers, in the display of wisdom and love and goodness; and, just as it is to the delight which God enjoys in the exercise of these that we owe creation, with all its bounties, so is it to his delight in the exercise of pity, love, and mercy that we owe salvation, with all its blessings. Let us be both humble and thankful. Salvation is finished. Salvation is offered, freely offered. Shall it be rejected? Oh, take the good, and give God the glory. Say, He is the God of Salvation; and in His name we will set up our banners. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

Man an object of Divine mercy

I. The doctrine that God is not moved to save man by any merit or worth in him is a truth of the highest importance to sinners. Like the rough and stern Baptist, it prepares the way for Christ. We must be emptied of self before we can be filled with grace; we must be stripped of our rags before we can be clothed with righteousness; we must be unclothed, that we may be clothed upon; wounded, that we may be healed; killed, that we may be made alive; buried in disgrace, that we may rise in holy glory.

1. To tell man that he has no merit is no doubt a humbling statement. It lays the loftiest, self-sufficient sinner in the dust. Yes, this doctrine, like death, is the true leveller. It puts all men on the same platform before a holy God. It sets crowned kings as low as beggars, honest men with rogues and thieves, and the strictest virtue, virtue which the breath of suspicion never sullied, alongside of base and brazen-faced iniquity. God pronounces our righteousness--observe, not our wickednesses, but our devotions, our charities, our costliest sacrifices, our most applauded services--to be filthy rags. Trust not therefore to them. What man in his senses would think of going to court in rags, in rags to wait upon a king? Nor think that the righteousness of the Cross was wrought to patch up these; to supplement, as some say, what is either defective or altogether awanting in our personal merits. Nor fancy, like some who would embrace a Saviour and yet keep their sins, that you may wear these rags beneath His righteousness. God says of every sinner whom Faith has conducted to Jesus, Take away the filthy garments from him, “Behold I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.”

2. If this doctrine is humbling to human pride, it is full of encouragement to the lowly penitent. It lays me low in the dust, but it is to lift me up. It throws me on the ground, that, like Antaeus, the giant of fable, I may rise stronger than I fell.

II. It is as important for the saint as for the sinner to remember that he is not saved through personal merit, or for his own sake. When age has gnarled its bark and stiffened every fibre, if, turning that to the right hand which had grown to the left, or raising a bough to the skies which had drooped to the ground, you bend a branch in a new direction, it long retains a tendency to resume its old position. Even so, when God has laid His gracious hand upon us, and given this earthly soul a heavenward bent, how prone it is to start back again! Of this sad truth, David and Peter are memorable and dreadful examples. And who that has attempted to keep his heart with diligence has not felt, and mourned over the old tendency to be working out a righteousness of his own, to be pleased with himself, and, by taking some satisfaction in his own merits, to undervalue those of Christ? So was it with that godly man who, on one occasion--most rare achievement!--offered up a prayer without one wandering thought; and afterwards described it as the worst which he had ever offered, because, as he said, the devil made him proud of it. So was it also with the minister who, upon being told by one, more ready to praise the preacher than profit by the sermon, that he had delivered an excellent discourse, replied, You need not tell me that; Satan told me so before I left the pulpit. Ah! it were well for the best of us that we could say with Paul, We are not ignorant of his devices. Oh, it is needful for the holiest to remember that man’s best works are bad at the best; and that, to use the words of Paul, it is not by works of righteousness that we have done, but according to His mercy He hath saved us, through the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.

III. This doctrine, while it keeps the saint humble, will help to make him holy. Here no ornament to park or garden, stands a dwarfed, stunted, bark-bound tree. How am I to develop that stem into tall and graceful beauty, to clothe with blossoms these naked branches, and hang them, till they bend, with clustered fruit? You cannot make that tree grow upwards till you break the crust below, pulverise the hard subsoil, and give the roots room and way to strike deeper down; for the deeper the root, and the wider spread the fine filaments of its rootlets, the higher the tree lifts an umbrageous head to heaven, and throws out its hundred arms to catch, in dews, raindrops, and sunbeams, the blessings of the sky. The believer, in respect of character, a tree of righteousness of the Lord’s planting; in respect of strength, a cedar of Lebanon; in respect of fruitfulness, an olive; in respect of position, a palm tree planted in the courts of God’s house; in respect of full supplies of grace, a tree by the rivers of water, which yieldeth its fruit in its season, and whose leaf cloth not wither--offers this analogy between grace and nature, that as the tree grows best skyward that grows most downward, the lower the saint descends in humility the higher he rises in holiness. The soaring corresponds to the sinking. We have wondered at the lowliness of one who stood among his tallest compeers like Saul among the people; wondered to find him simple, gentle, generous, docile, humble as a little child, till we found that it was with great men as with great trees. What giant tree has not giant roots? When the tempest has blown over some monarch of the forest, and he lies in death stretched out at his full length upon the ground, on seeing the mighty roots that fed him, the strong cables that moored him to the soil, we cease to wonder at his noble stem, and the broad, leafy, lofty head he raised to heaven, defiant of storms. Even so, when death has struck down some distinguished saint, whose removal, like that of a great tree, leaves a vast gap below, and whom, brought down now, as it were, to our own level, we can measure better when he has fallen than when he stood, and when the funeral is over and his repositories are opened, and the secrets of his heart are unlocked and brought to light, ah! now, in the profound humility they reveal, in the spectacle of that honoured grey head laid so low in the dust before God, we see the great roots and strength of his lofty piety. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

The conversion of Israel

1. The first point to be noticed, and the one most characteristic of Ezekiel, is the Divine motive for the redemption of Israel--Jehovah’s regard for His own name. The name of God is that by which He is known amongst men. It is more than His honour or reputation, although that is included in it, according to Hebrew idiom; it is the expression of His character or His personality. To act for His name’s sake, therefore, is to act so that His true character may be more fully revealed, and so that men’s thoughts of Him may more truly correspond to that which in Himself He is. What is meant to be excluded by the expression not for your sakes All that it necessarily implies is, not for any good that I find in you. It is a protest against the idea of Pharisaic self-righteousness that a man may have a legal claim upon God through his own merits. The truth here taught is, in theological language, the sovereignty of the Divine grace. A profound sense of human sinfulness will always throw the mind back on the idea of God as the one immovable ground of confidence in the ultimate redemption of the individual and the world. When the doctrine is pressed to the conclusion that God saves men in spite of themselves, and merely to display His power over them, it becomes false and pernicious, and, indeed, self-contradictory. But so long as we hold fast to the truth that God is love, and that the glory of God is the manifestation of His love, the doctrine of the Divine sovereignty only expresses the unchangeableness of that love and its final victory over the sin of the world.

2. The intellectual side of the conversion of Israel is the acceptance of that idea of God which to the prophet is summed up in the name of Jehovah. This is expressed in the standing formula which denotes the effect of all God’s dealings with men--“They shall know that I am Jehovah.” The prophet here regards conversion as a process wholly carried through by the operation of Jehovah on the mind of the people; and what we have next to consider is the steps by which this great end is accomplished. They are these two--forgiveness and regeneration.

3. The forgiveness of sins is denoted by the symbol of sprinkling with clean water. But it must not be supposed that this isolated figure is the only form in which the doctrine appears in Ezekiel’s exposition of the process of salvation. On the contrary, forgiveness is the fundamental assumption of the whole argument, and is present in every promise of future blessedness to the people. For the Old Testament idea of forgiveness is extremely simple, resting as it does on the analogy of forgiveness in human life. The spiritual fact which constitutes the essence of forgiveness is the change in Jehovah’s disposition towards His people, which is manifested by the renewal of those indispensable conditions of national well-being which in His anger He had taken away. The restoration of Israel to its own land is thus not simply a token of forgiveness, but the act of forgiveness itself, and the only form in which the fact could be realised in the experience of the nation. In this sense the whole of Ezekiel’s predictions of the Messianic deliverance and the glories that follow it are one continuous promise of forgiveness, setting forth the truth that Jehovah’s love to His people persists in spite of their sin, and works victoriously for their redemption and restoration to the full enjoyment of His favour. In urging individuals to prepare for the coming of the kingdom of God he makes repentance a necessary condition of entering it; but in describing the whole process of salvation as the work of God he makes contrition for sin the result of reflection on the goodness of Jehovah already experienced in the peaceful occupation of the land of Canaan.

4. The idea of regeneration is very prominent in Ezekiel’s teaching.

5. Note the two-fold effect of these operations of Jehovah’s grace in the religious and moral condition of the nation.

6. This outline of the prophet’s conception of salvation illustrates the truth of the remark that Ezekiel is the first dogmatic theologian. Although the final remedy for the sin of the world had not yet been revealed, the scheme of redemption disclosed to Ezekiel agrees with much of the teaching of the New Testament regarding the effects of the work of Christ on the individual. (John Skinner, M. A.)


Verse 23

Ezekiel 36:23

I will sanctify My great name.

God glorified in redemption

Passing over the special application of these words to the Jews, and looking at them in their prophetical connection with the scheme of redemption, I remark--

I. That God might have vindicated His honour and sanctified His name in our destruction. Two methods of glorifying His name are open to God. He is free to choose either; but by the one or the other way He will exact His full tale of glory from every man. In Egypt, for instance, He was glorified in the high-handed destruction of His enemies; and glorified also in the same land by the high-handed salvation of His people. In the one case He proved how strong His arm was to smite, and in the other how strong it was to save. In like manner God sanctified His name on the plains of Sodom, sanctifying it, on the one hand, in the destruction of His enemies, and on the other, in the preservation of Lot. Since there are two ways open to God, by either of which He may sanctify His great name, He might therefore, at the fall, have vindicated His justice by swift and unsparing vengeance, by destroying the whole human family. What unsparing vengeance did He execute on the fallen angels! Of these there was no wreck or remnant saved. Not one escaped. No ark floated on the waters to which, like Noah’s dove, a flying angel, pursued by wrath, might turn his weary wing. Can it be doubted that the measure meted out to fallen angels, God might have meted out to fallen men?--sanctifying His great name in our ruin rather than in our redemption. Now, before I show how He sanctifies Himself in the redemption of His people, let me warn you, that what God might have done with all, He shall do with some; certainly do with all those who despise and reject, or even neglect salvation. This day I set before you life and death. Will you do His will in heaven, or suffer it in hell?

II. God sanctifies His name and glorifies Himself in our redemption. It is easy to destroy, to inflict irreparable injury on character, virtue, life. Falling with murderous strokes on yonder noble tree, the woodman’s axe demolishes in a few hours what it has required the springs and summers, the dews and showers and sunbeams of centuries to raise. It is both more difficult and more noble to repair than to destroy. In this material body man destroys what God only can make; but in this more precious and immortal soul, Satan destroys what God only can save. It needs but a devil to ruin a human spirit; it needs Divinity to redeem it. Excepting, of course, the preacher’s--for with Paul we magnify our office--of all earthly employments it appears to me that the physician’s is the noblest; and that of all arts the healing art is the highest, offering to genius and benevolence their noblest field. In the eye of reason, and of a humanity that weeps over a suffering world, his is surely the nobler vocation, and if not more honoured, the more honourable calling, who sheds blood not to kill, but cure; who wounds, not that the bleeding may die, but live; and whose genius ransacks earth and ocean in search of means to preserve life, to remove deformity, to repair decay, to invigorate failing powers, and restore the rose of health to pallid cheeks. His aim is not to inflict pain, but relieve it; not to destroy a father, but, boldly standing between him and death, to save an anxious wife from widowhood, and these little children from an orphan’s lot. And if, although they be woven around no coronet, those are fairer and fresher laurels which are won by saving than by slaying, if it is a nobler thing to rescue life than destroy it, even when its destruction is an act of justice, then, on the same principle, God most glorified Himself when revealed in the flesh, and, speaking by His Son, He descended on a guilty world; His purpose this, I came not to judge the world, but to save it; and this His character, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.

I. His power is glorified in the work of salvation. The path of redemption is marked, and its pages are crowded with stupendous miracles. At one time God stays the waves of the sea; at another He stops the wheels of the sun; and now, reversing the machinery of heaven to confirm His Word, He makes the shadow travel backwards on the dial of Ahaz. Heaven descends to earth, and its exalted inhabitants, mingling with men, walk the stage of redemption. But to glance at the change wrought by redemption on man himself, what amazing power does it display! What a glorious combination of benevolence and omnipotence! Punishment is confessedly easier than reformation. Nothing is more easy than, by the hand of an executioner, to rid society of a criminal; but to soften his stony heart, to turn his steps from the paths of crime, to wean him from vice, to get him to fall in love with virtue, to make the cunning rogue, the brutal ruffian, an honest, high-minded, kind, and tender man--ah! that is another thing. Hence, among politicians callous of heart, and deaf to the groans of suffering humanity, the preference given to prisons over schools, to punishment over prevention. Well, then, since it is confessedly easier--easier, but not better, nor cheaper--to punish than reform, I say that God’s power is more illustriously displayed in pardoning one guilty, in purifying one polluted man, than if the law had been left to take her sternest course, and bury our entire family in the ruins of the fall. The power of divinity culminates in grace. Oh, that we also may be made its monuments, built up by the hands of an eternal Spirit to the memory and glory of the Cross!

II. His wisdom is glorified in redemption. That work associates such transcendent wisdom with love, power, and mercy that the Saviour of man is called the wisdom of God. The apostle selects the definite article, and pronounces Christ to be “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Nor can the propriety of the language be doubted, if we reflect but for a moment on what a hard task Wisdom was set, what a difficult problem she was called to solve, when man was to be saved. She had to forge a key that could unlock the grave; she had to build a lifeboat that could swim in a sea of fire; he had to construct a ladder long enough to scale the skies; she had to invent a plan whereby justice might be fully satisfied, and yet the guilty saved. The mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh, a “daysman” such as the patriarch desired, with the right hand of divinity to lay on God, and the left hand of humanity to lay on man, and thus the “fellow” and friend of both, to reconcile the estranged; in short, a man to suffer and a God to satisfy, this was a thought which it never entered the noblest minds to conceive. We find nothing corresponding to it, nor guess nor glimmering of it, in the creeds and religions of a heathen world. Every way but the right one was thought of.

III. His holiness is glorified in redemption. What saith the prophet? Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity. Nothing might appear more strongly to express the holiness of God than this language, Thou canst not look on iniquity; and yet His hatred of sin is more fully illustrated, and much more strongly expressed by the very way in which He saves the sinner; more fully expressed than if, relentless, executing vengeance with an eye that knew no pity, and with a hand that would not spare, He had made an utter end of sinners; such an end that, to borrow the language of the prophet, there was none that moved the wing, or opened the mouth, or peeped. What man, being a father, has not felt this on reading the story of the Roman who pronounced sentence of death upon his own son? Had that sternest of patriots condemned common criminals enough to make the scaffolds of justice and the gutters of Rome run red with blood, such wholesale slaughter had been a feeble expression of his abhorrence of crime compared with the death of this solitary youth. When the culprit, his own child, the infant he had carried in his arms, the once sweet and beautiful boy who had wound himself round a father’s heart, rose to receive the immolating sentence at a father’s lips, that man offered the greatest, costliest sacrifice ever made at the shrine of justice, and earned for Roman virtue a proverbial fame. But that is nothing to the spectacle which redemption offers. The Son of God dies beneath His Father’s hand. Innocence bleed for guilt; Divine innocence for human guilt.

IV. His justice is glorified in redemption. The prophet, addressing God, says, Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil; but then, as one perplexed, unable to reconcile the attributes of God’s character with the dealings of His Providence, he asks, Wherefore lookest Thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest Thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he? This question implies that clouds and darkness are round about Jehovah’s throne. Still, whatever mysterious shadow present events may seem to cast upon His justice, and to whatever trial, as in the wrongs of a Joseph or David, faith may be put, in believing that there is a just God upon earth, His justice appears as conspicuous in redemption as was the Cross, which illustrated that justice to the crowd on Calvary. Sinners, indeed, are pardoned, but then, their sins are punished; the guilty are acquitted, but then, their guilt is condemned; the sinner lives, but then, the surety dies; the debtor is discharged, but not till the debt is paid.

V. His mercy is glorified in redemption. To do justice to God, to the Saviour, and to our subject, we must be careful to distinguish between pity and mercy. The poor old man, into whose trembling hand you drop your alms as he begs his way onward to a grave, where, his head sheltered beneath the sod, he shall feel neither cold nor hunger, appeals to your compassion, not to your mercy. He has done you no wrong. He has not stolen your goods, nor traduced your character, nor inflicted injury on your person, nor in any way whatever disturbed your peace; and so it is only pity that walks forth in the charity which shares its bread with the hungry, and spares a corner of an ample cloak to cover the nakedness of the poor. Mercy is a higher attribute; an act of mercy is a far nobler achievement. She sits enthroned among the Graces. On her heavenly wings man rises to his loftiest elevation, makes his nearest approach and closest similitude to God. This distinction between compassion and mercy is clearly enunciated in the sacred Scriptures. We are told that like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him; bat the Lord is merciful to them that fear Him not. He so loved the world as to give up His Son to die for it; but more than that, He commended His love to us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. We pity simple suffering; but let pity and love be extended to guilty suffering, and you have now the very element and heavenly essence of mercy. Mercy is the forgiveness of an injury. Pity relieves a sufferer, but mercy pardons a sinner. Now, understanding mercy to be the forgiveness of a wrong, the pardon of a sinner, the kindness of the injured to the injurer, where, I ask, as in redemption, where but in redemption, is this crowning attribute of the Godhead to be seen?

VI. In redemption, God is glorified in the complete discomfiture of all His and our enemies.

1. He is glorified by Satan’s defeat. Observe yonder skilful wrestler! He embraces his antagonist, and, lifting him from the ground with the power of an athlete, he holds him aloft. Ah! he raises, but to dash him back on the earth with a heavier fall. So fared it with the Evil One. God permits him to push on his sap and mine, to scale the walls, to carry the citadel by assault, and plant for a time his defiant standard on the battlements of this world, just that from his, proud eminence He may hurl Satan into a deeper hell; and, angels rejoicing in man’s salvation, and devils discomfited in their leader’s defeat, both friends and foes might be constrained to say, Hast thou an arm like God, or canst thou thunder with a voice like His!

2. While God is glorified by Satan’s defeat, He is glorified also by the very time and manner of it. Here are no marks of haste. Not for four days, nor even four years, but for the long-drawn out period of four thousand years, Satan holds all but undisturbed possession of his conquest. God leaves the invader ample time to entrench himself; to found, to strengthen, to establish, to extend his kingdom. And why? bat that a Redeemer’s power might appear the more triumphant in its ignominious, and more complete in its total overthrow.

3. God is not only glorified in Satan’s defeat, and also in the time and manner of it, but preeminently glorified in the instrument of it. Man falls; the world is lost; Satan triumphs. And how does God pluck the victory from his hands? He might have hurled thunderbolts at his audacious head. Summoning the forces of heaven, He might have overwhelmed this enemy, and borne him back to hell by legions of embattled angels. Not thus is the Prince of Darkness defeated. He is met and mastered by a solitary man. Out of the mouth of a babe and suckling God ordaineth strength, and by the heel of a man of sorrows He crushes the Serpent’s head. A son of man is the saviour of his race; a brother rises up in the house of exile to redeem his brethren; a conqueror is born in the conquered family. Never was tide of battle so strangely, completely, triumphantly turned. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)


Verse 24

Ezekiel 36:24

I will take you from among the heathen.

The benefits flowing from redemption

I. In carrying out the work of redemption God will call His people out of the world. “I will take you from among the heathen.” By nature His people are no better than other people. They were no better till grace made them so. Here are two children. They were born of one mother; nestled in one loving bosom; rocked in one cradle; baptized in one font. Reared under the same roof, they grew up under the same training; sat under the same ministry; and, in death not divided, are sleeping now, where their dust mingles in a common grave. But the one is taken, and the other left. This, a child of God, ascends to heaven; the other, alas! is lost. Mysterious fate! Yet who dare challenge the justice and decree of God? By nature this whole world is sunk in sin, and in a sense all men are idolaters. The Hindu reckons his divinities by thousands and tens of thousands; yet the world has a larger Pantheon; as many gods as it has objects, be they innocent or guilty, which usurp the place of Jehovah, and dethrone Him in the creature’s heart. Nor are men less idolaters if drunkards, though they pour out no libation to Bacchus, the god of wine; nor less idolaters, if impure, that they burn no incense at the shrine of Venus; nor less idolaters, if lovers of wealth, that they do not mould their gold into an image of Plutus, and, giving a shrine to what lies hoarded in their coffers, offer it their morning and evening prayers. It may therefore be justly said of all who have been converted by the grace of God, that He has taken them from among the heathen.

II. The power of Divine grace is strikingly displayed in this effectual calling. It is a remarkable fact that, while the baser metals are often diffused through the body of the rocks, gold and silver lie in veins, collected together in distinct metallic masses. They are in the rocks, but not of the rocks. Some believe that there was a time, long gone by, when, like other metals, these lay in intimate union with the mass of rock, until by virtue of some electric agency, their scattered atoms were put in motion, and, made to pass through the solid stone, were aggregated in those shining veins, where they now lie to the miner’s hand. These precious metals are the emblems of God’s people. And as by some power in nature God has separated them from the base and common earths, even so by the power of His grace will He separate His chosen from a reprobate and rejected world. They shall come at His call. It is in a state of deep ungodliness--without God, without the love of God, without holiness, without purity of heart, without solid peace of conscience--that grace finds all it saves. It is indeed amazing to see what grace will do, and where grace will grow; in what unlikely places God has His people, and out of what unfavourable circumstances He calls them. I have seen a tree proudly crowning the summit of a naked rock; and there, sending its roots out over the bare stone, and down into every cranny in search of food, it stood securely anchored by these moorings to the stormy crag. I have wondered how it could grow up there, starved on the bare rock, and how it had survived the rough, unkindly nursing of many a wintry blast. Yet, like some neglected, ragged child, who from early infancy has been familiar with adversities, it has lived and grown; it has stood erect on its weather-beaten crag when the pride of the valley has bent to the storm; and, like brave men, who, scorning to yield, nail their colours to the mast, there it maintains its defiant position, and keeps its green flag waving on nature’s rugged battlements. More wonderful still is it to see where the grace of God will live and grow. “Never despair” should be the motto of the Christian; and how ought it to keep hope alive under the darkest and most desponding circumstances, to see God calling grace out of the foulest sin! Look at this cold creeping worm! Playful childhood shrinks shuddering from its slimy touch; yet a few weeks, and with merry laugh and feet that press the flowery meadow that same childhood is hunting an insect which never alights upon the ground, but, flitting in painted beauty from flower to flower, drinks honeyed nectar from their fairy cups, and sleeps the short summer night away in the bosom of their perfumes. If that is the same boy, this is no less the self-same creature. Change most wonderful! yet but an imperfect emblem of the Divine transformation wrought on those who are transformed by the renewing of their minds. Glorious change! Have you experienced its Divine gracious influences?

III. God will make up the number of His people. “I will gather you out of all countries.” There are some pleasant gatherings in this world which are alloyed with pain. Christmas, the New Year, or a birthday time comes round, summoning the members of a scattered family. Some are dead and gone--“Joseph is not, and Simeon is not”; and a dark cloud hangs on a mother’s brow, as on the cheek of yet another her anxious eye, quick to see, discovers an ominous spot that threatens “to take Benjamin away.” There is a gathering also when, at the close of a hard-fought day, the roll of the regiment is called, and to familiar names there comes no answer back. They shall answer no trumpet but that which calls a world to judgment. When daylight breaks on the shore and the shipwreck, there is also a mustering and reckoning of numbers. There, a mother clasps and kisses the living babe which the waves had plucked from her arms, and she never hoped more to see; and here, a true brother cheers up the boy whom he held in a grasp strong as death, while, with the other hand buffeting the billows, he bore him safely to the beach. But many, less fortunate, are wringing their hands in the wildness of unavailing grief. Flying from group to group, distracted mother’s cry, Where is my child? These are mournful mutterings. In striking contrast to them look at the gathering in that land-locked creek on Melita’s shore:--It was a frightful storm; the coast is unknown; the ship, run ashore, grounds in deep water with nigh three hundred souls on board. “Some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship”; but, by whatever way it came to pass, it did come to pass, as the narrative tells, “they escaped all safe to land.” Even so shall it be with those of whom Jesus says, I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish. My Father that gave them Me is greater than all, and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand. Happy those who sail in the ship, and have embarked in the same good cause with Christ. The Lord knoweth them that are His; and all that His Father hath given Him He shall keep. But my text tells us not only that He will gather His people, but gather them out of all countries. Let those mark that who, indulging an extravagant patriotism, or shrivelled up in the cold and contracted spirit of bigotry, allow themselves to limit the Holy One of Israel, and say with the Jews of old, We have Abraham to our father, we are the people of the Lord; the temple of the Lord are we. God has people both where we look not for them, and know not of them. The Gospel is indigenous in no country, and yet belongs to all. Every sea is not paved with pearl shelves; nor does every soil grow vines and stately palms; nor does every mine sparkle with precious gems; nor do the streams of every land roll their waters over gold-glittering sands. These symbols of grace have a narrow range; not grace itself. She owns no lines of latitude or longitude. All climates are one to her. She wears no party badge; and belongs neither to caste, nor class, nor colour. With this truth, as by a zone of love, elastic enough to stretch round the globe, we would bind together the whole family of man. Let it awaken in Christian hearts an interest in every land, and an affection for every race.

IV. We are assured that God will bring all His people to glory, by the fact that His own honour, as well as their welfare, is concerned in the matter. When I think of the sins to be forgiven, and the difficulties to be overcome, the wonder seems, not that few reach heaven, but that any get there. We have read the story of voyages during which for nights the weary and storm-tossed sailors enjoyed no sleep, and for days saw no sun. Lying at one time becalmed beneath a fiery sky, at another time shivering amid fields of ice; here with sunken rocks around them, and treacherous currents there sweeping them on dangerous reefs, exposed to sudden squalls, long dark nights, and fearful tempests, the wonder was that their battered ship ever reached her port. Some while ago a vessel entered one of our western harbours, and all the town went out to see her. Well they might. She had left the American shore with a large and able-bodied crew. They have hardly lost sight of land when the pestilence boards them; victim drops after victim; another and another is committed to the deep: from deck to deck, from yard to yard, she pursues her prey; nor spreads her wings to leave that ill-fated ship till but two survive to work her over the broad waters of a wintry sea. And when, with providence at the helm, these two men, worn by toil and watching to ghastly skeletons, have brought their bark to land, and now kiss once more the wives and little ones they never thought more to see, and step once more on a green earth they never more hoped to touch, thousands throng the pier to see the sight, and hear the adventures of a voyage brought to such a happy issue against such dreadful odds. Yet there is never a bark drops anchor in heaven, nor a weary voyager steps out on its welcome strand, but is a greater wonder. Save for the assurance that what God hath begun He will finish, but for the promise that what concerns His people He will perfect, oh, how often would our hope of final blessedness expire! To compare small things with great, our heavenward journey, with its dangers and changes, has sometimes appeared to me like that of a passenger to our own lovely, romantic city. On these iron roads he now rolls along rich and fertile plains; now, raised to a dangerous and dizzy height, he flies across intervening valleys; now he rushes through a narrow gorge excavated in the solid rock, with nothing seen but heaven; now, plunging into the earth, he dashes into some gaping cavern, and for a while loses sight even of heaven itself; then again he sweeps forth and on in sunshine, till the domes and towers and temples of the city burst upon his view; and, these now near at hand, he concludes his journey by passing through an emblem of death. Entering a gloomy arch, he advances slowly and in darkness through a place of graves, and then all of a sudden emerges into day, to feast his eyes on the glorious scenery, and receive the kind welcomes and congratulations of waiting friends, as he finds himself safe “in the midst of the city.” (T. Guthrie, D. D.)


Verses 25-36

Ezekiel 36:25-36

Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you.

The new heart

All God’s bestowal of good must begin with cleansing. The black barrier of sin lies across the stream, and before His full goodness can reach us it must be broken and swept away. Experience teaches us that not only is sin the direct cause of many of our sorrows, but that it so clogs the heart that it keeps God’s love out, like an iron shutter which excludes the sunshine. Our deepest need, then, is to be delivered from sin, and all attempts to banish human sorrow which do not begin with grappling with sin must fail, as they have failed. They are like physicians who treat a patient for pimples when he is dying of cancer. To sprinkle clean water upon a person or thing which had become unclean by touching a dead body was part of the Mosaic ritual. That practice is probably the source of Ezekiel’s metaphor, as his priestly descent would familiarise him with it. In any case, the substance of the Divine promise is cleansing, and we must not narrow it down to forgiveness only. The difference between that first washing with clean water and the subsequent gift of a new heart and spirit is not so much that the one promises pardon and the other sanctifying, as that the one is mainly negative--the removal of sin, both in regard to its guilt and its tyranny; and the other is positive--the giving of a new nature. Forgiveness never comes alone, but hand in hand with its twin sister, purity. And such double cleansing “from its guilt and power” is a Divine prerogative. But more is needed than even these blessings. The past having been thus dealt with, the future remains to be provided for. Therefore the prophet holds forth a still brighter hope, and comes still nearer to the very heart of New Testament teaching, in his assurance of the gift of a new life’s centre and power, a “heart of flesh,” from which shall come issues of a God-pleasing and God-inspired life. Two forces act on us all, and our sensitiveness to the one measures our non-sensitiveness to the other. Either we are “flesh” towards God, and “stone” towards the world, impressible by and yielding to Him, and unaffected by earth’s temptations, or our hearts are soft and weak as flesh towards them, and hard as the nether millstone towards God. But Ezekiel was given a glimpse into still deeper and more wonderful abysses of God’s givings, when he learned that the new spirit to be given was “My Spirit.” Ezekiel may not have had any conscious dogma about the Spirit of God, but he had been taught by that Spirit at least this much--the possibility of a Divine spirit entering into a human spirit, and being there the motive power. We know more than he did. Do we feel as deeply as he felt, that the only way by which our spirits can be kept pure, and give forth pure streams, is by God’s Spirit being within us? But what is the end of all these Divine gifts? A life of obedience. We are forgiven, cleansed, made sensitive to God’s touch, inspired with His Spirit, for this purpose most chiefly, that we may shape our lives by His will. Not a correct creed, not blessed emotions, but a life which runs parallel with God’s will, should be the outcome of our religion. The result of obedience is abundance (verses 28-30). If there were anywhere a nation of people all obedient to God’s laws, no doubt it would be exempt from most of the ills that afflict our modern so-called civilisation. Suppose one of our great cities inhabited only by God-fearing men living by His law, most of the evils that make the scandal of our national profession of Christianity would die out, like a fire unfed by fuel. And if, individually, we ordered our footsteps by God’s word, we should find that even the rough ways became ways of pleasantness. It is forever true that “godliness” hath “promise of the life that now is,” even though its promise may not always be what the world calls “good.” The result of these lavish blessings within and without is deepened sense of unworthiness. The penitence that springs from experience of God’s love is far deeper than that which rises from dread of His wrath. When all fear of penal consequences is gone, and a new standard of judging ourselves is set up within by the indwelling Spirit, and when a flood of blessings has been poured on us, then we see, as never before, the sinfulness of sin against such a God. The higher a true Christian goes, the lower he lies. The more sure we are that God has forgiven us, the less can we forgive ourselves. The holiness and prosperity of the renewed Israel will reveal God to the world. The lives of men and communities, who are cleansed and blessed by God, proclaim Him to the world in His character of being able and willing to repair all the desolation of humanity, and build up our ruined nature in fairer shapes. Christian lives should be illustrated copies of the Gospel. Gardeners pick out their best plants for flower shows; would the great Gardener select us as specimens of what He can do? If not, it is not because His gift has been withheld, but because we have not taken, or not used, “the things that are freely given to us of God.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Man justified

I intend to set forth the means by which He, who is most willing to save sinners, accomplishes His generous and gracious purpose. I am now to show you that famous breach by which the soldiers of the Cross, pressing on behind their Captain, with banners flying and sword in hand, have taken the kingdom, and, trampling under foot the powers of sin, have entered heaven as by a holy violence.

I. God’s people are not chosen because they are holy. They are chosen that they may become holy, not because they have become so. It is after God elects that he justifies, as it is after He has justified that He sanctifies. This stands out very visibly in the terms of the text, “then will I sprinkle clean water upon you.” We do not hold good works cheap. We say that by them God is glorified; by them faith is justified; by them on the great day of judgment shall you, and I, and every man be tried. You are not to be justified by works, yet you are to be judged by works; the rule of that day being this--The tree is known by his fruit, and every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. The most important results often depend on the right adjustment of place and position. What a monster in nature, how hideous of aspect, and happily how brief its existence, were that body which should have its organs and members so arranged, that the hands occupied the place of the feet, and the heart palpitated in the cavity of the brain! And who, besides, does not know that the fruitfulness, the beauty, the very life of a tree depends not only on its having both roots and branches, but on these members being placed in their natural order? Well, if the order established in nature is of such consequence, I can confidently affirm that it is of as much consequence to abide by the order established in the kingdom of grace. It is not enough that you hold right doctrines, nay, hold all the doctrines. Each right doctrine must be in its own right place. Are any of you attempting to make yourselves more pure and more penitent, that you may get up some claim to Divine mercy? In that you are trying to weave ropes of sand; and he who has set you to a task so impracticable knows right well that by and by you will abandon it in despair; and then, perhaps, returning to your old sins, like a drunkard to his cups after an irksome season of sobriety, you shall furnish but another illustration of the saying, The last state of that man is worse than the first. I would endeavour to disabuse your minds of so great an error. For that purpose let me borrow an illustration from such an asylum as a ragged school. That institution, like the Gospel that it teaches, opens its loving arms to the outcast, and seeks to train up to God the poor, perishing children whom its piety and pity have adopted. On entering these blessed doors, the only gate of hope to many, your attention is caught by a child, who is supported thereby the bounty of some generous Christian. The boy now can spell his way through the Bible, once a sealed book to him; now he knows the name, and in tones that have melted our heart he now sings sweetly of a Saviour who said, Suffer little children to come unto Me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven. These little hands are now skilful to weave the net, or ply the shuttle, which once were alert only to steal, or held out in pitiful emaciation for oft-denied charity. And now there is such sharp intelligence in his once languid eye, and such an open air of honesty in his beaming face, and such attention to cleanliness in his dress and person, and such buoyancy in his whole bearing, as if hope hailed a bright future for him, that these bespeak your favour. But were these the child’s passport to this asylum? Do you suppose that, when he wandered an outcast in the winter streets, shoeless among the snow, shivering in the cold, it was what now so interests you that caught the eye of pity? If you suppose that to these habits and accomplishments, acquired under a parental roof the child owed his adoption, how great is your mistake! This were to turn things upside down. He was adopted, not for the sake of these, but notwithstanding the want of them. It was his wretchedness that saved him. The clean hands and rosy cheek and eye lighted up with intelligence and decent habits and useful arts and Bible knowledge and all which now wins your regard, are the consequences of his adoption. They never were nor could be its cause Even so it is with holy habits and a holy heart in the matter of redemption; Ye have not chosen Me, lint I have chosen you, says God. Blessed truth!

II. In redemption the saved are not justified by themselves, but by God. This is no recondite truth, one which we need to dig or dive for. The pearl lies in the hidden depths of the sea, but gold commonly near the surface of the earth; and like that precious ore gleaming from the naked rock, this truth shines on the face of my text. A child’s eye can catch it there and a child’s mind comprehend it. For how is a sinner made clean? but through the application of what is here called clean water; and by whom, according to the text, is that water applied? It is applied to the sinner, but not by the sinner. Observe what happens when the cry rises at sea--A man overboard! With all on deck you rush to the side; and, leaning over the bulwarks, with beating heart you watch the place where the rising air bells and boiling deep tell that he has gone down. Some moments of breathless anxiety, and you see his head emerge from the wave. Now, that man, I shall suppose, is no swimmer, he has never learned to breast the billows; yet, with the first breath he draws he begins to beat the water; with violent efforts he attempts to shake off the grasp of death, and, by the play of limbs and arms, keep his head from sinking. It may be that these struggles but exhaust his strength, and sink him all the sooner; nevertheless, that drowning one makes instinctive and convulsive efforts to save himself. So, when first brought to feel and cry. “I perish,” when the horrible conviction rushes into the soul that we are lost, when we feel ourselves going down beneath a load of guilt into the depths of the wrath of God, our first effort is to save ourselves. Like a drowning man, who clutches at straws and twigs, we seize on anything, however worthless, that promises salvation. Thus, alas! many poor souls toil and spend weary, unprofitable years in the attempt to establish a righteousness of their own, and find in the deeds of the law a protection from its curse. There was a time, no doubt, when man held his fortunes in his own hand. That time is gone. Our power passed away with our purity. Impotence has followed the loss of innocence, and nothing is left us but poverty and a proud spirit. How few, who have been accustomed to a high position in society, are able to reconcile themselves to a humble one! I have seen such an one, when he had lost his wealth, retain his vanity, and continue proud in spirit even when he had become poor in circumstances. So is it with us in our low and lost estate. Spiritually poor, we are spiritually proud, saying, I am rich and increased in goods, and have need of nothing, while we are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. Even when we are in some degree sensible of our poverty, and know we cannot pay, like the unjust steward we are ashamed to beg. Indulging a pride out of all keeping with filthy rags, we will not stoop to stand at God’s door, poor mendicants, who ask for mercy. No. We shall work out our own salvation, nor be beholden to another. Nor, ordinarily, till the sinner learns, by prolonged and painful and unsuccessful trials, that he cannot be his own saviour, does this proud heart allow us to stand suppliants at the gate of mercy; our plea for pardon not our own merits; nothing, nothing whatever but a Saviour’s merits and a sinner’s misery. Yet thus and there we must stand if we would be saved. Jesus is a Saviour of none but the lost. Now, to bring us down to this humbling conviction, to draw from our lips and hearts the cry, Lord, save me, I perish, God often leaves awakened sinners to try their hand at working out their own salvation. God, in fact, deals with them as Jesus did with Simon Peter. Impetuous, self-satisfied, puffed up with vanity, to parade his power and prove his superiority to the other disciples, he will walk the sea. His Master allows him to try it. “Lord, save me, I perish.” Painful but profitable lesson! His danger and failure have taught him his weakness. Now, to such a state, and confession, all who are to be saved must first be brought.

III. We are not justified or cleansed from the guilt of sin through the administration or efficacy of any outward ordinance. “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean.” The question that we would urge on your most serious consideration does not concern the sign, but the thing signified. If you have got the living element, I care little, or nothing, through what church or by what channel it may flow. Have you got the living grace of God? In the words of an apostle, Have ye received the Holy Ghost?

IV. We are justified, or cleansed from the guilt of sin, by the blood of Christ. “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission”; and none, we may add, without its application. Where do we find this doctrine in the text? By what process of spiritual chemistry can this truth be extracted from it? There is water, and clean water, and sprinkling of water, it maybe said, but no word of blood; there is neither sign nor spot of blood upon the page, True, so it looks at first sight; but without the hand of Moses we shall see this water turned into blood. This at least is plain, that here, as elsewhere, water is but the sign of spiritual blessings. And a most expressive symbol we shall find it, if we but reflect on the important part that this element plays in the economy of nature. The circulation of this fluid is to the world what that of blood is to the body, or that of grace to the soul. It is its life. Withdraw it, and all that lives would expire; forests, fields, beasts, man himself would die. This world would become one vast grave; for water constitutes as much the life as the beauty of the landscape; and it is true, both in a spiritual and in an earthly sense, that the world lives because heaven weeps over it. It was Christ’s choicest figure of Himself. Turning the eyes of thousands on His own person, as on a perennial fountain, one never sealed by winter’s frost, nor dried by summer suns, free, full, patent to all, He stood up on the last and great day of the feast, and cried, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink. All the world use water for washing as well as drinking; and the reference in the text is to that solvent power, by virtue of which it removes impurities, turning white what is black, and cleansing whatever is foul. It stands here, therefore, the figure of that which cleanses. The object to be cleansed is the soul; the defilement to be cleansed away is sin; and we now therefore address ourselves to the all-important question--Of what is this water the figure? The key to that question lies in the epithet “clean” water. The water is such as the Jews understood by clean water; not merely free from impurity, and in itself clean, but that maketh clean; in the words of the ceremonial law, “water of purifying.” This was prepared according to a divinely appointed ritual. Look how it was prepared, and you shall see it reddening into blood. Gathering the lowing herds from their different pastures, they sought up and down among them, till a red heifer was found; red from head to tail, from horn to hoof, mottled by no other colour, but all red; and one also on whose free neck yoke of bondage had never lain. What was that heifer? Spotless and separated from the common herd, she is a type of Him who was without spot or blemish, holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. With neck on which yoke had never lain, she is a type of Him who said, The prince of this world cometh, and he hath nothing in Me. Red in colour, she is a type of Him whose feet were dipped in the blood of His enemies, and who, as seen by the prophet on His way from Bozrah, was red in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of His might. And what is this public procession, which conducts the heifer without the camp, but a figure of the march to Calvary? And what is her bloody death, but a type of that which Jesus suffered amid the agonies of the Cross? And what are these fires that burn so fiercely, and consume the victim, but a flaming image of the wrath of God, under which His soul was withered like grass? And what is the water mingled with this heifer’s ashes, but a type of the righteousness, which, imputed by God, received by faith, and applied to sinners, makes sinners just? For, as the Jew over whom that water was sprinkled became ceremonially clean, so the guilt of original and actual sin, all guilt, is removed from him (much the happier man), whom God sprinkles with the blood of Jesus, and to whom sovereign mercy imputes a Saviour’s merits. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

Cleansing: a covenant blessing

Sin, to the awakened sinner, is his burden, his misery, his horror. It is a nightmare which haunts him; he can never escape from it. Like David, he cries, “My sin is ever before me.” Even when sin is forgiven, the memory of it often makes a man go softly all his days. It is therefore a very blessed thought on the part of our God to make the covenant to bear so much ripen our sin and our sinfulness, and especially to make it open with this unconditional promise of infinite love, “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you,” etc.

I. God begins to deal with His people while they are yet in sin. He does not make promises of purification to them upon condition that they cleanse themselves; but He comes to them according to the riches of His grace, even when they are dead in trespasses and sins. He finds them in all their defilement, rebellion, and iniquity, and He deals with them just as they are. His grace stoops to the ruin of the fall and lifts us up from it. If the covenant of grace did not deal with sinners as sinners I should be afraid to come to Christ; but because it opens its mouth wide to me while I am yet unclean and polluted by sin, I feel that it meets my case. You may notice in the text, or gather it therefrom by clear inference--that these people with whom God dealt were not only unclean, but they could not cleanse themselves, lit Is a rule with miracles, as well miracles of the Spirit as miracles of the body, that God never does what others can do. Cleansing cannot come from any other place, therefore seek it of the Lord, who says, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean.” If you go about through heaven, and earth, and hell, you shall find no other detergent that shall take away sin but the precious blood of Jesus Christ the Son of God. More than that, when God begins to deal with His people many of them have a special filthiness. “From all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.” The heathen of old once reported that ours was the religion of the most abandoned. They laughed at Christianity, for they said it was like the building of Rome, when Romulus received everybody that was in debt and discontented, and all the criminals from all the towns round about came to make the city of Rome. There is much truth in the statement; it is a very good figure, though meant to be a slander. The Lord does receive the devil’s runaways.

II. God provides for the cleansing of those to whom He comes in sovereign grace. Where could this “clean water” be found by mortal man? God has provided a system of cleansing men, perfect in itself, and just, and right, and effectual. When under the old Mosaic law they took water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled the unclean therewith, he was cleansed ceremonially; and now under the Gospel God has provided a wondrous way by which, being Himself perfectly pure, He can put away the impurities of our nature, and the iniquities of our lives.

1. It is a righteous way. Sin must not go unpunished; it would be ruinous that such a thing should be. Therefore the Lord took sin and laid it on His Son, that His Son might bear what was due for our transgressions. This the Lord Jesus did as our substitute and Saviour. In addition to that, God has given the Holy Ghost as a gift of Christ on His ascension; and that Holy Spirit is here to renew men in their hearts, to take away from them the love of sin, to give them a new life, to create in them a new heart and a right spirit, and so to change their inward longings and desires that their outward conduct shall become altogether different from what it was before.

2. And what a simple way it is, as well as clean! The wisdom of God made the rite by which the leper was cleansed under the law very simple; but even more simple is the act by which God applies the merit of His dear Son to us.

3. It is a way of universal adaptation, too; for wherever there is a soul on whom God has looked with love He can apply to that soul the blood of sprinkling.

4. It is a way of unfailing efficacy, for He says, “From all your filthiness and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.” He does not only attempt the cleansing, but He accomplishes it. What though your heart be like the Augean stable, the labours of Hercules shall be outdone by the wonders of Jesus.

III. God Himself applies this means of cleansing. Some of you remember when first the Lord revealed to you how much you needed to be cleansed: that discovery was a great part of the cleansing. Then did it not seem to you impossible that you could be cleansed from so much defilement? It seemed to me--I dare say it did to you--the most extraordinary thing in the world to believe in Jesus. I could not make it out. How could I get to Christ? I could see that He was a Saviour. I could see that He saved others, and I was glad that He did; but the thing was, how could I ever come to be personally a partaker of His power to save? I heard about that woman touching the hem of the garment; and I felt that if Christ were before me, I would touch the hem of His garment with my finger; but I could not understand how I was to touch Him spiritually. To this day the simplest thing under heaven is perverted by our evil hearts into difficulty and mystery. Despite the simplicity of faith, no man ever would have savingly believed in Jesus Christ if the Lord had not guided him, and led him into faith. Oh yes, the clean water is provided, but the clean water must be sprinkled by another hand than ours if we are to be cleansed. And all the way through the rest of life it is just the same. “All things are of God.”

IV. The Lord effectually cleanses all His people. First, He cleanses them from all their filthiness. Oh, what a vast “all” that is! All the filthiness of your birth sin; all the filthiness of your natural temperament and constitution and disposition. All the filthiness that came out of you in your childhood, that was developed in you in your youth, that still has vexed your manhood, and perhaps even now dishonours your old age. From all your actual filthiness, as well as from all your original filthiness, will I cleanse you. From all your secret filthiness, and from all your public filthiness; from everything that was wrong in the family; from everything that was wrong in the business; from everything that was wrong in your own heart--“From all your filthiness will I cleanse you.” And then it is added that we shall be cleansed “from all our idols.” We are all of us idolaters by nature and by practice. If there is anything that has our love more than God, it is an idol, and we must be purged from it. This is not a threatening but a promise: it is a great blessing to have our images of jealousy put away. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 26

Ezekiel 36:26

A new heart also will I give you.

The necessity of a new heart

I. The work which is here promised.

1. A work of spiritual purification. The gains of business, the pleasures and enjoyments of the world, the vanities and follies of time; of these we may, and of these many do, make a God. Now when the Lord takes a sinner to Himself, and calls him out of that state in which he is by nature, He says, “From all your idols will I cleanse you.” He cleanses, both from the power and the guilt of them. The love of sin is now destroyed, as well as the guilt of it taken away. The great end of the Gospel is thus accomplished (Ephesians 5:26-27).

2. As a work of inward regeneration. Man is often content with outward reformation, but the Lord goes to the seat of the evil. The heart of man is hard by nature. There may be, and there is, in many persons much kindness towards their fellow creatures; much affection towards their friends, and all around them; but the heart is hard towards God. How unfeeling is it under the Divine dispensations. Warnings and invitations are given; judgments from God of the most awful nature are pointed out; the dying love of Christ is preached and heard; the sweet and encouraging promises of the Gospel are held forth; but still these are met with cold indifference, or possibly with disdain! Melted by the love of Christ, he grieves over sin; he hates himself on account of it, and both prays and strives against it. A wrong temper causes him more sorrow now, than cursing or drunkenness did in former days. In short, old things are passed away, all things are become new.

3. A work of outward reformation. If the Lord gives a new heart, it follows as a necessary consequence that there must be a willingness to walk in His statutes. Was a man, before this change, addicted to sinful practices? They will be given up. Did be keep sinful company? It will be forsaken. He is not indeed perfect, for perfection is a plant which grows not in this lower world; it flourishes only in the paradise above. Sin will cleave to him, for it is his nature; but the sin which the Christian does, he allows not; it is his grief; he prays and he struggles against it. When the heart of stone is changed to a heart of flesh, there is a total alteration both in the motives and habits of a man.

II. The author of this work.

1. Man cannot be the author of it. It is far above human power. It is opposed to all the prejudices, passions, and inclinations of man.

2. God alone is the Author of it. He may, and does use instruments; and, in various ways, brings about this change; but the work is His.

III. The blessed privileges flowing from this work.

1. He acknowledges them as His people. “They shall be My people,” not in that general sense in which all the world belongs to Him by right of creation; but His peculiar people, His “chosen ones”; those over whom He delights to do good; over whom He rests in His love; making them His care, and enriching them with all spiritual blessings; and all this from His free grace and mercy.

2. They claim Him as their God. Mark the steps which lead to this blessed privilege. God sprinkles clean water; He purifies the heart of the sinner; He renews it, and puts into it right dispositions, and then they walk in His statutes. This promise then ensures a supply of all that His people can possibly need or desire. Are they weak? I will be their God to strengthen them. Are they guilty? I will be their God to pardon them. Are they ignorant? I will be their God to teach them. Do they mourn? I will be their God to comfort them. Are they mortal? and do they sometimes look upon the grave with trembling? What are the words of God on this subject? (Hosea 13:14.) (J. G. Breay, M. A.)

The heart all wrong made all right

I. The rottenness of the human heart.

1. Every unregenerated heart is unclean. “From your filthiness will I cleanse you.” Our hands may be clean as water can wash them, and our garments as white as snow; and yet our inward nature be polluted. Sin is not like wine, that gets better by being kept. It gets worse and worse. The Arabs have a fable that once a camel came to the door of a tent and thrust in his nose. Not being resisted, he thrust in his feet. There being no hindrance, he came half way in. After a while he got all the way in. The Arab said to the camel, “This tent is too small for two.” Then the camel said to the Arab, “If that be so, you had better leave.” So sin comes into the heart further and further, until it takes full possession. It is not satisfied until it has pushed the soul into an eternal prison house, and slammed to the door, and shoved the bolts, and turned the locks of an everlasting incarceration.

2. The text represents the heart as idolatrous. “From all your idols will I cleanse you.” If we do not worship the God in heaven, we worship something on earth. This man worships pleasure. This one, applause. This one, money. This one, his family. That to which a man gives his supreme thought and affections is his idol. Like Dagon, how often it falls down, crushing its worshippers. God will have no rivals.

3. The text represents the heart as stony, or insensible. I prove it by the fact that we do not realise the truth of what we have already said. If we had any appreciation of our unclean and idolatrous nature, could we be as unmoved as we are? We are insensible. I saw men walking through the Louvre Gallery, in Paris, half asleep. No flash came to their eyes, no flush to their cheeks, no exclamation to their lips, amid the most thrilling triumphs of painter’s pencil and sculptor’s chisel. And so, until grace touches our soul, we walk through the great picture gallery of the Gospel; and the wonders of Christ and the glories of heaven strike no thrill through the heart.

II. The healing process that God proposes for everyone. “I will sprinkle,” etc. It is a change from black to white, from down to up, from the highway to hell to the highway of heaven. The whole nature made over again. Here are men who once rejected the Bible, cared not for God, talked against high heaven; but now all their hopes are hung on one strong nail: the Nail of the Cross. One Form is to them more glorious than any other: the Form of the Son of God. “I take Him,” they cry. “Through joy and sorrow, through fire and flood, for time and for eternity. None but Jesus!” They would stick to Him though the guillotine flashed its bloody knife in their faces. They have a new heart. New in its sentiments, hopes, affections, ambitions. (T. De Witt Talmage.)

The power and dominion of God over the heart

I. God hath supreme dominion over the hearts of men.

1. He furnishes the hearts of men with qualifications suited to their several offices and employments, which He assigns them in the course of His providence.

2. He moderates and controls the most unruly passions, and renders them subservient to His own glory.

3. He sends spiritual judgments into the hearts of men.

4. He also shows His supreme dominion over the hearts of men, by renewing and sanctifying the various powers of their souls.

5. He restores order to the affections, and places them upon their proper objects.

6. He likewise inclines the heart to those things which are well-pleasing in His sight, and brings it into a willing subjection to His law.

II. God mercifully removes every obstacle that might obstruct His powerful gracious operation. The stony heart, which God graciously promises to take away, is remarkable--

1. For insensibility.

2. For obduracy. The hearts of all men are naturally possessed of this bad quality, which is greatly augmented by sinful habits, which, when indulged, provoke God to permit them judicially to harden themselves more and more.

3. For inflexibility. The stony heart is not easily bent to comply with the gracious purposes which God hath in view to execute. It will not be persuaded to accept of the rich mercies which He offers to bestow, nor obey the directions of His Word.

4. For resistance. The stony heart strongly resists the instruments employed to soften and render it tender. The merciful designs of providence are counteracted. Even the convictions and impulses of the Holy Spirit are resisted.

III. God promises to work a great change in the hearts of his people.

1. The spiritual and gracious qualities conveyed to the soul, by the fulfilment of this promise, are called a new heart and a new spirit; because they come in place of the old things which pass away, and are very different from them. By the new heart and the new spirit, we are made partakers of the Divine nature, and renovation after the image of Christ is begun, which is afterward gradually carried forward under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The eyes of the mind are enlightened, and a new light shines into it, whereby it is filled with the knowledge of God’s will. Divine truths are seen in their native beauty, displaying the manifold wisdom of God, and the unsearchable riches of Christ; they penetrate to the bottom of the heart, they are embraced with sincere affection, and have a transforming influence on the heart and life.

2. God also promises to give you an heart of flesh--which seems to intend, a heart the reverse of the stony heart, which He takes away.

3. “And I will put My Spirit within you.” By the Spirit may be meant, the Holy Ghost, who dwelleth in the people of God as in His temple, the Comforter whom Jesus Christ promises to send from the Father, that He may abide with them forever, even the Spirit of truth--who dwelleth with you and shall be in you (John 14:16-17). As a Spirit of power, He strengthens with all might in the inner man; as a Spirit of supplication, He helps their infirmities, and teaches them to pray; in every respect acting as a Spirit of holiness, sanctifying them wholly, and enabling them to perform duties in another and more spiritual manner than ever before. As the promised Comforter, He supports and comforts; so that as their sufferings abound, their consolations by Christ are made to superabound. As a Spirit of wisdom and revelation, He discovers the deep things of God, that we may know the things freely given us of God. As a Spirit of adoption, He enables us to cry, Abba, Father, and to draw near to God with filial freedom and confidence.

IV. The accomplishment of the precious promises which are here given, is attended with blessed effects and consequences. Those who have the Spirits of God put within them, shall be made to walk in God’s statutes, and to keep His judgments and do them. The statutes of God are the rule by which they shall walk, His judgments point out the work which they ought to do. By both expressions the Word of God is intended, which is given to be a lamp to our feet, and a light to our goings, and to show us what is good, and what the Lord our God requireth of us. In these statutes and judgments, God promises that those in whom He puts His Spirit shall walk. In Scripture, walking is often mentioned in a figurative sense, to denote a person’s habitual temper and practice.

1. Walking in God’s statutes is a voluntary, agreeable employment to those who have received a new heart and spirit. They delight in the law of the Lord after the inward man, and in the ways of His commandments which they have loved. In doing the will of their heavenly Father, they find far more real pleasure and satisfaction than in sensual pleasures, worldly riches, and great temporal honours.

2. Walking in God’s statutes is a diligent and progressive business. There may be, no doubt, some accidental obstructions and checks made to growth in grace, and progress in holiness; still, however, faith and love, and other graces, increase and grow up to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. (W. MCulloch.)

The Lord’s New Year’s gifts to hardened sinners

It is recorded that when Sir Walter Raleigh knelt on the scaffold with his neck on the block waiting for the axe of the executioner to behead him, the latter said, “Does your head lie easy, Sir Walter?” The brave man replied, “It matters not, my friend, how my head lies, provided my heart is right.”

I. A new heart. The old heart is compared in this verse to a stone. What use is there then in preaching to such as are in heart senseless? The love of Christ is a solvent to soften the heart which is hard as a stone; and the Holy Spirit then shall mould it into the image of the Saviour. In a cathedral at Rome I saw what I thought to be most precious stone; but, placing my hand upon that huge slab, I found that it was wood, painted like marble. A stone is known by its coldness; and we know a man is unconverted by his coldness to God and to his fellow men. A few men possess natural benevolence; but many are as cold as a stone to the appeals of the helpless and the suffering. When the new heart is received their disposition is changed; they are tender and compassionate to the sufferer, and weep with the sorrowing. A man with a stony heart who loves money wonders why another gives his time and his money so generously, day after day, to the cause of God and of his fellow men; and he says to himself, “Why, the Christian does this as if he really enjoyed it! I like to get money; but he seems to be most pleased when he is giving it!” The reason is that the Christian has received a new heart; and, loving God and his fellow men, it is his delight to minister to them of his time and substance. The new heart does not grudge what it gives; because it loves.

II. A new spirit. The old spirit readily conforms itself to the world; and it seeks to run with the stream. But when God gives the new spirit, we are ruled by the mind that was in Jesus; and though there were only one Christian in an opposing world, that Christian would be against the world. The old spirit thinks it cannot resist sin, and it yields to it as a necessity of his nature; but when God gives the new spirit, it breaks the gyves of Satan, and cries, “I am free; and will not longer submit to my besetting sin; I am to cast aside every weight, so that I may run the race that is set before me.” The old spirit trusts in outward circumstances, in money, and in men; but when we receive the new spirit we trust in the power of our God. The old spirit does not know the sweetness of communion with God. But the new spirit delights to pray; it is a privilege rather than a duty. The old spirit also is corrupt. It is like the polished veneer that is placed over the decayed wood which smells with the dry rot. But when the new spirit is received the Christian is all glorious within.

III. A new pilot. “I will put My Spirit within you.”

IV. A new life. “And cause you to walk in My statutes.” We shall not be dragged to heaven: ours is a willing service. It is a walk, not a limp Christ heals perfectly.

V. New rules. “Ye shall keep My judgments.” The fingerpost points out your way at the corner of the road, and you do not hesitate to walk in the path pointed out, because you believe that fingerpost to tell the right direction. Likewise, the fingerpost of the Bible is a sufficient security for us to keep in the path of righteousness.

VI. New employment. “And do them.” How sweet to be assured that God will give us power to do His will! Pray with increasing faith, “Thy will be done”; and expect the ability and the resignation to do it. You shall do His will! Rejoice!

VII. God’s guarantee. “I will do it: I will give it you.” The Lord means what He says. Cannot you trust Him? Whosoever will may receive the gifts offered by our loving Father. (W. Birch.)

Covenant blessings

I. Observe, first, we have here to all God’s covenanted people, or in other words, to all believers, a promise of preparation for the Spirit’s indwelling. This promise is as a cluster of nuts, or a bough with many golden apples. Like the cherubim of Ezekiel it has four faces, all smiling upon the heirs of salvation. Like the New Jerusalem it lieth four-square. It is a quadruple treasure worthy of four-fold consideration.

1. The first of the four blessings is the gift of a new heart. Observe where the inward work of grace begins. All man’s attempts at the betterment of human nature begin from without, and the theory is that the work will deepen till it reaches that which is within. They profess to emancipate the man from the grosser vices, trusting that the reform will go further, that he will be brought under superior influences, and so be elevated in mind and heart. Miserable physicians are they all. Their remedies fail to eradicate the deep seated maladies of humanity. God’s way of dealing with men is the reverse. He begins within and works towards the exterior in due course. Look at our brooks and rivulets which have been by a lax legislature so long delivered over to the tormentors to be blackened into pestiferous sewers; if we want to have them purged it is of small avail to cast chloride of lime and other chemicals into the stream; the only remedy is to forbid the pollution, to demand that manufactories shall not poison us wholesale, but shall in some other manner consume their useless products. The voice of common sense bids us go to the original cause of the defilement and deal with it at its sources. That is just what God does when He saves a sinner, He begins at the origin of the sinner’s sin and deals with His heart. Blessed be God, He is omnipotent enough to give Us new hearts, He has wisdom enough to renew us, He has purity sufficient to cleanse us, He has abounding mercy to bear with us.

2. Turn, now, to the second blessing--“A new spirit will I put within you.” The natural man is correctly and strictly speaking a compound of soul and body only. The first man, Adam, was made a living soul; and, as we bear the image of the first Adam, we are body and soul only. It is our own belief that in regeneration something more is done than the mere rectifying of what was there: there is in the new birth infused and implanted in man a third and more elevated principle,--a spirit is begotten in him; and, as the second Adam was made a quickening spirit, so in the new birth we are transformed into the likeness of Christ Jesus, who is the second Adam. The implantation, infusion, and putting into our nature the third and higher principle is, we believe, the being born again. Regarded in this light, the words before us may be regarded as an absolute and unconditional promise of the covenant of grace to all the seed that a new spirit shall be put within them. But, if we view it as some do, we shall then read it thus--the ruling spirit of man’s nature shall be changed. The spirit which rules and reigns in Godless, Christless men, is the spirit of a rebellious slave, the spirit of self. But, when the Spirit of God comes upon us, to make our spirit a fit place for His residence, He takes away the spirit of the slave, and gives us the spirit of a child, and from that moment the service of God becomes a different thing: we do not serve Him now because we are afraid of the whip, but nobler motives move us; gratitude binds us to the Lord’s service, and love gives wings to the feet of obedience. Now the Lord is no more regarded as a tyrant, but as a wise and loving parent. Whatever He may do with us, we rejoice in His wisdom and goodness. We view Him no longer with suspicion and dread, but with confidence and joy.

3. A third and further blessing of the text is the removal of the stony heart. “I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh.” I do not think the Lord removes at once the evil heart out of any man’s flesh; there it remains to be fought with, like the Canaanites in Canaan when Israel had entered there, to prove us and to try us, but He does take away the stony heart at once. The stony heart is a hard heart. We have heard of many expedients for softening hard hearts, but none of them are of any avail. You may make a man weep over his dead child or his dead wife, till his eyes are red, but his heart will be black for all that. Men’s hearts are changed by quite another agency than oratorical or rhetorical appeals to the natural affections.

4. The fourth promise of the preparation of the heart for the indwelling of the Spirit is this: “I will give you a heart of flesh,” by which is meant a soft heart, an impressible heart, a sensitive heart, a heart which can feel, can be moved to shame, to repentance, to loathing of sin, to desiring, to seeking, to punting, to longing after God; a tender heart, a heart that does not require a thousand blows to move it, but, like flesh with its skin broken, feels the very faintest touch,--such is the heart which the Holy Spirit creates in the children of God. It is a teachable heart, a heart willing to be guided, moulded, governed by the Divine will: a heart which, like young Samuel, cries, “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth”:--an obedient heart, ready to be run into the mould, plastic beneath the sacred hand, anxious to be conformed to the heavenly pattern.

II. The indwelling of the Holy Ghost.

1. Observe, first, that the Lord says, “I will put My Spirit within you.” God Himself, the Eternal Spirit in propria persona, in His own person, resides and dwells within the renewed heart. The mystery of the incarnation is not greater than that of the Holy Ghost’s indwelling, nor does it appear to me to involve more condescension. I marvel at Christ’s dwelling with sinners, and I marvel equally at the Holy Ghost’s dwelling in sinners.

2. Note a little word also in the text worthy of your attention. “I will put My Spirit within you.” It is not the spirit of angels, it is not the spirit of good men, it is God’s own Spirit who takes up His residence in every sinner’s heart when God renews it. “My Spirit.” And, perhaps, this may allude to the fact that this is the self-same Spirit which abode without measure in our Lord Jesus Christ.

3. Observe also carefully the words, “within you.” This is marvellous. Augustine, when reflecting upon the various glories which come to God, and the benefits which accrue to men through redemption, none of which could have been revealed without the fall of Adam, exclaimed, “O beata culpa!” “O happy fault”; and I have the self-same expression trembling on my lips. Where sin abounded grace has much more abounded.

III. The blessed results which come from all this. The indwelling Spirit leads every man in whom He reigns into obedience to the ways of God. The soul that possesses the Spirit becomes active. It walks. It is not passive, as one carried by main force; it works because the Spirit works in it, “to will and to do of His own good pleasure.” The Holy Ghost leads us to holy habits, for, mark the phrase, “I will cause you to walk in My ways.” Mere excitement may produce momentary zeal, and transient morality, but habitual holiness is the fruit of the Spirit. Note, next, the delight it implies. “I will cause you to walk in My ways,” not as a man who toils, but as one who walks at ease. The believer finds it as sweet to walk in God’s ways as Isaac felt it sweet to walk in the fields at eventide, it implies, too, holy perseverance; the words have the meaning of continuing to follow after holiness. It is a small matter to begin, but to hold out to the end is the testing point. The text promises to us a complete obedience,--“I will cause you to walk in My statutes, and to keep My judgments.” A Christian man is obedient to God,--he minds the first table; he is just to man,--he does not despise the second table. And the Holy Ghost also works a holy care for righteousness in the soul. “I will cause you to keep My judgments”;--that is, to have an exactness of obedience, a precision, a deliberation, a willingness to find out God’s will, and a care to attend to it in every jot and tittle. Now, to what a delightful consummation has our text conducted us. It began with a renewed heart, and it ends in a purified life. It commenced with taking away the stone and giving the flesh; now it gives us the life of Christ written out, in living characters in our daily practice. Glory be to God for this! (C. H. Spurgeon.)

A new heart

1. No problem, whether of religion or philosophy, of nature or revelation, more transcends the power of human reason to solve than that of the existence of moral evil in the world.

2. In what consists the nature of this evil? What is its essence? In nature, it subsists in a heart not in accordance with the Divine law. In essence it is a moral depravity; a moral corruption; a perversion of the understanding and the affections in regard to moral truth and duty; a discord among the harmonies of our moral being, and a slavish subjection to the appetites of our bestial nature in opposition to the nobler promptings and requirements of our higher, our godlike, nature.

3. Is there any escape from this evil--any remedy for it on man’s behalf. And if so, in what, and where, and how may it be obtained? “A new heart will I give you.” God makes for us a way of escape; God provides the remedy, and we are made the beneficiaries of it by God’s bestowal upon us of a new heart.

I. This gift of God, a new heart. A new heart contrasts with the old. The old heart is alienated from God; the new heart cleaves to God with supreme affection of love. The old heart is sold under sin; the new heart is redeemed from all iniquity. The old heart is accompanied by carnal-mindedness, which is death; the new heart by spiritual-mindedness, which is life and peace.

II. How does God bestow this gift? God gives this new heart, not by destroying the freedom of human will and agency, but by emancipating it from every condition of slavery. By the unspeakable gift of His Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins, by the influence and agency of His Holy Spirit, enlightening us in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, and regenerating our natures, and by His blessing upon the means of grace which He has appointed, God confers this gift of a new heart upon all those who believe in Jesus, and who walk by the Spirit, according to revealed truth, in the use of the appointed means of grace, and in obedience to God’s law.

III. How does the new heart manifest itself in the life and character of its recipient? It effects an entire change in them. There are new objects of life and new attributes of character consequent upon the desires, affections, and purposes of a new heart. His life is a continual proof and illustration of the power of the Gospel to save, and his character is a beautiful example of purity of thought, simplicity and integrity of purpose, kindliness of demeanour, beneficence of deeds, and faithfulness in the discharge of every duty toward God and man. (W. T. Findley, D. D.)

A new heart

I. A new heart is a contrast to the old.

II. A new heart is productive of new effects.

1. Repentance.

2. Holiness.

III. A new heart is connected with new privileges (verse 28). If Jehovah be our God, there is not a real good that is not ours. We have Him for the portion of our souls. We are interested in the exercise of all His perfections. His love is inviolably and eternally fixed upon us. His wisdom is incessantly engaged in making all things work together for our good. His power is ever operating to defend us from essential injury. His universal presence becomes an uninterrupted source of peace and a never failing occasion of comfort. We have access to Him and communion with Him. He is our Father, our Guide, our Friend.

IV. A new heart is the work of God.

V. A new heart is the gift of God. Application--

1. What an important subject on which to examine ourselves. It is possible to be mistaken--and a mistake here is fatal.

2. How vain are the attempts men make to do without a new heart.

3. Let the most guilty be encouraged to seek this blessing as the gift of God in Christ Jesus; and the most hardened to hope for it as the work of God, if He be sought as the Author of it.

4. Let every man know that he inevitably and justly perishes if he neglects it--despises it--or presumes that he can be saved without it.

5. Let us adore God for having made known so wonderful and gracious a method of restoring our fallen nature. (Essex Remembrancer.)

The new heart

Behold a wonder of Divine love. When God maketh His creatures, one creation He regardeth as sufficient, and should they lapse from the condition in which He has created them, He suffers them, as a rule, to endure the penalty of their transgression, and to abide in the place into which they are fallen. But here He makes an exception; man, fallen man, created by his Maker, pure and holy, hath wilfully and wickedly rebelled against the Most High, and lost his first estate, but behold, he is to be the subject of a new creation through the power of God’s Holy Spirit.

I. The necessity for this great promise. You will notice that God does not promise to us that He will improve our nature, that He will mend our broken hearts. No, the promise is that He will give us new hearts and right spirits. Human nature is too far gone ever to be mended. If only a wheel or two of that great thing called “manhood” were out of repair, then He who made man might put the whole to rights; He might put a new cog where it had been broken off, and another wheel where it had gone to ruin, and the machine might work anew. But no, the whole of it is out of repair; there is not one lever which is not broken; not one axle which is not disturbed; not one of the wheels which act upon the others. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint. From the sole of the foot, to the crown of the head, it is all wounds and bruises and putrifying sores. Consider for a moment how bad human nature must be if we think how ill it has treated its God. I remember William Huntingdon says in his autobiography, that one of the sharpest sensations of pain that he felt after he had been quickened by Divine grace was this, “He felt such pity for God.” I do not know that I ever met with the expression elsewhere, but it is a very expressive one; although I might prefer to say sympathy with God and grief that He should be so evil entreated. Let us look back upon our past lives--how ungrateful have we been to Him! We have never returned His mercies into His bosom with gratitude and thankfulness; but we have let them lie forgotten without a single hallelujah, from our carelessness concerning the Most High, that He had entirely forgotten us, and that therefore we were trying to forget Him. It is so very seldom that we think of Him that one would imagine that surely He never gave us occasion to think of Him. But worse than this, we have not only been forgetful of Him, but we have rebelled against Him. We have assailed the Most High. Oh! it is a mercy that He is God and changeth not, or else we sons of Jacob would long ago have been consumed, and justly too. You may picture to yourselves, if you like, a poor creature dying in a ditch. I trust that such a thing never happens in this land, but such a thing might happen as a man who had been rich on a sudden becoming poor, and all his friends deserting and leaving him; he begs for bread and no man will help him, until at last, without a rag to cover him, his poor body yields up life in a ditch. This, I think, is the very extreme of human negligence to mankind; but Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was treated even worse than this. Ah, if you think of human nature as it acts towards God, you will say indeed it is too bad to be mended, it must be made anew. Again, there is another aspect in which we may regard the sinfulness of human nature: that is its pride. It is the very worst phase of man--that he is so proud. What a strange thing it is to see a sinful, guilty wretch proud of his morality! and yet that is a thing you may see every day. A man who is an enemy to God, proud of his honesty, and yet he is robbing God; a man proud of his chastity, and yet if he knew his own thoughts, they are full of lasciviousness and uncleanness; a man proud of the praise of his fellows, while he knows himself that he has the blame of his own conscience and the blame of God Almighty. Ah, human nature, this is, then, thine own condemnation, that thou art insanely proud, while thou hast nothing to be proud of. Write “Ichabod” upon it. The glory has departed forever from human nature. Let it be put away, and let God give us something new for the old can never be made better. It is helplessly insane, decrepit, and defiled. Furthermore, it is quite certain that human nature cannot be made better, for many have tried it, but they have always failed. A man trying to improve human nature, is like trying to change the position of a weathercock, by turning it round to the east when the wind is blowing west; he has but to take his hand off and it will be back again to its place. But, once again, you will easily perceive we must have a new heart when you consider what are the employments and the enjoyments of the Christian religion. The nature that can feed on the garbage of sin, and devour the carrion of iniquity, is not the nature that ever can sing the praises of God and rejoice in His holy name. And yet once again God hates a depraved nature, and therefore it must be taken away, before we can be accepted in Him.

II. The nature of this great change which the Holy Spirit works in us.

1. It is a Divine work from first to last. To give a man a new heart and a new spirit is God’s work, and the work of God alone. We have heard of some kind of insects that have lost their limbs, and by their vital power have been able to recover them again. But take away the seat of the vital power--the heart; lay the disease there; and what power is there that can, by any possibility, rectify it, unless it be a power from without--in fact, a power from above?

2. It is a gracious change. When God puts a new heart into man, it is not because man deserves a new heart--because there was anything good in his nature, that could have prompted God to give him a new spirit. The Lord simply gives a man a new heart because He wishes to do it; that is His only reason.

3. It is a victorious effort of Divine grace. God will have the sinner, if He designs to have him. God never was thwarted yet in any one of His purposes. Man does resist with all his might, but all the might of man, tremendous though it be for sin, is not equal to the majestic might of the Most High, when He rideth forth in the chariot of His salvation. He doth irresistibly save and victoriously conquer man’s heart.

4. It is instantaneous. To sanctify a man is the work of the whole life; but to give a man a new heart is the work of an instant. Other parts of salvation are done gradually; but regeneration is the instantaneous work of God’s sovereign, effectual, and irresistible grace.

III. Hope and encouragement to the vilest of sinners.

1. There are some who are seeking after mercy; for many a day you have been in prayer in secret, till your very knees seemed sore with the oftenness of your intercession. Your cry to God has been, “Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me.” Let me comfort you by this reflection, that your prayer is already heard. You have a new heart and a right spirit: perhaps you wilt not be able to perceive the truth of this utterance for months to come, therefore continue in prayer till God shall open your eyes, so that you may see that the prayer is answered; but rest assured it is answered already. The Lord hath begun a good work in thy heart, and He will carry it on even unto the end. All these feelings of thine are more than thou ever couldst have attained of thyself. God has helped thee up this Divine ladder of grace, and as sure as He has brought thee up so many staves of it, He will carry thee to the very summit, till He grasps thee in the arms of His love in glory everlasting.

2. There are others, however, who have not proceeded so far, but you are driven to despair. The devil has told you that you cannot be saved; you have been too guilty, too vile. Any other people in the world might find mercy, but not you, for you do not deserve to be saved. Have I not tried to make it as plain as the sunbeam all through this service, that God never saves a man for the sake of what he is, and that He does not either begin or carry on the work in us because there is anything good in us? The greatest sinner is just as eligible for Divine mercy as the very least of sinners. He can take you, a thief: a drunkard, a harlot, or whoever you may be; He can bring you on your knees, make you cry for mercy, and then make you lead a holy life, and keep you unto the end. “Oh!” says one, “I wish He would do that to me, then.” Well, soul, if that be a true wish, He will. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

A new spirit will I put within you.

The invaluable gift

The gifts of God are unspeakably great; should we attempt the enumeration they would appear like the stars of heaven, or the sands on the shore for multitude. When the author of the Spectator recovered from a dangerous illness he penned a delightful hymn, in which he expresses the transports of his soul, and the wonder, love, and praise which a sense of the Divine mercies awakened in his grateful mind. But if such language was the result of a survey of God’s providential goodness, how should the believer exult in the gift of a Saviour, and in that last, best blessing, the enlightening and sanctifying Spirit by which He is revealed to the heart!

I. What this invaluable blessing includes and what we are to understand by a new spirit.

1. God engages to bestow that grace upon us of which we were altogether undeserving.

2. In the bestowment of this blessing we invariably see the providence and word of God preparing the way for its reception.

II. The reasons and grounds of encouragement we have to seek this blessing.

1. Think of the character of Him who gives this new spirit.

2. Consider that this is a free gift.

3. Reflect on the many instances in which this blessing has been conferred on individuals as undeserving as ourselves.

4. The perfection of our moral character depends on obtaining it. Enriched with this treasure, we can never be poor or unhappy; nor is it in the power of men or devils to make us miserable.

5. By individually seeking this precious gift we shall be instrumental in promoting the advent of Christ’s kingdom, and in hastening that blessed consummation which the Church of God so earnestly desires. (Essex Remembrancer.)

The new heart bestowed

I. The old heart removed.

1. The senselessness of the unconverted heart.

2. The resistance of the unconverted heart.

3. The impenetrableness of the unconverted heart.

4. The coldness of the unconverted heart.

An unconverted man will have a very tender and warm heart about earthly things. If he loses a wife, or a child, or some valuable property, oh, what intense warmth of feeling do we instantly behold! But when we tell him about the death of Christ, or the love of the Holy Spirit, he takes no more notice of what we say than the cold pavement of the street would listen to a beggar’s petition.

II. The new heart given.

1. Your new heart is sensitive. “The spiritual man,” we are told, “discerneth all things.” You are sensitive of spiritual pains and of spiritual pleasures. You are especially sensitive with respect to sin.

2. Your new heart is flexible. It can bend in accordance to God’s will.

3. Your new heart is easily impressed. Its fleshy tablets are always waiting to receive the writing of the Lord’s commands.

4. Your new heart is well known for its warmth of feeling. Once it saw no beauty nor comeliness in Jesus; but now that it is renewed, it cries, “Thou art the King of glory, O Christ”: “Thy name is as the ointment poured forth”: “In Thee, O Jesus, have I righteousness”: “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of Thee”: “Thou art the chiefest among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely.”

III. The author of the change. Clean water is here used as the emblem of the blood of Christ, and of the work of the Holy Spirit. When the blood of Christ is applied to our conscience through faith, it cleanses us from all dead works; and the Holy Spirit, when applied to all the powers of your soul, purifies it from the love and dominion of sin. Conversion work is all God’s work; insomuch that, wherever God’s Spirit converts men by the ministry, He there may be said to raise up children to Abraham out of stones. There He makes water to gush out of rocks; and there He makes dead and dry bones to live. (C. Clayton, M. A.)

A new heart

I. The old principle which must be got rid of. “A stony heart.” Of course this is a figure when you speak of a man’s heart, because you do not speak of that which beats in a man’s frame, but of his will and affections. Likewise a stony heart is a figure used to describe one who knows not Christ, and cannot until it is removed. What is a stone? A stone is a thing upon which you can make no impression. You may strike it with a hammer, or a sword, or any other weapon, but you can make no impression upon it; so with a stony human heart, no arguments or anything we can do will influence it. There are some hearts we cannot reach, they seem harder than the nether millstone. Until God touches the hard heart it has no feeling; and there are men and women now who figuratively go to that stony rock of Calvary, whereon Christ died for our sins, and even come to services like these in which we literally go there with Him, and yet do not feel touched in their hearts.

II. A new principle which is to be given us. There are two ways in which people may be said to have anything new. First, when it is absolutely new. When the Ark of God was to be brought back, a cart was to be made by the Divine Will, and it has to be a new cart, entirely out of new materials. So in the New Testament we are told Joseph of Arimathea laid our Lord in a new tomb, wherein yet never anyone had lain. There is another sense in which a thing is made new, that is, when it is renewed, for that comes to the same thing. This is what happens when a man’s heart is renewed, and turned to God. You may meet a man, and say, “I see no change in him,” and yet that man has been renewed by the Spirit of God. This, then, is the new principle that God will give; and it is “a new heart,” and when that happens the whole man is changed. Again, when a man’s will is renewed he is made to say, “Not my will, but Thine be done.” And a man’s affections are renewed, and even his memory is renewed. That memory, that used to be running off on other things, now returns to God.

III. The Divine Giver. It is the work of Omnipotence. He can make the heart love and glow with life. When He does this work it is done in an instant. A man at the receipt of custom, who was as busy as any of you, was called by Christ, and Matthew arose and followed Him in a moment. He said also to Zacchaeus, “Make haste and come down,” “and he made haste and came down.” It was done in a moment. And when Lydia sat listening to Paul’s address we are told that “the Lord opened her heart,” and then she attended to the words spoken by Paul. And when Saul was entering into Damascus to persecute the Christians in that city, carrying with him letters from the high priest at Jerusalem, a voice asked him, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” God touched his heart, and it was done in a moment.

IV. It brings great glory to God. It is greater than creating a world. Someone has said. “It was great to speak a world from nought”; but it is a greater work when He comes down to that heart which He first made in His own image, and which sin has marred and ruined, and promises to dwell there, than the work of creation. (Canon Fleming.)

I will take away the stony heart.--

The stony heart removed

I. The stony heart and its dangers.

1. Why is the heart of man compared to a stone at all?

2. The danger to which this hard heart is exposed.

II. A heart of flesh and its privileges.

1. What is meant by a heart of flesh? It means a heart that can feel on account of sin--a heart that can bleed when the arrows of God stick fast in it; it means a heart that can yield when the Gospel makes its attacks--a heart that can be impressed when the seal of God’s word comes upon it; it means a heart that is warm, for life is warm--a heart that can think, a heart that can aspire, a heart that can love--putting all in one,--a heart of flesh means that new heart and right spirit which God giveth to the regenerate.

2. But wherein does this heart of flesh consist; wherein does its tenderness consist?

3. The privileges of this renewed heart are these. “‘Tis here the Spirit dwells, ‘tis here that Jesus rests.” The soft heart is ready now to receive every spiritual blessing. It is fitted to yield every heavenly fruit to the honour and praise of God. A soft heart is the best defence against sin, while it is the best preparative for heaven. A tender heart is the best means of watchfulness against evil, while it is also the best means of preparing us for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The nature of the change in conversion

I. The old heart is taken away and a new one put in its place. The head was justly considered by ancient philosophers to be the residence of the intellectual faculties, where the soul, presiding over all, sat enthroned, as in a palace. On the other hand, they regarded the affections as having their home in the heart, that other great organ of our system. Within the breast, love and hatred, grief and joy, aversion and desire, generosity, jealousy, pity, revenge were supposed to dwell; and thus (to dismiss the metaphor), that substitution of one heart for another which is promised in the text, just implies a thorough change in the character and current of our affections. Now, a change may be simply a reform; or, extending deeper and taking a wider range, it may pass into a revolution. Conversion is not a mere reform. No. It changes the heart, the habits, the everlasting destiny of an immortal being. To be sensible of our need of a new spirit, to feel that this old heart will not mend nor make better, is one of the first steps in salvation; and the deeper our impression of this truth, the more diligently shall we labour, and the more earnest shall be our prayers to be renewed day by day.

II. The view which our text gives of the natural heart. It is a heart of stone. “I will take the stony heart out of your flesh.”

1. A stone is cold. Coldness is its characteristic. Hence, the lapidary, by using his tongue to test the temperature, can tell whether the seeming jewel is paste or a real gem. Hence, also, when our eye has been deceived by the skill of the artist, the sense of touch has informed us that what seemed a marble pillar was only painted wood. There is reason, therefore, in the common saying, As cold as a stone. But what stone so cold as that which sin has lodged in man’s breast? We are by nature lovers of pleasure, not of God. He is not the object of our love, but of our aversion. And what return do we make to Jesus for His warm and matchless affection? The carnal mind is enmity against God; is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.

2. A stone is hard. Fire melts wax, but not stone; water softens clay, but not stone; a hammer bends the stubborn iron, but not stone. It resists all these agents; and, emblem of a heart crushed, but unsanctified by affliction, a stone may be broken into fragments, or ground to powder, yet its atoms are as hard as ever. The man who remains unmoved under a ministry of mercy, who is insensible at once to the most appalling and appealing lessons of providence, who fears no more than a rock the thunders that peal and the lightnings that play round his brow, and feels no more than a rock the influences that fall like summer sunbeams from the face of a gracious Saviour, is manifestly beyond all human power. I would despair of his salvation, but for the omnipotence and benevolence of God; and because I know that He, who of the stones of the street could raise up children to Abraham, can change that heart of stone into a heart of flesh.

3. A stone is dead. It has no vitality, nor feeling, nor power of motion. Look at this statue; however skilful the sculptor’s chisel, there is no life here; no speech breaks from these cold lips; the limbs seem instinct with power, yet they never leave their pedestal; no fire flashes in these dull grey eyes, nor passions burn within that stony breast; the stone is deaf, and dumb, and dead. Spoken to, it returns no answer; wept over, it sheds no tears.

III. In conversion God gives a new spirit.

1. By this change the understanding and judgment are enlightened. Time and eternity are now seen in their just proportions, in their right relative dimensions; the one in its littleness, and the other in its greatness. When the light of heaven rises on the soul, oh, what grand and affecting discoveries does she make of the exceeding evil of sin, of the holiness of the Divine law, of the infinite purity of Divine justice, of the grace and greatness of Divine love. On Sinai’s summit and on Calvary’s Cross, what new truths and what sublime scenes open to her astonished eyes!

2. By this change the will is renewed. Bad men are worse, and good men are better than they appear. Yes, better; for in conversion the will is so changed and sanctified that, although a pious man is in some respects less, in other respects he is more holy than the world gives him credit for. The attainments of a believer are always beneath his aims; his desires are loftier than his deeds; his wishes are holier than his works. Give other men their will, let them have full sway and swing for their passions, and they would be worse than they are; give him the hill power to do as he would, and he would be better than he is. And thus, if you have experienced this gracious change, it will be your daily grief that not only are you not what you know you should be, but what you wish to be. The fruits of holy peace are reaped with sharp swords on the field of war; and this conflict within you proves that grace, even in its infancy a cradled Saviour, is engaged in struggling with and strangling the old Serpent.

3. By conversion the temper and disposition are changed and sanctified. It is with the believer under the influences of the Spirit as with fruit ripening beneath the genial power of dews and sunbeams. Hard at first, its substance grows soft; sour at first, its juices become sweet; green at first, it assumes in time a rich and mellow colour; at first adhering tenaciously to the tree, when it becomes ripe it is ready to drop at the slightest touch. So with the man who is ripening for heaven. His affections and temper grow sweet, soft, mellow, loose from earth and earthly things.

IV. In conversion God gives a heart of flesh. “I will give you a heart of flesh.”

1. In conversion man gets a warm heart. Let us restrict ourselves to a single example. When faith embraces Him, how does the heart warm to Jesus Christ! There is music in His very name. “His name is as an ointment poured forth.” All the old indifference to His cause, His people, and interests of His kingdom has passed away; and now these have the warmest place in a believer’s bosom, and are become the objects of its strongest and tenderest affections.

2. In conversion a man gets a soft heart. As “flesh,” it is soft and sensitive. It is flesh; and can be wounded or healed. It is flesh; and feels alike the kiss of kindness and the rod of correction. It is flesh; no longer like a stone, hard, obdurate, impenetrable to the gentle influences of heaven. To change the figure, once a hard block of ice, it has been melted by the beams of the sun, and turned into flowing water.

3. In conversion a man gets a living heart. The perfection of a saint’s life is death; is to be dead to sin, but alive to righteousness, alive to Christ, alive to everything which affects His crown and kingdom. With Christ living in his heart, the believer feels that now he is not his own, and belongs no longer to himself. As another’s, and purchased at a great price, the grand object of his life is Christ’s. He wishes that he could look on the seductions of the world, and sin’s most voluptuous charms, with the cold, unmoved stare of death; and that these had no more power to kindle a desire in him than in the icy bosom of a corpse.

4. By conversion man is ennobled. Religion descends like an angel from the throne of God, to burst our chains. She raises me from degradation, and bids me lift my drooping head and look up to heaven. Yes, it is that very Gospel, by some supposed to present such dark, degrading, gloomy views of our destiny, which lifts me from the dust and the dunghill to set me among princes, on a level with angels, in a sense above them. To say nothing of the nobility grace imparts to a soul which is stamped anew with the likeness and image of God, how sacred, how venerable does even this body appear in the eye of piety! Angels hover round its walls, and the Spirit of God dwells within. What an incentive to holiness, to purity of life and conduct, lies in the fact that the Body of a saint is the temple of the living God!--a truer, nobler temple than that which Solomon dedicated by his prayers, and a greater even than Solomon consecrated by his presence. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

The heart of stone; or, the soul without religion

I. The soul of man is, like the stone, a mystery. Here is a stone. I see it, weigh it, feel it. But what is it? Colour, weight, and tangibility are not entities. These are mere qualities which belong to entities. By these qualities we may recognise the entities and form an opinion respecting them. In this sense the stone, itself a mystery, may be looked on as a type or picture of every soul, saved or unsaved. Every soul feels, reasons, and think;--and yet the soul is neither feeling, reason, nor thought: these are mere qualities which form no part of its essence. In itself it is a mystery.

II. The soul of the unregenerate, however, is, like the stone, very hard.

1. All stones are not equally hard, though hardness is a characteristic of each.

2. Neither are all souls equally without feeling or moral susceptibility, though all are sadly deficient in this respect. This is illustrated--

III. The soul of the unregenerate is, like the stone, not what it originally was. The stone has not been always as hard as it is now. Every pebble or grain of sand was once a part of a great rock, and that rock itself a soft material; but heat, pressure, and time combined made it hard. Even flint existed in a soft and pulpy form. Similar is the history of your soul, my unregenerated brother. It was once soft, tender, and full of felling, though now it is hard. This is proved--

IV. The unregenerated soul has, like the stone, been gradually hardened. Even Nero, who assassinated his mother, set fire to the Roman capital, and brought to an untimely grave in misery thousands of men, women, and innocent children, had once a tender heart, like others. “Would to God I could not write!” was his feeling exclamation once when a death warrant was presented to him for signature.

V. The unregenerated soul, like the stone, bears in itself a faithful record of all the powers which have helped to make it what it is. In the stone, some of its particles are spherical, showing that once, after having been broken from the mother rock, they were for centuries under the action of flowing water; others are crystallised, showing that once they were in a state of solution; others are organic, showing that they were once the seat of vegetable or animal life. In the form and composition of these particles we find a record of the various changes through which the stone has passed, as well as the numerous influences which have been at work in the effecting of those changes. The soul of man is similar. In eternity it may be possible to trace distinctly in every soul in heaven or hell a faithful record of all the influences which, on earth, have ever tended to elevate or degrade it.

VI. The unregenerated soul, like the stone, may be softened by the application of appropriate elements. The flint, may be reduced to pulp by chemical reagents, and moulded like the clay to any form. The hardest metals may be dissolved. So may also the hardest heart. The love of Christ is the dissolving element for souls. (Evan Lewis, B. A.)

Change of heart

I. The old and stony heart. There are some who tell us that the heart of man by nature is like a sheet of white paper or parchment, that you may inscribe on it whatever you please. We are bound to say, from our experience, this is not the condition of our hearts. We are conscious in ourselves that we were born with inclinations to evil; and that, as the fruit of inward corruption and depravity, our lives have been exceedingly defective and blemished everywhere, and that we have been disobedient to the Lord. The heart is said to be stony, that is, to be hard; and it remains so although we try it by every system, every principle, and every revelation of God, which would be adapted to impress and to make it feel, feel deeply and poignantly, if it were not a stone. Take the stone and bring it out to the light of heaven, and let the sunbeam fall on it--it does not feel; bring it again and let the dews of heaven distil on it, the rain of Divine mercy baptize it, take it to a fountain and let the waters play on it--it is a stone still; carry it into the Garden of Eden, and let all that is lovely there, all that is blooming in that place, created by Divine wisdom and goodness, be presented before it--it is a stone; shiver with lightning, it is a stone still; grind it to powder, it is a stone still--and that is the figure of the heart. It must be changed: God must take away the heart of stone and give the heart of flesh.

II. The change and renovation of the heart is the work of God.

1. We do find, we think, the doctrine in question very strongly stated in this passage: it looks as if God were all in all in this matter. The word I occurs four times.

2. The agency of heaven upon the heart of man is, without doubt, silent and inscrutable, and in many respects mysterious. But then, we ask, is it not equally so in elemental nature--in the world by which we are surrounded--in all the animal tribes--in our own bodies?

3. Throughout Scripture the change in the heart is ascribed to God.

4. This presents to our mind a very beautiful and important view of genuine religion. It is not of man’s creation--it is not the product of human genius--it is not that with which we can invest you, or you have any power to invest yourselves. You must receive it as the gift of Divine power--as the operation of Divine love--as the creation of God’s mercy.

5. God has promised to exert His power, and to give His Spirit, in order to this end.

III. When God undertakes it, he makes it new and renders it alive to every divine and celestial impression. But what is the change, what is the new heart which God gives? The man with a new heart will say, in penitence, humility, and shame, “I have broken the law, I have gone astray, I have done what I ought not, I have left undone that which I ought to have done, to me belong shame and confusion of face.” There is the heart changed. Bring him to judgments, those which happen round about him, and it will awake him from his slumber, and induce him to trim his lamp, and gird his loins, and to stand ready and prepared for whatever the will of God may be. There is a feeling heart in that man. Bring him to God’s mercies, mention them, recount them, let them be enumerated, and he exclaims, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name.” I am not worthy the least of them all, and yet He makes them towards me to abound. Bring him to nature, show him the creation, and he will say, “the heavens declare God’s glory, and I am glad of it, and the firmaments show forth His handiwork”; and he will recognise Deity everywhere, and in all this. Tell him of God’s dispensations towards him in his own life, and he will be thankful for every deliverance that has been wrought, and for every seasonable and remarkable interposition.

IV. The advantages and the blessedness of this renewed state.

1. In the changed state itself there is incomparable enjoyment.

2. And if we have this change of heart we shall certainly be victorious at the last. We shall find the new nature struggling with the old; the old will grow weaker and weaker, and the new stronger and stronger; but the time draweth near when that which is corrupt and depraved and defiled shall fall of itself and be dropped forever, and the new nature shall be revealed in its refulgence and beauty, not as delinquent to be punished, but as victorious to receive the crown of life. (J. Stratten.)

Gradual hardening of the heart

Many of you have no doubt seen the dripping wells at Matlock Bath. The caves are like an old curiosity shop. There are all kinds of objects. Drop by drop the water falls, until things that once were soft, and could have been bent as easily as a cane, have become as stiff and hard as stone. Slowly and surely the work goes on. And so it is with our life. The heart does not become hard all at once.

The stony heart

The “stony heart” refers obviously to a curious custom of the ancient Egyptians. When a dead body was embalmed, the heart along with the other internal organs was taken out, and in the cavity where it had been a large scarab was placed. This was a representation in stone of a beetle that was worshipped by the Egyptians, because it sprang from the fertilising mud left behind by the annual overflow of the waters of the Nile. It seemed to be created directly by the rays of the sun, and was therefore regarded as a symbol of life springing from death. Myriads of this sacred beetle wrought in all kinds of material have been found in Egyptian tombs. Ezekiel, as is abundantly evident in his prophecies against Egypt, was intimately acquainted with the manners and customs of that country. He therefore borrows his image from an Egyptian source It suggests to us not only the hardness and lifelessness of a common stone, but also the peculiar shape and superstitious use of a special sacred stone. It was with the Jews as it was with an Egyptian mummy. They were spiritually dead, and the tender living heart had disappeared and a heart of stone had been substituted. (Hugh Macmillan, D. D.)

Transformed to stone

We read in ancient Greek fable of the Gorgons, who had the power of turning mortals into stone by a look. There are still Gorgons in existence that can turn to stone the hearts of those who look upon their alluring forms and listen to their flattering speeches. The love of money, the love of pleasure, are great Medusas that change by their evil spells the warm heart that cherishes them into a piece of rock, without sensibility or sympathy. (Hugh Macmillan, D. D.)

And I will give you an heart of flesh.--

A heart of flesh

A heart of flesh is known by its tenderness concerning sin. To have indulged a foul imagination, or to have allowed a wild desire to tarry even for a moment, is quite enough to make a heart of flesh grieve before the Lord. The heart of stone calls a great iniquity nothing, but not so the heart of flesh.

2. The heart of flesh is tender of God’s will. My Lord Will-be-will is a great blusterer, and it is hard to subject him to God’s will; but when the heart of flesh is given, the will quivers like an aspen leaf in every breath of heaven, and bows like an osier in every breeze of God’s Spirit. The natural will is cold, hard iron, which is not to be hammered into form; but the renewed will, like molten metal, is soon moulded by the hand of grace.

3. In the fleshy heart there is a tenderness of the affections. The hard heart does not love the Redeemer, but the renewed heart burns with affection towards Him. The hard heart is selfish, and coldly demands, “Why should I weep for sin? Why should I love the Lord?” But the heart of flesh says: “Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee; help me to love Thee more!” Many are the privileges of this renewed heart; “‘Tis here the Spirit dwells, ‘tis there that Jesus rests.” It is fitted to receive every spiritual blessing, and every blessing comes to it. It is prepared to yield every heavenly fruit to the honour and praise of God, and therefore the Lord delights in it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The heart of flesh

It is a peculiar feature in our holy religion that it begins its work within, and acts first upon the heart. The Holy Spirit does not attempt to improve human nature into something better, but lays the axe at the root of the trees, and declares that we must become new creatures, and that by a supernatural work of the omnipotent God. True religion begins, then, with the heart, and the heart is the ruling power of manhood. The heart is more nearly the man than any other of the faculties and powers which God has bestowed upon our nature. The heart, when renewed by grace, is the best part of manhood; unrenewed, it is the very worst. AEsop, when his master ordered him to provide nothing for a feast but the best things in the market, brought him nothing but tongues, and when the next day he ordered him to buy nothing but the worst things in the market, still brought nothing but tongues; and I would venture to correct or spiritualise the story, by exchanging hearts for tongues, for there is nothing better in the world than hearts renewed, and nothing worse than hearts unregenerate.

I. The tenderness here intended is absent in the unregenerate. They frequently have a natural sensitiveness; some persons who are not converted are very tender indeed, as mothers to their children, as fathers to their offspring, as friends to friends; and God forbid that we should say anything amiss concerning that which is good in human nature after its kind, but that is widely different from the spiritually tender heart. In all unregenerate men there is a lack of the real spiritual tenderness of which I have to speak, though all are not equally hardened. In all, for instance, there is a natural stoniness of heart. We are not born into this world perfect, so that when sin meets us it receives a kindly reception, and is not dreaded and shunned as it should be. The heart by nature is like the nether millstone, and its hardness is increased by contact with the world. Familiarity with sin doth not breed contempt for it, but often causes a measure of contempt for the law which forbids it. This world is a petrifying spring, and all who are of the world are being petrified in its stream, and so are growing harder and harder as the years roll on. Moreover men harden themselves by their own sins. Like a stone falling, sin gains impetus and increased velocity. As labour renders the hand hard, so sin makes the heart callous, and each sin makes the stony heart yet more like adamant. At the same time, all the circumstances around an unregenerate man will be perverted to the same result. If, for instance, a man prospers, nothing is more hardening to the heart than long prosperity. The opposite condition of circumstances will, through sin, produce the same result. Affliction hardens those whom it does not soften. And, alas! alas! that we should have to add it, holy influences will come to complete this hardening, and carry it to a still higher degree. The sunlight of the Gospel shining upon hearers either melts them into repentance or else hardens them into greater obstinacy. Yet, further, when an unregenerate man dares to put on a Christian profession, this is perhaps the most rapid and certain process for consummating the devil’s work; for if a man will be audacious enough to join himself with the saints while he is indulging in private sin; if he will continue to come to the communion table when he knows that his basest lusts are still indulged; and if, moreover, he has the face to boast of being a child of God when he knows that he is an utter stranger to Divine grace, why, such a man is the raw material out of which Satan can make a Judas.

II. Wherever true tenderness is found it is a special gift of the new covenant. A heart of flesh is a boon of sovereign grace, and it is always the result of Divine power. No heart of stone was ever turned into flesh by accident, nor by mere providential dispensations, nor by human persuasions. Neither is such a change wrought by man’s own actions. How shall a stone, being a stone, produce in itself flesh? The Spirit of God must change the nature, or the heart of stone will never become a heart of flesh. Note that the first works of the Spirit of God upon the soul tend towards this tenderness, for when He comes to a man He convinces him of sin and so softens him; the man convinced of sin does not laugh any longer at sin, neither does he despise the wrath of God on account of it. When the soul comes to be really saved, and to obtain peace through Jesus Christ, one great mark of its salvation is tenderness in heart. Oh, what a place for tenderness the Cross is! When for the first time oar eye beholds the Saviour, we, weep; we look and live, but we also look and mourn that we pierced the Lord. The fact that He loved us and gave Himself for us is enough to dissolve a heart of iron, if it could once know it. Now, as these first works of the Spirit of God in conviction and conversion lead to tenderness, so is it true of all the Divine operations which follow in due course. The whole tenor of the Gospel is towards tenderness. I cannot recollect a promise, I cannot recall a doctrine, I cannot remember a fact connected with the Gospel, which could make a believer hard-hearted. Can you? So is it with every Christian grace. All the Christian virtues promote warmth and tenderness of heart. You cannot be strong in piety unless you are tender in heart. Are you a child? Can a child be good if it be indifferent, haughty, obstinate, and stony-hearted towards its parents? Are you a servant? Who is a good servant but he that is tender of his master’s reputation, and anxious to fill his lord’s command? Are you a soldier? Where is there a good soldier that is not jealous of his captain’s honour, and careful lest by any means he should break the martial law? There must be tenderness. It is an essential point.

III. This tenderness, when it is given, is observable under several aspects. The man who has a heart of flesh given him becomes sensitive to fear. He trembles at the thought of a holy God in arms against him. The renewed heart is afraid of what other men call little sins, and flees from them as from a serpent. Again, a tender heart becomes sensitive as to the decisions of its enlightened conscience. The Christian feels that it is a horrible thing to sin against God, against the Saviour’s love, and against the influence of the indwelling Spirit, and he starts back from sin, not only because he is afraid of the punishment, but because he is wounded by the sin itself. As smoke to the eyes, as thorns to the flesh, and as gall to the palate, such is sin to the heart of flesh. Then, again, the new heart, the fleshy heart, becomes sensitive of the Divine love. The renewed heart feels that the love of Christ constraineth it, and it judgeth “that if Christ died for all, then were all dead, and that He died for all, that they which live should not live henceforth to themselves, but unto Him that died for them and rose again.” Moreover, the heart becomes sensitive henceforth to holy grief. When it has erred it chastens and humbles itself for having grieved the Saviour: it takes revenge upon itself if sin has been indulged. Withal it becomes sensitive to joy, and oh the joy which a Christian feels, to which the ungodly man must forever be a stranger! Heaven itself seems to flash along every nerve when the heart is steeped in fellowship with Jesus. And so we become sensitive with pity for others. I would give nothing for your religion if you do not desire others to share in it; if you can, without emotion, think of a soul being damned, I fear that it will be your own lot. Where this tenderness of heart is carried to a high point, as it ought to be in every Christian, the believer becomes delicately sensitive concerning the things of God. A Christian’s heart should resemble a sensitive plant, which the moment it is touched folds up its leaves, as a sailor reefs his canvas; or like a wound in a man’s flesh, which is pained by the faintest brush. Spiritual sensitiveness is fulness of life; insensibility is death. To feel the slightest motion of the Holy Spirit is a sign of high spirituality.

IV. Tenderness of heart is to be greatly prized and earnestly cultivated. Beloved, do not try to get rid of soul alarm and conviction and sin, except in God’s way. You will never prize the Saviour until you loathe yourself; you will never love His blood until you have been ashamed of the crimson of your own sin. Go to Jesus and put your trust in Him, and harden not your heart against Him. Next, I speak to you, O child of God. Cultivate tenderness of heart more and more. Be very humble, lie very low: be more and more conscious of your natural guilt, and repent daily more earnestly. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 27

Ezekiel 36:27

I will put My Spirit within you.

The gift of Pentecost

I. The agent in this change. God Himself.

1. Nothing less than this will suffice. Outward morality not enough, does not produce true obedience. Importance of motives.

2. Failure of all else to regenerate mankind.

II. The method of this change, as here predicted.

1. Change of heart. Heart of stone removed (Zachariah 7:12); heart of flesh given, receptive of holy influences: case of Lydia (Acts 16:14). The whole will thus changed.

2. The Spirit bestowed. God Himself dwelling in the heart (Psalms 68:18; John 14:17; John 16:13; 1 Corinthians 3:16). The great gift of Pentecost (Acts 2:4); the Church’s birthday. Mark the wider diffusion, the increased knowledge, the higher tone, the advance in spiritual life since the day of Pentecost.

III. The result of this change. “Cause you to walk in My statutes,” etc. The fruit of the Spirit is obedience (Galatians 5:22-23); no true obedience without the Spirit (Romans 8:8-9); the good tree alone brings forth good fruit (Matthew 7:17-20). This then supplies a practical test.

1. Are we exhibiting these fruits? If not, then we are not led by the Spirit, then we are “none of Christ’s”; then the great work of the changed heart has not taken place.

2. Do we desire a better, higher life? If so, then remember the distinct promise of text. Pentecost is a pledge (Acts 2:39). (A. G. Hellicar, M. A.)

The renovator

In many respects the new corresponds with the old creation, the Paradise Regained with the Paradise Lost. Man is the subject of both; his good and the Divine glory are the ends of both; devils are the enemies, and angels are the allies of both; the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are the authors of both. The Father decrees redemption; the Son procures it; the Holy Spirit applies it; and for the latter purpose this promise is both given and fulfilled--“I will put My Spirit within you.”

I. The Holy Spirit is the great agent in conversion and sanctification. Man cannot be saved unless elected; nor elected without the Father. He cannot be saved unless redeemed; nor redeemed without the Son. Not less true is it, that he cannot be saved unless converted; nor converted without the Spirit. Do you ask why? We may compare the change wrought in conversion to the removal of what was old and shattered, and the supplying its place with new machinery. But what is mere machinery? Just what a new heart were without the Spirit of God. In addition to the machinery we must have a moving power. Of what use were that which is to be moved without a force adequate to the end in view? Without a mainspring inside the timepiece, however complete the number and perfect the workmanship of its wheels, pinions, pivots, axles, the hands would stand on its face, nor advance one step over the encircling hours. So were it with the renewed soul without the Spirit of God to set its powers in motion, bring them into play, and impart to their movements a true and heavenward character. For this purpose God fulfils the promise, I will put My Spirit within you. To illustrate this truth, let me avail myself of the clement which gives a name to the Spirit, and which our Saviour selects as its appropriate emblem--“The wind bloweth where it listeth,” etc. Here is a noble ship. Her masts are all in; and her canvas is spread out; yet no ripple runs by her side, nor foam flashes from her bows, nor has she any motion, but what she receives from the alternate swell and sinking of the wave. Her equipment is complete. The forests have masted her; in many a broad yard of canvas a hundred looms have given her wings. Her anchor has been weighed to the rude sea chant; the needle trembles on her deck; with his eye on that friend, unlike worldly friends, true in storm as in calm, the helmsman stands impatient by the wheel. And when, as men bound to a distant shore, the crew have said farewell to wives and children, why then lies she there over the self-same ground, rising with the flowing, and falling with the ebbing tide? The cause is plain. They want a wind to raise that drooping pennon, and fill these empty sails. They look to heaven, and so they may; out of the skies their help must come. Even so, though heaven born, heaven called, heaven bound, though endowed with a new heart, and new mind, and new will, we stand in the same need of celestial influences. The grace and Spirit of God are indispensable. This Divine gift, however, neither circumscribes nor supersedes our own exertions. These gracious influences descend not to set us idle, any more than the breeze blows to send the sailor to his hammock and rock him over in the arms of sleep. The more full the gifts and Divine breathings of the Spirit, the busier let us be; more diligent in the use of prayer, of sacraments, of the Word, of all those ordinances through which the Spirit works, and bears believers onward and homeward in their heavenly course.

II. God’s spirit is not only given to His people, but dwells in them. “I will put My Spirit within you.” Whatever habitation the prince of darkness may have within unconverted men; and however also, holding for a time some footing, even in God’s people he may suggest those thoughts of blasphemy and desires of sin, which come as unbidden as they are unwelcome, yet the saints of God enjoy what may be called a blessed possession. Not the angels, but the Spirit of God dwells in them. Heaven has descended into their bosoms, and there they have a little heaven below. God now in very truth not only dwells with man, but in man. “I will put My Spirit within you.” He is enshrined within them: so that, as the soul dwells in the body, God dwells in the soul. Speaking of the man that loves Him, our Lord said, We will come unto Him. A condescension and kindness unknown to those who boast the friendship of kings, God bestows the honour of daily visits on the lowliest and poorest Christian. He comes at the time of prayer; He occupies the mercy seat at the stated hour of worship; and into the closet where the good man goes, He goes along with him. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

The necessity of the Spirit’s work

We lay down this proposition--that the work of the Holy Spirit is absolutely necessary to us if we would be saved.

1. This is very manifest if we remember what man is by nature. Holy Scripture tells us that man by nature is dead in trespasses and sins. It does not say that he is sick, that he is faint, that he has grown callous, and hardened, and seared, but it says he is absolutely dead. When the body is dead it is powerless; it is unable to do anything for itself; and when the soul of man is dead, in a spiritual sense, it must be, if there is any meaning in the figure, utterly and entirely powerless; and unable to do anything of itself or for itself. The Spirit finds men as destitute of spiritual life as Ezekiel’s dry bones; He brings bone to bone, and fits the skeleton together, and then He comes from the four winds and breathes into the slain, and they live, and stand upon their feet, an exceeding great army, and worship God. But apart from that, apart from the vivifying influence of the Spirit of God, men’s souls must lie in the valley of dry bones, dead, and dead forever. But Scripture does not only tell us that man is dead in sin; it tells us something worse than this, namely, that he is utterly and entirely averse to everything that is good and right. “The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7). Turn you all Scripture through, and you find continually the will of man described as being contrary to the things of God. They will not come unto Christ, that they may have life. Until the Spirit draw them, come they neither will nor can. Hence, then, from the fact that man’s nature is hostile to the Divine Spirit, that he hates grace, that he despises the way in which grace is brought to him, that it is contrary to his own proud nature to stoop to receive salvation by the deeds of another--hence it is necessary that the Spirit of God should operate to change the will, to correct the bias of the heart, to set man in a right track, and then give him strength to run in it.

2. Salvation must be the work of the Spirit in us, because the means used in salvation are of themselves inadequate for the accomplishment of the work. And what are the means of salvation? Why, first and foremost stands the preaching of the Word of God. But what is there in preaching, by which souls are saved, that looks as if it would be the means of saving souls? Under the ministry dead souls are quickened, sinners are made to repent, the vilest of sinners are made holy, men who came determined not to believe are compelled to believe. Now, who does this? If you say the ministry does it, then I say farewell to your reason, because there is nothing in the successful ministry which would tend thereunto. It must be that the Spirit worketh in man through the ministry, or else such deeds would never be accomplished. You might as well expect to raise the dead by whispering in their ears, as hope to save souls by preaching to them, if it were not for the agency of the Spirit.

3. The absolute necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart may be clearly seen from this fact, that all which has been done by God the Father, and all that has been done by God the Son, must be ineffectual to us unless the Spirit shall reveal these things to our souls. We believe, in the first place, that God the Father elects His people; from before all worlds He chooses them to Himself; but let me ask you--what effect does the doctrine of election have upon any man, until the Spirit of God enters into him? Until the Spirit opens the eye to read, until the Spirit imparts the mystic secret, no heart can know its election. He, by His Divine workings, bears an infallible witness with our spirits that we are born of God; and then we are enabled to “read our title clear to mansions in the skies.” Look, again, at the covenant of grace. We know that there was a covenant made with the Lord Jesus Christ, by His Father, from before all worlds, and that in this covenant the persons of all His people were given to Him, and were secured; but of what use or of what avail is the covenant to us until the Holy Spirit brings the blessings of the covenant to us? Take, again, the redemption of Christ. We know that Christ did stand in the room, place, and stead of all His people, and that all those who shall appear in heaven will appear there as an act of justice as well as of grace, seeing that Christ was punished in their room and stead, and that it would have been unjust if God punished them, seeing that He had punished Christ for them. We believe that Christ having paid all their debts, they have a right to their freedom in Christ--that Christ having covered them with His righteousness, they are entitled to eternal life as much as if they had themselves been perfectly holy. But of what avail is this to me, until the Spirit takes of the things of Christ and shows them to me?

4. The experience of the true Christian is a reality; but it never can be known and felt without the Spirit of God. Trouble comes, storms of trouble, and he looks the tempest in the face, and says, “I know that all things work together for my good.” His children die, the partner of his bosom is carried to the grave; he says, “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” His farm fails, his crop is blighted; his business prospects are clouded. You see him approaching at last the dark valley of the shadow of death, and you hear him cry, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me, and Thou Thyself art with me.” Now, I ask you what makes this man calm in the midst of all these varied trials, and personal troubles, if it be not the Spirit of God? But look at the Christian, too, in his joyous moments. He is rich. God has given him all his heart’s desire on earth. Mark that man; he has plenty of room for pleasures in this world, but he drinks out of a higher cistern. His pleasure springs from things unseen; his happiest moments are when he can shut all these good things out, and when he can come to God as a poor guilty sinner, and come to Christ and enter into fellowship with Him, and rise into nearness of access and confidence, and bold approach to the throne of the heavenly grace. Now, what is it that keeps a man who has all these mercies from setting his heart upon the earth? What can do this? No mere moral virtue. No doctrine of the stoic ever brought a man to such a pass as that. No, it must be the work of the Spirit, and the work of the Spirit alone, that can lead a man to live in heaven, while there is a temptation to him to live on earth.

5. The acceptable acts of the Christian life cannot be performed without the Spirit; and hence, again, the necessity for the Spirit of God. The first act of the Christian’s life is repentance. Have you ever tried to repent? If so, if you tried without the Spirit of God, you know that to urge a man to repent without the promise of the Spirit to help him, is to urge him to do an impossibility. Faith is the next act in the Divine life. Perhaps you think faith very easy; but if you are ever brought to feel the burden of sin you would not find it quite so light a labour. Then we have to cry for the help of the Spirit; and through Him we can do all things, though without Him we can do nothing at all. In all the acts of the Christian’s life, whether it be the act of consecrating one’s self to Christ, or the act of daily prayer, or the act of constant submission, or preaching the Gospel, or ministering to the necessities of the poor, or comforting the desponding, in all these the Christian finds his weakness and his powerlessness, unless he is clothed about with the Spirit of God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The promise of the Spirit

I. The blessing promised.

1. The gift of the Spirit. The Spirit of God is revealed to us.

2. That Spirit is to be put within us. The signs of the Spirit dwelling in us will be--

II. The practical influence this blessing is to produce. The Spirit will--

1. Impart the nature and disposition to serve God. This must be the new nature, the new heart, the right spirit, the obedient mind.

2. Will give us ability to serve God We require strength, power, etc. (Ephesians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 4:16).

3. Will enable us to advance in the service of God.

Application--

1. Let us seek largely the influences of the Holy Spirit. It is obtained by believing prayer.

2. Let us yield ourselves freely to His Divine influence.

3. Let us be careful that we quench not and grieve not the Spirit of God. (J. Burns, D. D.)

The covenant promise of the Spirit

I. The commendation of the text, the tongues of men and of angels might fail. To call it a golden sentence would be much too commonplace: to liken it to a pearl of great price would be too poor a comparison. “I will put My Spirit within you.”

1. I would begin by saying that it is a gracious word. So great a boon as this could never come to any man by merit. A man might so act as to deserve a reward of a certain kind, in measure suited to his commendable action; but the Holy Spirit can never be the wage of human service: the idea verges upon blasphemy.

2. Note, next, that it is a Divine word: “I will put My Spirit within you.” Who but the Lord could speak after this fashion?

3. To me there is much charm in the further thought that this is an individual and personal word. “I will put My Spirit within you” one by one. “A new heart also will I give you.” Now, a new heart can only be given to one person. Each man needs a heart of his own, and each man must have a new heart for himself. “And a new spirit will I put within you.” Within each one this must be done. “And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh”--these are all personal, individual operations of grace.

4. This is a separating word. Those who have the Spirit are not of the world, nor like the world; and they soon have to come out from among the ungodly, and to be separate; for difference of nature creates conflict.

5. It is a very uniting word. It separates from the world, but it joins to God. By the Spirit we have access to the Father; by the Spirit we perceive our adoption, and learn to cry, “Abba, Father”; by the Spirit we are made partakers of the Divine nature, and have communion with the thrice holy Lord.

6. It is a very condescending word--“I will put My Spirit within you.” The Saviour has gone away on purpose that the Comforter might be given to dwell in you, and He does dwell in you. Is it not so? If it be so, admire this condescending God, and worship and praise His name. Sweetly submit to His rule in all things. Grieve not the Spirit of God. Watch carefully that nothing comes within you that may defile the temple of God. Let the faintest monition of the Holy Spirit be law to you.

7. It is a very spiritual word. Our text has nothing to do with outward rites and ceremonies; but goes much further and deeper. God puts His Spirit not upon the surface of the man, but into the centre of his being. The promise means--“I will put My Spirit in your bowels, in your hearts, in the very soul of you.”

8. This word is a very effectual one. “I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments and do them.” The Spirit is operative--first upon the inner life, in causing you to love the law of the Lord; and then it moves you openly to keep His statutes concerning Himself, and His judgments between you and your fellow men.

II. The exposition of the text.

1. One of the first effects of the Spirit of God being put within us is quickening. We are dead by nature to all heavenly and spiritual things; but when the Spirit of God comes, then we begin to live. This life of the Spirit Shows itself by causing the man to pray. The cry is the distinctive mark of the living child. He begins to cry in broken accents, “God be merciful to me.” Remember, dear friends, that as the Holy Spirit gives quickening at the first, so He must revive and strengthen it. Whenever you become dull and faint, cry for the Holy Spirit.

2. When the Holy Spirit enters, after quickening He gives enlightening. We cannot make men see the truth, they are so blind; but when the Lord puts His Spirit within them their eyes are opened. At first they may see rather hazily; but still they do see. As the light increases, and the eye is strengthened, they see more and more clearly.

3. The Spirit also works conviction. Conviction is more forcible than illumination: it is the setting of a truth before the eye of the soul, so as to make it powerful upon the conscience.

4. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit comes into us for purification. When the Spirit comes, He infuses a new life, and that new life is a fountain of holiness.

5. Next, the Holy Ghost acts in the heart as the Spirit of preservation. Where He dwells men do not go back unto perdition. He works in them a watchfulness against temptation day by day. He works in them to wrestle against sin.

6. The Holy Spirit within us is for guidance to lead us into all truth. Truth is like a vast grotto, and the Holy Spirit brings torches, and shows us all the splendour of the roof; and since the passages seem intricate, He knows the way, and He leads us into the deep things of God. He is also our practical Guide to heaven, helping and directing us on the upward journey.

7. Last of all, “I will put My Spirit within you,” that is, by way of consolation, for His choice name is “The Comforter.” You that are under the burden of sin; it is true no man can help you into peace, but the Holy Ghost can. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The gift of inward moral power

It would be a very poor affair if all we had to say to man was:--“There is a beautiful example, follow it!” Models are all very well, only, unfortunately, there is nothing in a model to secure it being copied. You may have a most exquisite piece of penmanship lithographed on the top of the page in a child’s copy book, but what is the good of that if the poor little hand is trembling when it takes the pen, and if the pen has got no ink in it, or the child does not want to learn? Copy books are all very well, but you want something more than copy books. (A. Maclaren.)

And cause you to walk in My statutes.

The new life

Good works, though not always the believer’s attainment, will always be his aim. Committing to his heart those tables which, in testimony of their excellence and authority, Moses committed to the tabernacle’s holiest shrine, he will say, O how I love Thy law, O Lord; and he will ever pray that God would fulfil to him this gracious promise, “I will cause them to walk,” etc.

I. It is a willing obedience. Many movements take place in the universe independent of any will but that of God. The sap ascends the tree, the planets revolve round the sun, the moon waxes and wanes in her quarters, the stars rise and set in the heavens, the tides flow and ebb upon the shore, and Nature walks in God’s statutes, keeping His judgments, and doing them, moved to obedience by no will but His. So soon, however, as, leaving inanimate creation, we ascend into the regions where intelligent mind and matter, or even blind instinct and matter are united, we discover a beautiful and benevolent law, by virtue of which their Maker at once secures the happiness and provides for the welfare of His creatures. He so orders it that the will of His creatures is in perfect harmony with their work; their inclinations with their interests. The nature of the redeemed is so accommodated to the state of redemption, their wishes are so fitted to their wants, their hopes to their prospects, their aspirations to their honours, and their will to their work, that they would be less content to return to polluted pleasures than the butterfly to be stripped of its silken wings, and condemned to pass its life amid the foul garbage of former days. With such a will and nature as believers now possess, their old pleasures would be misery; their old haunts a hell. Rather than leave his father’s table and bosom for the arms of harlots and the husks of swine troughs, would not the reclaimed prodigal embrace death itself, and seek a refuge in the grave? Even so God’s people would rather not be at all, than be what once they were. Hence, on the one hand, their unhappiness when entangled in sin; hence, on the other hand, their enjoyment in God’s service; hence David’s ardent longing for the place of ordinances; hence the beauty of a Sabbath scene, and the sweet music of Sabbath bells, and the answer of their hearts to the welcome sound, I was glad when they said unto me, let us go unto the house of the Lord.

II. This is a progressive obedience. To “walk” implies progress in grace. Walking is an art, and one not acquired either in a moment or a day; for the power to walk is not ours, in the same sense as the power to breathe. We are born with the one power, but born without the other. Walking, indeed, becomes so easy by use, that we are unconscious of any effort; yet step into the nursery, and you see that this art, acquired by labour, is the reward of continuous, conquering perseverance. In fact, our erect attitude and progressive motion, simple and easy as they seem, are achieved by means of most delicate and dexterous balancing. The marble statue cannot stand erect without foreign support: and you have no sooner raised a dead man, and set him upon his feet, than he falls at yours, a heap of loathsome mortality.

1. In this image God’s people find comfort and encouragement. Does the infant who is learning to walk abandon the attempt, or yield to despair, because its first efforts are feeble, and come far short of success? If not, why then should we despond, because in attempting to walk in God’s ways we often stumble, and not seldom fall?

2. This image stimulates to exertion, as well as comforts under failure. In attempting to walk, the child falls; blood stains its brow, and tears fill its eye. Does it lie there to weep? By no means. If not by speech, yet by signs that go to a mother’s heart, it prays; for it can pray before it speaks, Looking through these tears, and stretching out its little arms, the infant solicits, implores her help. Nor in vain. Teachers of our children! here let us become their scholars, and take a lesson from the nursery. Let the perseverance of the nursery be imitated by the Church. Let our knees be as often employed in prayer, and our powers and hours as much engaged in attempting a holy life, as those of infancy in learning to walk. Oh, if we would give the same diligence to make our calling and election sure, the same diligence to work out our salvation, the same diligence to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, I am certain that we should be holier; much holier than we are.

III. This willing and progressive obedience is the sign and seal of salvation. True religion consists not in passive, but active piety. We are to walk in God’s statutes, to keep His judgments, and to do them An active Christian life is implied in the very terms of the text. Grant that we are thereby exposed to hardships and temptations, from which a retiring piety might exempt us. Still, a life of active service shall prove best for others, and in the end also for ourselves. A candle set beneath a bushel is, no doubt, safe from wind and weather; but what good purpose does it serve? No light shineth for itself, and no man liveth for himself. Besides, the very trials to which piety is exposed on the stormy heights of duty, impart to it a robust and healthy character. The strongest trees grow not beneath the glass of a conservatory, or in sheltered and sunny nooks. The stoutest timber stands on Norwegian rocks, where tempests rage, and long, hard winters reign. And is it not also With the Christian as with animal life? Exercise is the parent of health; and strength the reward of activity. A Christian man should feel like some strong, brave swimmer, who has hundreds around him sinking, drowning, shrieking for help. The difficulty is to make selection, on whose unhappy head first to lay a saving hand. Amid such scenes and calls, oh, it is lamentable to think how much of our time has been frivolously, or worse than frivolously spent. Surely the time past of our lives may suffice us to have wrought the will of the flesh; to have enjoyed our own ease, made money, and gathered around us the comforts of life. To nobler ends be its remaining sands devoted! Take Jesus Christ for your copy. What is our Christianity but a name, a shadow, a mockery, unless we resemble Him who, being incarnate God, was incarnate goodness; and of whom, though He stood alone in that judgment hall, without one brave brother’s voice raised to speak for Him, there were hundreds and thousands to bear witness that He went about doing good, and was the friend both of sufferers and sinners. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

Incentives to Christian activity

I. One of the most powerful means to accomplish the duty of the text is to cultivate the love of Christ. They who would live like Jesus must look to Jesus. The effect which should be produced by looking to Jesus we may learn by turning our gaze on the sun. To eyes that have been bathed in his dazzling beams, how do other objects appear? Why, all are changed. They have become dim, if not dark and invisible. And were Jesus Christ revealed to us in the full effulgence of His Saviour glory, all sinful, even all created and dearly loved objects, would appear to undergo some such, and a no less remarkable change.

1. Love is the most powerful of all motives. It is as with a stone on the dry ground, which we strain at, but cannot stir. Flood the field where it lies; bury the huge block beneath the rising water; and now when its holed is submerged, bend to the work. Put your strength to it. Ah! it moves, rises from its bed, rolls on before your arm. So, when under the heavenly influences of grace the tide of love rises, and goes swelling over our duties and difficulties, a child can do a man’s work, and a man can do a giant’s. Let love be present in the heart, and out of the mouths of babes and sucklings God ordaineth strength. Strength! How great strength? Death pulls down the youngest and the strongest; but love is stronger than death. She welcomes sacrifices, and glories in tribulation. Duty has no burden too heavy, nor death any terrors too great for her.

2. Love is a motive to duty as pleasant as it is powerful. Love weaves chains that are tougher than iron, and yet softer than silk. She unites the strength of a giant to the gentleness of a little child; and with a power of change all her own, under her benign and omnipotent influence duties that were once intolerable drudgeries become a pure delight. To the feet of love the ways of God’s law are like a fresh and flowery sward, ways of pleasantness and paths of peace. Love changes bondage into liberty. Delighting in a law which is to our carnal nature what his chain is to a savage dog, what his task is to the slave, and against which our corrupt passions foam and fret like angry seas on an iron the fact, that by our obedience to these statutes the verdict of the last judgment shall be settled. We are saved by grace, but are tried by works. We are to be judged by the deeds done in the body, whether they were good or bad. Every one of us, says Paul, shall give account of himself to God. Oh! how should these solemn truths hedge up our path to a close and holy walk in His statutes! The day is coming when every unpardoned sin shall find out its author. Without a pardon, Jesus shall have no answer to us but the terrible response of Jehu, What hast thou to do with peace? Peace!--Yes, being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ; and the secret of that tranquillity lies in that which gave courage to a royal favourite when arraigned before his country for a most flagrant crime. Men wondered at his strange serenity, and how, amid circumstances trying to the strongest nerves, he could bear himself so calmly. Long after hope had expired in the breast of many anxious friends, and they looked on him as a doomed man, there he was, looking round serenely on that terrible array. His pulse beat calm, nor started suddenly, but went on with a stately march. Peace, like innocence, sat enthroned upon his placid brow. At length, amid the silence of the hushed assembly, the verdict of guilty is pronounced. He rises. Erect in attitude, in demeanour calm, he stands up not to receive a sentence, which was already trembling on the judge’s lip, but to reveal the secret of this strange peace and self-possession. He thrusts his hand into his bosom, and lays on the table a pardon--a full free pardon for his crimes, sealed with the royal signet. Would to God we all were as well prepared for the hour of death and the day of judgment! Then fare ye well earth, sun, moon, and stars; fare ye well wife and children, brothers and sisters, sweet friends, and all dear to us here below. Welcome death, welcome judgment, welcome eternity; welcome God and Christ, angels and saints made perfect, welcome--welcome heaven. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)


Verse 28

Ezekiel 36:28

Ye shall dwell in the land . . . and ye shall be My people.

The blessedness of the saints

I. The abundance of the blessings of grace. A newborn infant is the most helpless of all creatures. In its nakedness, weakness, dumbness, how dependent on a mother’s love; yet not more so than God’s people are on His care and kindness. Theirs are therefore circumstances in which His promises are exceedingly precious. The condition of believers closely resembles that of a man of boundless affluence, whose wealth lies, not so much in money, as in money’s worth; in bills and bonds, all to be duly honoured, so soon as they become due. With these promises the poorest Christian is really a richer man than other men, with all their possessions; nor would he part with one of them for the world’s wealth. Are you cast down because, while others have shallows, you have depths, dark depths of sorrow and suffering to pass through? Be it so: it is as easy for God to march “the host” through the wide, deep sea, as across the bed of Jordan. Are your corruptions strong? Be it so: Samson found it as easy to snap a new spun cable as withes fresh gathered on the river’s bank; and believe me it is as easy for God to break thy tyrant’s strongest as his lightest chain. A chain of iron and a thread of flax are all one to God. The blood of thy Saviour cleanseth from every sin; and nothing being impossible, nay, not even difficult to Omnipotence, be assured that in your battle, and watch, and toil, you shall find this promise true, My grace is sufficient for thee.

II. The happiness which God’s people enter on at death. God’s people are like His ancient Israel. They have enemies who will harass them in life, and follow on their track to the very shores of time; but whoever or whatever these may be--sin, sorrow, poverty, temptations, trials, fears, doubts, Satan himself--oh! a death bed shall be the death of them all. This is what the redeemed escape from, but what they escape to, oh, the joys they enter on when they are with Christ, who can tell? We know that to die is--not shall be at a future time, and after some intermediate state--but to die is gain, gain immediate. One step, and what a step! the soul is in glory. And what and where is heaven? I cannot tell. It looks to the eye of faith, much like a star to the eye of flesh. A shining object, we see it gleaming in the dusky fields of space, but see nothing more, even when our eyes are assisted by the most powerful telescope. By what beings it is inhabited; what forms they have; what tongue they speak; what the character of the landscape in these upper worlds, we do not know, and perhaps never shall, till we have cast loose a body which, like an anchor, moors us to this earth, and with a soul unchained, free perhaps as thought, we are left to roam the universe, and pass, as on the rapid wings of a wish, from world to world of our Father’s kingdom. Never, till then, shall we know either where or what heaven is. The best description of it is to say that it is indescribable.

III. The complete blessedness of the saints at the resurrection in the restoration of all that sin forfeited. There were periods in creation; progressive stages. Step by step the work advanced to its consummation. Like creation, the Gospel has had its periods of progress. It gradually advanced in its development from the date of the first promise given by God; when He, the Judge, and the culprits, man and the devil, stood face to face upon the ruins of Eden. There yet remains an aspect of redemption in which it is not complete. All that death and Satan hold they must relinquish; all that Christ has purchased He shall possess. The soul wants her partner; and although the exile may return no more, nor see his native land, the redeemed shall come back to claim their bodies from the earth; aye, and claim the very earth they lie in. The saints shall inherit the earth. Under laws accommodated to a new economy, this wide world shall become one smiling Eden, where, exempt from physical as from moral evils, none shall shiver amid arctic frosts, nor wither under tropic heat; and these fields of snow and arid sands shall be all flowered with roses. From the convulsions of expiring, or rather the birth-pangs of parturient nature, a newborn world shall come; a home worthy of immortals; a palace befitting its King. The blood that, falling on Calvary, dyed earth’s soil shall bless it; and this ancient theatre of Satan’s triumph shall be the seat of Emmanuel’s kingdom, and the witness of His glory. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)


Verse 31

Ezekiel 36:31

Then shall ye remember your own evil ways . . . and shall loathe yourselves.

True conversion

Israel had fallen from God, had gone after idols, and had sunk into the grossest moral corruptions. Then came the Chaldeans and crushed the nation, and removed it into captivity. However, God promised restoration to His people.

I. What is the result, the very first result of restoration? What happens directly that Israel is cleansed from past defilements, saved from present misery, assured against future fall? There would be exultation, no doubt, triumphant shouting when restored to the promised land and full privileges of being God’s children; but this is observable, that the first and truest emotion called forth is remembrance of past transgression and therefore self-loathing. It is the sight of God’s mercy enduring forever, the sight of the overflowing of the cup of love from His hand that calls forth this intense sorrow, this bitter loathing. There is a German story of a man, who, for the love of gold, sold his heart to a wood demon, and obtained in its place a heart of stone, and a purse which was never empty. He was now rich, but cold-hearted. He ill-treated his wife and caused her death, he drove his old mother from his door, be oppressed the poor, neglected his children, and went over the world seeking selfish pleasure. After many years he returned discontented, but still rich. He could get no real pleasure anywhere. Then in a fit of spleen, he sought the demon of the forest, and by the aid of the Cross recovered his heart of flesh. And the moment it was again in his breast, all that he had done returned to him. He flung himself, in floods of tears, on the ground weeping for his wife, his mother, his children, his friends, for all the wrong he had done, and all the good he had left undone. So it was with Israel. The heart of stone was taken from them, a heart of flesh was given them back, and instantly they remember their evil ways, and loathe themselves in their own sight for their iniquities.

II. This is the picture of true conversion. (S. Baring Gould, M. A.)

The sense of sin

A true sense of sin implies the consciousness of the fact of our sinfulness. Intellectually speaking, at different periods we estimate ourselves very differently. Whilst still young, we were confident and self-sufficient. But years bring experience to all, and sense to some, and looking back on our earlier selves we are distressed: we see how egregiously vain, stupid, and intolerable we were. The older man knows that his younger self was a fool.

1. A true sense of sin implies the consciousness that our sinfulness is personal. “Your own evil ways.” Ezekiel is the prophet of individuality, and here he singles out the individual sinner, seeking to bring home to the consciousness of his personal fault.

2. A true sense of sin implies the consciousness of its hatefulness. The text speaks of evil with the sense of horror and loathing--“detestable” things, “iniquities,” “abominations,” “filthiness,” “uncleanness.” How tenderly and apologetically certain writers speak of ghastly vices! The true thinker must know no anger or contempt in the presence of a crime; he must regard it with the indifference with which the chemist regards a poisonous drug, or the naturalist a poisonous flower. Again Bourget writes: “The artist admits that there are virtues which are not lovely, and corruptions which are splendid, or, rather, he cares nothing for virtue or for corruption. He knows that there are beautiful things and things that are ugly, and he knows nothing else.” It is altogether another thing when the soul is convinced of sin and judgment. “Ye shall loathe your own face,” declares the text. As a patient afflicted with a malignant disease shrinks with horror from the sight of his own face when for the first time he looks in the mirror, so does the convicted sinner shrink at the sight of his heart and life as revealed in the light of God’s holiness. “Ye that fear the Lord hate evil.” “I repent and abhor myself in sackcloth and ashes.”

3. A true sense of sin implies the consciousness of its guilt. “And shall judge yourselves unworthy to live.” We judge ourselves, condemn ourselves, pass the sentence of death upon ourselves. We instinctively feel that the difference is simply immeasurable between a mistake and a sin. A man may be liable to punishment for a mistake, as it involves culpable carelessness; but a simple error of judgment, a lapse of memory, an oversight, belongs to a mild category compared with the deliberate breach of the moral law. We feel that the difference is infinite between a misfortune and a sin. When one is overtaken by blindness, crippled by rheumatism, smitten by fever, or shattered by an accident, we do not blame and punish, we pity and help; but a transgression of God’s law awakens quite another order of ideas and sentiments. The penitent stands face to face with the righteous and loving God, and is filled with surprise, grief, and shame. He has done what deserves utterest reprobation, and is worthy of death. The sense of sin is first created by the Divine Spirit causing us to see and feel the purity and love of God, especially as these attributes are revealed in Jesus Christ. This is the golden ground against which sin stands out in terrible relief. And the sense of the folly, shame, and peril of sin becomes more acute all through the regenerate life. (W. L. Watkinson.)

Mistaken notions about repentance

The day of manifested mercy is to be the day of hearty repentance. “Then.” When God loads you with benefits you shall loathe yourselves. Repentance is wrought in the heart by a sense of love Divine. Many are kept from Christ and hope by misapprehensions of this matter. They have--

I. Mistaken ideas of what repentance is.

1. They confound it with--

2. It is--

3. It is all wrought by a sense of Divine love.

II. Mistaken ideas of the place which repentance occupies.

1. It is looked upon by some as a procuring cause of grace, as if repentance merited remission: a grave error.

2. It is wrongly viewed by others as a preparation for grace; a human goodness laying the foundation for mercy, a meeting of God half way; this is a deadly error.

3. It is treated as a sort of qualification for believing, and even as the ground for believing: all which is legality, and contrary to pure Gospel truth.

4. Others treat it as the argument for peace of mind. They have repented so much, and it must be all right. This is to build our confidence upon a false foundation.

III. Mistaken ideas of the way in which it is produced in the heart.

1. It is not produced by a distinct and immediate attempt to repent.

2. Nor by strong excitement at revival meetings.

3. Nor by meditating upon sin, and death, and hell, etc.

4. But the God of all grace produces it--

5. Every Gospel truth urges repentance upon the regenerate. Election, redemption, justification, adoption, eternal love, etc., are all arguments for loathing every evil way.

6. Every Gospel privilege makes us loathe sin: prayer, praise, the reading of Scripture, the fellowship of saints, the table of the Lord, etc.

7. Every Gospel hope purifies us from sin, whether it be a hope for more grace in this world, or for glory in the next. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

True repentance

I. The nature of true repentance.

1. True repentance is the gift of God, and the peculiar effect of His Holy Spirit.

2. The grief and self-loathing of true penitents do not flow so much from their feeling that sin is hurtful to themselves, as from the consideration of its own base nature; and especially of the ingratitude which it carries in it towards a kind and merciful God.

3. The soul’s conversion to God is the great introductory blessing which renders all other blessings valuable.

4. As this great and valuable blessing cometh down from the Father of lights, who is the Author of every good and perfect gift, it is therefore to be sought by our humble supplications and prayers (verse 37).

II. To recommend the example of these penitents described in the text to your imitation.

1. Let me call upon you to remember your ways. The neglect of serious consideration is the ruin of almost every soul that perisheth eternally. Consider the various relations in which you have been placed, the special duties which arose from those relations, and the manner in which you have performed them. When by such means you have discovered your own evil ways, then proceed to consider attentively the nature and degree of that evil which is in them. Let it not suffice to know that you have been sinners, without pondering the dreadful malignity and demerit of sin.

2. Loathe yourselves in your own sight, for your iniquities, and for your abominations. Thou art displeased with thine enemies who seek to injure thee; but where is there such an enemy as thou art to thyself? Thou abhorrest him who hath killed thy dearest friend; but where hadst thou ever such a friend as the Lord Jesus Christ, whom, by thy sins, thou hast crucified and slain?

3. Let me conclude with exhorting you to repair to that fountain which is opened for sin and for uncleanness, to that blood which can cleanse you from all sin. (H. Blair, D. D.)

Self-abasement, the sign of a Christian

Bradford, a martyr, yet subscribes himself “A sinner.” “If I be righteous, yet will I not lift up my head”; like the violet, a sweet flower, but hangs down the head. (Thomas Watson.)


Verse 32

Ezekiel 36:32

Not for your sakes do I this, saith the Lord God, be it known unto you: be ashamed and confounded.

Free grace

There are two sins of man that are bred in the bone, and that continually come out in the flesh. One is self-dependence and the other is self-exaltation. It is very hard, even for the best of men, to keep themselves from the first error. Instead of looking to grace alone to sanctify us, we find ourselves adopting philosophic rules and principles which we think will effect the Divine work. We shall but mar it; we shall bring grief into our own spirits. But if, instead thereof, we in every word look up to the God of our salvation for help, and strength, and grace, and succour, then our work will proceed to our own joy and comfort, and to God’s glory. The other error to which man is very prone, is that of relying upon his own merit. Though there is no righteousness in any man, yet in every man there is a proneness to trust in some fancied merit. Human nature with regard to its own merit, is like the spider, it bears its support in its own bowels, and it seems as if it would keep spinning on to all eternity.

I. I shall endeavour to expound this text. “Not for your sakes do I this, saith the Lord God.” The motive for the salvation of the human race is to be found in the breast of God, and not in the character or condition of man. God, who doeth as He wills with His own, and giveth no account of His matters, but who deals with His creatures as the potter deals with his clay, took not upon Him the nature of angels, but took upon Him the seed of Abraham, and chose men to be the vessels of His mercy. This fact we know, but where is its reason? certainly not in man. Here, very few object. If we talk about the election of men and the non-election of fallen angels, there is not a cavil for a moment. Come, then, we must go further. The only reason why one man is saved, and not another, lies not, in any sense, in the man saved, but in God’s bosom. The reason why this day the Gospel is preached to you and not to the heathen far away, is not because, as a race, we are superior to the heathen; it is not because we deserve more at God’s hands; His choice of Britain, in the election of outward privilege, is not caused by the excellency of the British nation, but entirely because of His own mercy and His own love. We are taught in Holy Scripture that, long before this world was made, God foreknew and foresaw all the creatures He intended to fashion; and there and then foreseeing that the human race would fall into sin, and deserve His anger, determined, in His own sovereign mind, that an immense portion of the human race should be His children and should be brought to heaven. As to the rest He left them to their own deserts, to sow the wind and reap the whirlwind, to scatter crime and inherit punishment. Now in the great decree of election, the only reason why God selected the vessels of mercy must have been because He would do it. As the fruit of our election, in due time Christ came into this world, and purchased with His blood all those whom the Father hath chosen. Now come ye to the Cross of Christ; bring this doctrine with you, and remember that the only reason why Christ gave up His life to be a ransom for His sheep was because He loved His people, but there was nothing in His people that made Him die for them. After Christ’s death, there comes, in the next place, the work of the Holy Spirit. Those whom the Father hath chosen, and whom the Son in us. To go a little further: this truth, which holds good so far, holds good all the way. God’s people, after they are called by grace, are preserved in Christ Jesus; they are “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation”; they are not suffered to sin away their eternal inheritance, but as temptations arise they have strength given with which to encounter them, and as sin blackens them they are washed afresh, and again cleansed. But mark, the reason why God keeps His people is the same as that which made them His people--His own free sovereign grace. And to conclude my exposition of this text. This shall hold good in heaven itself. The day is coming when every blood-bought, blood-washed child of God shall walk the golden streets arrayed in white. Our hands shall soon bear the palm; our ears shall be delighted with celestial melodies, and our eyes filled with the transporting visions of God’s glory. But mark, the only reason why God shall bring us to heaven shall be His own love, and not because we deserved it. We must fight the fight, but we do not win the victory because we fight it; we must labour, but the wage at the day’s end shall be a wage of grace, and not a debt.

II. I have to illustrate and enforce this text, Suppose that some great criminal is at last overtaken in his sin, and shut up in Newgate, He has committed high treason, murder, rebellion, and every possible iniquity. He has broken all the laws of the realm--every one of them. The public cry is everywhere--“This man must die; the laws cannot be maintained unless he shall be made an example of their rigour. He who beareth not the sword in vain must this time let the sword taste blood. The man must die; he richly deserves it.” You look through his character: you cannot see one solitary redeeming trait. He is an old offender, he has so long persevered in his iniquity that you are compelled to say, “The case is hopeless with this man; his crimes have such aggravation we cannot make an apology for him, even should we try. Not jesuitical cunning itself could devise any pretence of excuse, or any hope of a plea for thin abandoned wretch; let him die!” Now, if the Queen, having in her hands the sovereign power of life and death, chooses that this man shall not die, but that he shall be spared, do you not see as plain as daylight, that the only reason that can move her to spare that man, must be her own love, her own compassion? For, as I have supposed already that there is nothing in that man’s character that can be a plea for mercy, but that, contrariwise, his whole character cries aloud for vengeance against his sin. Whether we like it or not, this is just the truth concerning ourselves. This is just our character and position before God.

III. I come to a very solemn practical application.

1. First, since this doctrine is true, how humble a Christian man ought to be. I remember visiting a house of refuge. There was a poor girl there who had fallen into sin long, and when she found herself kindly addressed and recognised by society, and saw a Christian minister longing after her soul’s good, it broke her heart. What should a man of God care about her? she was so vile. How could it be that a Christian should speak to her? Ah! but how much more should that feeling rise in our hearts? My God! I have rebelled against Thee, and yet Thou hast loved me, unworthy me! How can it be?

2. This doctrine is true, and therefore it should be a subject of the greatest gratitude. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The true redemption of man

I. Has its origin in God and God only. “I do this for My Holy Name’s sake.” All that God does is self-originated. He alone is spontaneous in action. This fact--

1. Takes away all ground for human pride.

2. Should inspire us with adoring gratitude.

II. Serves to reveal the glory of God’s character to the world. The moral redemption of man, which involves the marvellous history and work of Christ, reveals more of the glory of God than all the material universe in its vastness and variety.

III. Involves separation from all unholy associations.

1. “Come out,” as a protest against iniquity.

2. “Come out” as an example to others.

3. “Come out” to qualify yourself for usefulness. Every man must morally be like Christ, “separate from sinners,” to be able to save them.

IV. Comprises a thorough renovation of human life.

1. The nature of this renovation.

2. The consequences of this renovation.


Verse 36

Ezekiel 36:36

I the Lord build the ruined places.

The security of the believer

I. The text announces a most important truth. When we look at our text, we feel, in reference to the sad event of Eden, much as Martha did when she fixed her weeping eyes on Jesus. Would His presence have preserved the life of Lazarus? No less certainly, these words, had they been present in their power to Eve, would have protected her innocence, and saved the world. Not Lazarus only, but no man had died; there had been neither sin, nor sorrow, nor griefs, nor graves, in a happy world, had our mother, when she stood by the fatal tree, but remembered, but believed, but felt this sentence, “I have spoken, and I will do it.” But when the deed has been done, and it is now too late, my object is not to show how man might have been saved. There is little kindness in telling me of a medicine that would have cured my dead. Glory to the grace of God, I tell not that my text would have saved man, but, if believed in, still shall save him. What would have saved us from the grave, can raise us out of it. Let my text lay hold of the redemption of Christ, and it has all, more than all, the power it ever possessed. The cross, the crown, peace, pardon, grace in life, hope in death, heaven throughout all eternity--these are all wrapped up in a deep, solemn, heartfelt, Divine conviction of the truth. “I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.”

II. The comforts this truth imparts to a true Christian.

1. Through his confidence in this truth he commits all his earthly cares to God. By faith in a superintending providence and an unfailing word, Child of God, thou mayest shield thy heart from cares that torture others, and from temptations that often prove their ruin! Between a man, torn with anxieties, haunted by fears, fretting with cares, and the good man, who calmly trusts in the Lord, there is as great a difference as between a brawling, roaring, mountain brook, that with mad haste leaps from crag to crag, and is ground into boiling foam, and that placid river, which with beauty on its banks, and heaven on its bosom, spreads blessings wherever it flows, and pursues the noiseless tenor of its way back to the great ocean, from which its waters came.

2. Through his confidence in this truth the believer is sustained amid the trials of life. Winter, no doubt, is not the pleasant season that summer brings with her merry songs and wreaths of flowers, and long, bright, sunny days; nor are bitter medicines savoury meat. Yet he who believes that all things shall work together for good, will thank God for physic as well as food; for the winter frost that kills the weeds, and breaks up the clods, as for these dewy nights and sunny days that ripen the fields of corn. May God give us such a faith!

3. Through his confidence in this truth the believer cheerfully hopes, and patiently waits for heaven. Home! to be home is the wish of the seaman on his lonely watch and on the stormy deep. Home is the wish of the soldier; and tender visions of it mingle with the troubled dreams of trench and tented field. And in his best hours, home, his own sinless home, a home with his Father above that sky, will be the devout wish of every true Christian man. The holier the child of God becomes, the more he pants after the perfect image and blissful presence of Jesus; and dark though the passage, and deep though the waters be, the more holy he is, the more ready is he to say, It is better to depart and be with Jesus.

III. Both nature and providence illustrate the truth of my text.

1. Nature assures us that what God hath said He will do. No man looks for sunrise in the west. No soldier stands beneath the hissing shell expecting to see it arrested in its descent, and hang like a star in empty space. We build our houses in confidence that the edifice will gravitate to the centre; nor ever doubt, when we set our mill wheel in the running stream, that as sure as man is on his way to the grave, the waters shall ever wend their way onward to the sea. We consult the Nautical Almanack, and, finding that it shall be high water tomorrow at such an hour, we make our arrangements for being then on board, certain that we shall find our ship afloat, and the seamen shaking out their sails to go away on the bosom of the flowing tide. If fire burned the one day, and water the next; if wood became at one time heavy as iron, and iron at another as buoyant as wood; if here the rivers hasted to the embraces of the sea, and there, as in fear, retreated from them, what a scene of confusion this world would become! In truth, its whole business rests on faith; on our belief that God will carry into unfailing effect every law which His finger has written in the great volumes of Nature and Providence. This is the pillow on which a sleeping world rests its weary head. This is the pivot on which the wheels of business turn. And now let us remember, that there are not two Gods; a consistent Divinity who presides over nature, and a capricious Divinity who presides in the kingdom of grace. Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord. In regard, therefore, to all the promises and also all the solemn warnings of the Bible, Nature lifts up her voice and cries in the words of the prophet, O Earth, Earth, Earth, hear the word of the Lord.

2. Providence assures us that what God hath said, He will do. The voice of every storm that, like an angry child, weeps and wails itself asleep, the voice of every shower that has cleared up into sunshine, the hoarse voice of ocean breaking in impotent rage against its ancient bounds, the voice of the seasons as they have marched to the music of the spheres in unbroken succession over the earth, the scream of the satyr in Babylon’s empty halls, the song of the fisherman, who spreads his net on the rocks, and shoots it through the waters where Tyre once sat in the pride of an ocean queen, the fierce shout of the Bedouin as he hurls his spear and careers in freedom over his desert sands, the wail and weeping of the wandering Jew over the ruins of Zion--in all these I hear the echo of this voice of God, “I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.” (T. Guthrie, D. D.)


Verse 37-38

Ezekiel 36:37-38

Thus saith the Lord God, I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them.

The prayers of the Church required for the conversion of souls

This chapter is full of “exceeding great and precious promises.” The text is associated with all these prophecies. Though God promises these blessings, and they are absolute blessings springing out of Divine grace and flowing from sovereign electing love to this people, yet He determined that for these blessings there should be prayer, and that not one of them should be communicated but through this channel. Two things God designs by this plan. The first is, to make the mercy we get, valuable. No man fancies a thing that comes without his care, without his concern, without his anxiety; hence, to render these mercies precious and valuable to us--as they are valuable in themselves, so also to make us account them so--God will have us ask for them. And next, we shall not only prize them more, but praise the Giver of them, when we have them in answer to prayer. Coming without prayer, we should be very apt to forget the hand that bestowed them; but coming immediately in answer to prayer, a song of gratitude naturally arises to God.

I. The subject of our prayers. What is it to be? “I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them.”

1. The conversion or sanctity of souls, human souls, to God.

2. Not only that souls should be converted and sanctified, but that numbers should be converted. Why are we to ask for this so especially?

II. The impediments to prayer.

1. The want of vigorous personal piety.

2. The power of unbelief.

3. Private sins. Sometimes these sins are personal; sometimes relative; sometimes social.

III. The success of prayer. God then designs to do it for us. He ha made up His mind to the granting of the blessings. And here is our comfort--that no uncertainty exists when we ask Him to grant His blessings which He has promised.

1. It has been His practice to answer prayer in all generations of the Church.

2. He pledges His faithfulness and honour to hear and answer prayer.

3. Christ’s fulness is to be received by prayer--is to be communicated through this channel. (James Sherman.)

Inquire of the Lord

I. Why should we arouse ourselves to this inquiry at the hands of the Lord?

1. It is a great privilege to be allowed to inquire at the hands of the Lord.

2. Prayer is also to be looked upon as a precious gift of the Spirit of God. It is by virtue of covenant promise and covenant grace that men are made to pray: for the Lord has said, “I will pour out upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants in Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications.

3. We must pray, because it is a needful work in order to the obtaining of the blessing. The Church of God is to be multiplied; but “Thus saith the Lord God, I will yet for this be inquired of.”

4. It is a business which is above all others remunerative. “I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them; I will increase them with men like a flock.” That is a beautiful idea of multitude. You have perhaps seen an immense flock, a teeming concourse of congregated life. Such shall the increase of the Church be. But then it is added, to enhance the blessing, “As the holy flock, as the flock of Jerusalem in her solemn feasts.” This to the Jewish mind conveyed a great idea of number.

5. The results of prayer as I have already described them are such as greatly glorify God. “And they shall know that I am the Lord.” When the kingdom of God is largely increased in answer to prayer, there is a wonderful power abroad to answer the arguments of sceptics, and put to silence the ribaldry of ungodly tongues. “This is the finger of God,” say they.

II. How should this duty be performed?

1. First, it should be by the entire body of the Church. For this will I be inquired of by”--By the ministers? By the elders? By the little number of good people who always come together to pray? Look! Look carefully! “By the house of Israel”; that is by the whole company of the Lord’s people.

2. Next, the successful way to inquire of the Lord is for the Church to take personal interest in the matter. “Thus saith the Lord God; I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them.” If the sinner will not repent, let us break our heart about him. Let us go and tell the Lord his sins, and mourn over them as if they were our own. If men will not believe, let us by faith bring them before God, and plead His promise for them. If we cannot get them to pray, let us pray for them and intercede on their behalf, and in answer to our repentance they shall be made to repent, in answer to our faith they shall be led to believe, and in reply to our prayer they shall be moved to pray.

3. The blessing will come to the prayer of a dependent Church. “I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them”; that is to say, they will not dream of being able to do it for themselves, but will apply to God for it. Christian men should never speak of getting up a revival. Where are you going to get it up from? We must wait upon God, conscious that we can do nothing of ourselves, and we must look to the Holy Spirit as the alone power for the conversion of souls. If we pray in this dependent way we shall obtain an overflowing answer.

4. Again, the way to obtain the promised blessing is that the prayer must be offered by an anxious, observant, enterprising Church. The expression used, “I will be inquired of,” implies that the people must think and ask questions, must argue and plead with God. It is well to ask Him why He has not given the blessing, and to urge strong reasons why He should now do so.

5. If we are to obtain the blessing in answer to prayer, that prayer must be offered by a believing Church. Answers to prayer do not now appear to us to be contrary to the laws of nature; it seems to us to be the greatest of all the laws of nature that the Lord must keep His promises and hear His people’s prayers. Gravitation and other laws may be suspended, but this cannot be. “Oh,” says one, “I cannot believe that.” No, and so your prayers are not heard. You must have faith, for if faith be absent you lack the very backbone and soul of prayer.

III. On what ground can anybody be excused from the duty of prayer? Answer: On no ground whatever.

1. You cannot be excused on the ground of common humanity; for if it be so that God will save sinners in answer to prayer, and I do not pray, what am I? Surely the milk of human kindness has been drained from my breast, and I have Ceased to be human, and if so, it is idle to talk of communion with the Divine.

2. Next, can any excuse be found in Christianity for neglect of prayer? In God’s name, how can we make a profession of Christianity if our hearts do not ascend in mighty prayer to God for a blessing on the sons of men?

3. But perhaps an excuse is found in the fact that the Christian man does not feel that his prayer is of very much consequence, for his heart is in a barren state. Ah, well, this is no excuse, but an aggravation of the sin. At such a time there should be a double calling upon God that the Spirit of prayer may be vouchsafed.

4. I do charge you, professing Christians, not to restrain prayer to God for a blessing, for, if you do, you hurt all the rest of the brotherhood. Get a bit of dead bone into your body and it harms first the member in which it is placed and subsequently the whole body. So if there is a prayerless professor among us, he is an injury to the entire company.

5. Now, surely we ought to be much in prayer, because after all we owe a great deal to prayer. Those who were in Christ before me prayed for me: should I not pray for others?

6. I am afraid I shall have also to plead that I must suspect your soundness in the faith, brethren, if you do not join in prayer. Correct opinions are a poor apology for heartlessness towards our fellow men. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The necessity and power of prayer

Observe how God hangs all the blessings of salvation upon prayer. He says, as it were, I have had pity upon sinners; I have provided pardon for the guilty, justification through the righteousness, and life through the death of My Son; I have engaged to take away the heart of stone and replace it with one of flesh; I have promised My Spirit to sanctify, sufficient grace, and certain glory; all these blood-bought, gracious, happy, holy blessings shall be yours, freely yours; yet not yours, unless they are sought in prayer. “I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them.”

I. Nature herself teaches us to pray. Prayer must be natural, for it is universal. Never yet did traveller find a nation on this earth but offered prayers in some form or other to some demon or God. Races of men have been found without raiment, without houses, without manufactures, without the rudiments of arts, but never without prayers. Prayer is as common as speech, human features, or natural appetites. It is universal, and seems to be as natural to man as the instinct which prompts an infant to draw the milk of a mother’s bosom, and by its cries to claim a mother’s protection.

II. Some difficulties connected with this duty. The decrees of God, say some, render prayer unnecessary, useless. Are not all things, they ask, fixed by these decrees, irrevocably fixed? By prayer I may, indeed, prevail on a man to do a thing which he has not previously resolved not to do, and even although he should have so resolved, man is changeable; and I may show him such good reasons for doing it, as to change his resolution. But if an immutable God has foreseen everything, and indeed, foresettled everything by an eternal and irreversible decree, what purpose can prayer serve? The objection admits of a conclusive answer. We might show that the decrees of God embrace the means as well as the end; and since prayer is a means of grace, being a means to an end, it must therefore be embraced within these very decrees, and cannot be excluded by them. I content myself, however, with simply remarking, that this objection is not honestly, at least not intelligently, entertained by any man. For, if the objection is good against prayer, is it not good against many things else? If it stops action in the direction of prayer, if it arrests the wheels of prayer, it ought also to stop the wheels of our daily business. If it is a valid argument against prayer, it is an equally good objection to ploughing, sowing, taking meat or medicine, and a thousand other things. Others, more earnest and honest, reading that without faith it is impossible to please God, reading and misunderstanding what they read, He who doubteth is damned, say that from want of faith, their prayers must be useless. Most false reasoning! What says the apostle? I will that men pray everywhere. God will have all men to be saved. Like little children, we take our Father’s simple word, nor trouble ourselves with the metaphysics of the question. If you were sufficiently alive to your danger, oh, these difficulties would have no more power to hold you than the fragile meshes of a spider’s web. I knew of one who, while wandering along a lonely and rocky shore at the ebb of tide, slipped his foot into a narrow crevice. Fancy his horror on finding that he could not withdraw the imprisoned limb. Dreadful predicament! Did he cry for help? Cry for help! Who dreams of asking such a question? True, none heard him. But, how he shouted to the distant boat! how his heart sank as her yards swung round, and she went off on the other tack! how his cries sounded high above the roar of breakers! how bitterly he envied the white sea mew her wing, as, wondering at this intruder on her lone domains, she sailed above his head, and shrieked back his shriek! how at length, abandoning all hope of help from man, he turned his face to heaven, and cried loud and long to God! All that God only knows. But as sure as there was a terrific struggle, so sure, while he watched the waters rising inch by inch, these cries never ceased till the wave swelled up, and washing the dying prayer from his lips, broke over his head with a melancholy moan. There was no help for him. There is help for us, although fixed in sin as fast as that man in the fissured rock. Whether we have true faith, may be a question which is not easily settled; but to pray is a clear and commanded duty. The “help, oh, help, Lord,” never yet burst from an anxious heart, but it rose to be heard in heaven, and accepted by God.

III. Prayer must be earnest. It is the heart that prays; not the knees, nor the hands, nor the lips. Have not I seen a dumb man, who stood with his back to the wall, beg as well with his imploring eye and open hand, as one that had a tongue to speak? If you would have your prayers accepted, they must be arrows shot from the heart; none else reach the throne of God. You may repeat your prayers day by day; you may be punctual in your devotions as a Mohammedan who, at the Mollah’s call from the top of the minaret, drops on his knees in the public assembly or crowded street. What then? The prayer of the lip, the prayer of the memory, the prayer of the wandering mind in its dead formality, is, in God’s eyes, of no more value than the venal masses of Rome, or the revolutions of a Tartar’s wheel. The sacrifice of the hypocrite is an abomination to the Lord.

IV. Prayer is powerful. An angel, says our great poet, keeping ward and watch on the battlements of heaven, caught sight of Satan as he sailed on broad wing from hell to this world of ours. The celestial sentinel shot down like a sunbeam to the earth; and communicated the alarm to the guard at the gates of Paradise. Search was made for the enemy, but for a time without success. Ithuriel at length entered a bower, whose flowery roof “showered roses which the morn repaired,” and where our first parents, “lulled by nightingales, embracing slept.” There he saw a toad sitting squat by the ear of Eve. His suspicions were awakened. In his hand he bore a spear that had the power of revealing truth, unmasking falsehood, and making all things to stand out in their genuine colours. He touched the reptile with it. That instant the toad, which had been breathing horrid dreams into the woman’s ear, changes it shape, and there, confronting him face to face, stands the proud, malignant, haughty form of the Prince of Darkness. With such a spear as that with which Milton, in this flight of fancy, arms Ithuriel, prayer arms us. Prayer moves the hand that moves the universe. It secures for the believer the resources of Divinity. What great battles has it fought! what victories won! what burdens carried! what deep wounds healed! what sore griefs assuaged! Prayer is the wealth of poverty; the refuge of affliction; the strength of weakness; the light of darkness. Prayer has just two limits. The first is, that its range is confined to the promises; but within these, what a bank of wealth, what a mine of mercies, what a store of blessings! The second is, that God will grant or deny our requests as He judges best for His own glory and our good. And who that knows how we are, in a sense, but children, would wish it otherwise?

V. Prayer is confident. It is easy to know the knock of a beggar at one’s door. Low, timid, hesitating, it seems to say, I have no claim on the kindness of this house; I may be told I come too often; I may be dismissed as a troublesome and unworthy mendicant; the door may be flung in my face by some surly servant. How different, on his return from school, the loud knocking, the bounding step, the joyous rush of the child into his father’s presence; and, as he climbs his knee and flings his arms round his neck, the bold face and ready tongue with which he reminds his father of some promised favour! Now, why are believers bold? Glory to God in the highest! It is to a father in God, to an elder brother in Christ, that Faith conducts our steps in prayer; therefore, in the hour of need, bold of spirit, she raises her suppliant hands, and cries, O that Thou wouldst rend the heavens, and come down. I know a parent’s heart. Have I not seen the quivering of a father’s lip, the tear start into his eye, and felt his heart in the grasp and pressure of his hand, when I expressed some good hope of a fallen child? Have I not seen a mother, when her infant was tottering in the path of mettled coursers, with foam spotting their necks, and fire flying from their feet, dash like a hawk across the path, and pluck him from instant death? Have I not seen a mother, who sat at the coffin head, pale, dumb, tearless, rigid, terrible in grief, spring from her chair, seize the coffin which we were bearing away, and, with shrieks fit to pierce a heart of stone, struggle to retain her dead? And if we, that are but worms of the earth, will peril life for our children, and, even when they are mouldered into dust, cannot think of our dead, nor visit their cold and lonesome grave, but our hearts are wrung, and our old wounds bleed afresh, can we adequately conceive or measure, far less exaggerate--with fancy at its highest flight--the paternal love of God? (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

The necessity of prayer

I. The blessings for which we should inquire.

1. We should pray for ourselves. We are sinful, indigent, and dependent creatures. God only can supply our wants and satisfy our desires.

2. We should pray for the Church of God. Good men feel interested in each other’s welfare, and desire the peace and prosperity of Zion (Psalms 122:6-9). They pray for the extension and stability of her borders--the increase of her converts--and the unity and progression of her members (Habakkuk 3:2; Ephesians 3:14-21; Philippians 1:9-11).

3. We should pray for the world (Psalms 43:3; Isaiah 62:1; Matthew 6:10; Revelation 11:15).

II. The manner how we should inquire for them.

1. In the method which He appoints. We cannot approach unto Him acceptably, but through Jesus Christ, who is the high priest over the House of God forever (John 14:6; Hebrews 7:17).

2. With devout dispositions of mind.

3. In every situation of human life. In private retirement (Matthew 6:6);--in our families (Joshua 24:15)--in the public ordinances of the Gospel (Psalms 27:4)--and in our daily occupations, we should “pray always, with all prayer, and everywhere, lifting up holy hands without wrath and doubting” (Ephesians 6:18; 1 Timothy 2:8).

4. With diligent perseverance unto death.

III. The reasons why we should inquire of the Lord.

1. Prayer is an ordinance of Divine authority. The Lord commands us to pray (Psalms 4:4-5; Jeremiah 29:12; Luke 18:1)--He promises to hear and answer prayer (Psalms 91:15-16); and He directs how to pray (Matthew 6:9-13).

2. Prayer evinces the dependence of the creature on the Creator.

3. Prayer demonstrates the connection between duty and interest. As intellectual beings, we are capable of moral actions and spiritual enjoyments. The Lord is therefore pleased to suspend the blessings He promises, on the performance of the duties He enjoins: and it is only by complying with the latter, that we can realise the former (Psalms 34:17; Jeremiah 33:3). (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)

Prayer

I. Prayer is a “reasonable service.” This can be best shown by examining those speculative objections which have been preferred by sceptics against it.

1. That prayer is inconsistent with the Divine omniscience. “If God knows your wants, and your disposition to have them supplied, why inform and importune Him in prayer?” The objection proceeds from a misapprehension of the design of prayer. Its ostensible design is indeed the attainment of the blessing for which we pray; but there is an ulterior and higher object for which it was appointed, namely, the spiritual influence, the disciplinary effect of the habit.

2. Another objection alleges that prayer is inconsistent with God’s immutability. I answer, God is immutable in the principles of His administration, but not in His acts. The laws protect you today because you conform to them, tomorrow they may put you to death for transgressing them; not because they change--the change is in yourself. So the sinner is heard if he truly prays, but lost if he prays not; yet God does not change, it is His ordained economy that it should be so. And this economy is founded in His immutable wisdom.

3. It is objected again that the universe is governed by secondary causes; and, in order that prayer should bring about results different from what would take place without it, there must be an interference with--a suspension of--those fixed causes; but there is no such interference. I have three remarks to make on this objection. The first is, that it applies to prayer only so far as physical blessings are concerned, for these alone are affected by physical causes. I remark, secondly, that the objector is incompetent to the assumption, that there is no Divine interference with fixed causes in answer to prayer. How does he know it? And how can he assert it against God’s own assertion if he is incompetent to know it? Thirdly, I remark it is not necessary to assume that there is any rupture of natural causes in the case. We notice but the lowest links in the chain of those causes; how then can we assume that the higher ones are not adapted or controlled, so as to meet this peculiarity of the moral system? The last link of the series is in the hand of Omnipotence.

4. Another objection is, man’s comparative insignificance. “Can it be supposed that the infinite God will stoop from amid all worlds to regard our wants and prayers?” The objection includes two elements,--the insignificance of man and the greatness of the Deity. The first is a mere fallacy. Man is, indeed, physically insignificant, but not morally nor intellectually. Weakest and most imbecile of all living creatures at his birth, in a few years he masters all others, controls the elements by his arts, and by his science transcends his own sphere to survey kindred worlds. This he does amid innumerable impediments, physical, mental, and moral. What then must be his progress in his purely spiritual sphere? It is not improbable that an hour’s exercise of his faculties there will unfold them more than the labour of a life here. Let us pass to the next element in the objection--the greatness of the Deity. “Can it be supposed that the infinite God will stoop from amid all worlds to regard our wants and prayers?” Yes, the greatness of God, the very ground of the objection, is the ground of our confidence. God is infinite; were He finite, however great, there might be plausibility in the objection. Then it might be supposed that His attention would be so absorbed in the more general affairs of the universe, as to exclude from it entirely our minute interests; but infinite greatness implies that the small as well as the great, the minutia as well as the aggregate--that all things are comprehended by it.

II. Prayer is a salutary exercise. It is so, in the first place, because it is the means of the blessings prayed for. Faith is the condition of salvation; it is faith that is imputed for righteousness: yet prayer is the expression, the vehicle of faith; prayer is the wing on which faith rises to the mercy seat. In the second place, its disciplinary effect is salutary. If our spiritual blessings were not conditional, but matters of course, like the blessings of light, air, or water, we would forget, as the world has in regard to the latter, the merciful agency of God in conferring them. Prayer, therefore, tends to humility. Gratitude, likewise, is produced by it in the same manner; for every blessing received in answer to it comes to us as a gratuity of the Divine mercy. There is no virtuous affection with which it is not congenial. It is serene, tranquillising, spiritualising. It cannot consist with sin. “Prayer,” says one, “will make us either cease sinning, or sin make us cease praying.”

III. Prayer is a consolatory exercise. Man has a moral nature. His moral faculties are as distinguishable and as constitutional as his physical or intellectual. His most perfect happiness consists in the due gratification of all his faculties. There is a higher gratification than that of sense; there is a higher exercise than that of thought. It is the satisfaction of the conscience and the exercise of the heart. God made man for intercourse with Himself; all other exercises and enjoyments were to be but secondary to this. Prayer is the means of this intercourse; its language is the converse of this communion. But it is consolatory in a second sense. It is a source of aid and security. A devout mind, constant in the habit of prayer, may acquire such a lively sense of the immediate presence and sympathy of God as to exult in the most trying danger, and be almost superior to even the instinctive fears of human nature.

IV. Prayer is a sublime exercise. The reach of a mighty mind, transcending the discoveries of ages, and evoking to view new principles or new worlds, is sublime. Newton’s discoveries, pushing human comprehension higher in the series of natural causes and effects, were sublime. But there may be a progress remaining, compared with which his discoveries, as he said himself, are like the bubble compared with the ocean, But prayer sweeps over all secondary causes, and lays hold on the first cause; it bends not its flight to repose its wing, and refresh itself amid the light of undiscovered worlds, but rises above stars and suns, until it bathes its pinions in the light of “the excellent glory.”

Conclusion--

1. These views should lead us to estimate prayer as a privilege, not merely as a duty.

2. Our interest in it may be considered a criterion of our piety. (A. Stevens, M. A.)

Prayer--the forerunner of mercy

The word used here to express the idea of prayer is a suggestive one. “I will yet for this be inquired of.” Prayer, then, is an inquiry. No man can pray aright, unless he views prayer in that light. First, I inquire what the promise is, I turn to my Bible, and I seek to find the promise whereby the thing which I desire to seek is certified to me as being a thing which God is willing to give. Having inquired so far as that, I take that promise, and on my bonded knees I inquire of God whether He will fulfil His own promise. I take to Him His own word of covenant, and I say to Him, “O Lord, wilt Thou not fulfil it, and wilt Thou not fulfil it now?” So that there, again, prayer is inquiry. After prayer I look out for the answer; I expect to be heard; and if I am not answered I pray again, and my repeated prayers are but fresh inquiries. “Wilt Thou answer me, O Lord? Wilt Thou keep Thy promise? Or wilt Thou shut up Thine ear, because I misunderstand my own wants and mistake Thy promise?”

I. Prayer is the forerunner of mercies. We bid you turn back to sacred history, and you will find that never did a great mercy come to this world unheralded by prayer. The promise comes alone, with no preventing merit to precede it, but the blessing promised always follows its herald, prayer. You shall note that all the wonders that God did in the old times were, first of all, sought at His hands by the earnest prayers of His believing people. Our Lord Jesus Christ was the greatest blessing that men ever had. He was God’s best boon to a sorrowing world. And did prayer precede Christ’s advent? Was there any prayer which went before the coming of the Lord, when He appeared in the temple? Oh yes, the prayers of saints for many ages had followed each other. Abraham saw his day; and when he died Isaac took up the note; and when Isaac slept with his fathers, Jacob and the patriarchs still continued to pray; yea, and in the very days of Christ, prayer was still made for Him continually: Anna the prophetess, and the venerable Simeon, still looked for the coming of Christ; and day by day they prayed and interceded with God, that He would suddenly come to His temple. It has been so in the history of the modern Church. Whenever she has been roused to pray, it is then that God has awaked to her help. Jerusalem, when thou hast shaken thyself from the dust, thy Lord hath taken His sword from the scabbard. When thou hast suffered thy hands to hang down, and thy knees to become feeble, He has left thee to become scattered by thine enemies; thou hast become barren, and thy children have been cut off; but, when thou hast learned to cry, when thou hast begun to pray, God hath restored unto thee the joy of His salvation, He hath gladdened thine heart, and multiplied thy children. And now, again, to come nearer home: this truth is true of each of you, my dearly beloved in the Lord, in your own personal experience. God has given you many an unsolicited favour, but still great prayer has always been the great prelude of great mercy with you. And now some will say to me, “In what way do you regard prayer, then, as affecting the blessing? God, the Holy Ghost, vouchsafes prayer before the blessing; but in what way is prayer connected with the blessing?” I reply, prayer goes before the blessing in several senses. It goes before the blessing, as the blessing’s shadow. Even as the cloud foreshadoweth rain, so prayer foreshadoweth the blessing; even as the green blade is the beginning of the harvest, so is prayer the prophecy of the blessing that is about to come. Again: prayer goes before mercy, as the representative of it. The prayer comes, and when I see the prayer, I say, “Prayer, thou art the vice-gerent of the blessing; if the blessing be the king, thou art the regent; I know and look upon thee as being the representative of the blessing I am about to receive.” But I do think also that sometimes, and generally, prayer goes before the blessing, even as the cause goes before the effect. Some people say, when they get anything, that they get it because they prayed for it; but if they are people who are not spiritually minded, and who have no faith, let them know that whatever they may get it is not in answer to prayer; for we know that God heareth not sinners, and “the prayer of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord.” “Well,” says one, “I asked God for such-and-such a thing the other day; I know I am no Christian, but I got it. Don’t you consider that I had it through my prayers?” No, sir, no more than I believe the reasoning of the old man who affirmed that the Goodwin Sands had bean caused by the building of Tenterden steeple, for the sands had not been there before, and the sea did not come up till it was built, and therefore, said he, the steeple must have caused the flood. Now, your prayers have no more connection with your blessing than the sea with the steeple; in the Christian’s case it is far different. Ofttimes the blessing is actually brought down from heaven by the prayer. Oh! the testimonies to the power of prayer are so numberless, that the man who rejects them flies in the face of good testimonies. We are not all enthusiasts; some of us are cold blooded enough; we are not all fanatics; we are not all quite wild in our piety; some of us in other things, we reckon, act in a tolerably common sense way. But yet we all agree in this, that our prayers have been heard; and we could tell many stories of our prayers, still fresh upon our memories, where we have cried unto God, and He has heard us.

II. Why it is that God is pleased to make prayer the trumpeter of mercy, or the forerunner of it.

1. I think it is, first, because God loves that man should have some reason for having a connection with Him. It is as if some father should say to his son, who is entirely dependent upon him, “I might give you a fortune at once, so that you might never have to come upon me again; but, my son, it delights me, it affords me pleasure to supply your wants; I like to know what it is you require, that I may oftentimes have to give you, and so may frequently see your face. Now I shall give you only enough to serve you for such a time, and if you want to have anything you must come to my house for it. Oh, my son, I do this because I desire to see thee often; I desire often to have opportunities of showing how much I love thee.”

2. God would make prayer the preface to mercy, because often prayer itself gives the mercy. You are full of fear and sorrow; you want comfort--God says, pray, and you shall get it; and the reason is because prayer is of itself a comforting exercise. Take another case. You are in difficulty; you don’t know which way to go, nor how to act. God has said that He will direct His people. You go forth in prayer, and pray to God to direct you. Are you aware that your very prayer will frequently of itself furnish you with the answer? For while the mind is absorbed in thinking over the matter, and in praying concerning the matter, it is just in the likeliest state to suggest to itself the course which is proper; for whilst in prayer I am spreading all the circumstances before God, I am like a warrior surveying the battlefield, and when I rise I know the state of affairs, and know how to act. Often, thus, you see, prayer gives the very thing we ask for in itself.

3. But again it seemeth but right, and just, and appropriate, that prayer should go before the blessing, because in prayer there is a sense of need. A sense of need is a Divine gift; prayer fosters it, and is therefore highly beneficial.

4. And yet again, prayer before the blessing serves to show us the value of it. If we had the blessings without asking for them, we should think them common things; but prayer makes the common pebbles of God’s temporal bounties more precious than diamonds; and in spiritual, prayer cuts the diamond, and makes it glisten more.

III. Let me close by stirring you up to use the holy art of prayer as a means of obtaining the blessing. Do you demand of me, and for what shall we pray? The answer is upon my tongue. Pray for yourselves, pray for your families, pray for the Churches, pray for the one great kingdom of our Lord on earth.

Prayer

Almost every page of the Bible is radiant with exceeding great and precious promises, which God in His love has given and in His faithfulness has fulfilled. When we have pleaded them confidingly in prayer, and obtained the fulfilment of anyone, even the least of them, how rich and happy have we become! Prayer is the golden link which binds promise to fulfilment. If men say, God has purposed this, and it will be done whether we pray or not, this passage asserts just the contrary. In this utterance, stern in its condemnation of all that is not simple in prayer, and yet encouraging to all that is so, the Lord solves the ever-recurring doubt, “Will God, in deference to our prayer, interfere with the order of the world?” He has already, in arranging that order, provided for the answer to every prayer.

I. One reason why God looks for prayer before the fulfilment of a promise is that we may be reminded the more strongly of our entire dependence upon Him. This dependence is taught us in various ways. Sometimes we have grasped something as if it were our own, and it has been suddenly taken from us. Sometimes, when we have fancied that we had attained some strength of virtue so as to be able to resist temptation, we have been made to feel, by our sins and our failures, what utter weakness ours is. Now, of the various ways in which God teaches us the lesson of dependence on Him, I know none at once so powerful and so pleasant as that which He has adopted when He says: If you are to have any promise fulfilled you must plead it with Me; come to Me as one who remembers that all the sufficiency of man is in God; come to take good from My gracious hands, as the bestowment of My unchanging love and faithfulness, the fulfilment of My certain promises; come and ask of Me and you shall receive; seek Me and ye shall find Me; knock at My door and it shall be opened unto you.

II. Another reason which may be adduced why God particularly desires that we should pray is in order that we may have a due estimate of the worth of His gifts. You must look at things in the light which the eternal world throws upon them. You are apt to miscalculate their value amidst your fellow men, who themselves estimate amiss the true proportion of the things that God either gives or withholds. You are too liable to take their estimate of them; and when you are enjoying God’s earthly gifts you are too apt to undervalue the higher blessings which are most to be enjoyed in quiet communion with Himself. Therefore He draws you away from the glare of the world, and from the false notions prevalent among your fellow men, and brings you into your closet, that there, as you think of Him, as you approach Him, as you remember that these things come from Him, you may estimate that as the best which speaks most of Him, that which has most of His own nature, and brings you most into harmony with Himself. Then you begin to see that it is comparatively immaterial whether you be strong or feeble in body, if only you be strong in faith, giving glory to God; that it matters little whether you be rich or poor, if only you be rich in faith and have firm hold of the inheritance of the kingdom of heaven.

III. Another reason is to connect the gifts more particularly with the giver and with the purposes for which those gifts are bestowed. In Fatherly love He looks down upon His children, and for His children’s happiness He pours out His bounties of every kind upon them. But we are not to let our thoughts terminate here. No; we must love Him beyond ourselves. Why are His blessings given? As “of Him and from Him,” so “to Him are all things.” Everything that He bestows is indeed intended to enrich and to bless those who receive His gifts, but it is intended also to come back to Himself in love and praise and service. God has connected the fulfilment of His promises with prayer, in order that we, asking these blessings, and being heard in our prayers, and receiving God’s gifts, may also remember that, if given by Him, they are given for His own purposes and to be used according to His will. How can we bend our knees before Him, and earnestly solicit some benefit, some one of God’s blessings, with the thought in our minds that the gifts of God may be used merely for ourselves? Is there not in the very position we are made to occupy, as creatures dependent upon His will, something which suggests to the mind which has been renewed, the heart in which the love of God has been in some measure shed abroad by the Holy Spirit, that all with which God enriches us, should be used for Him? We feel then that we are “stewards of the manifold grace of God.” Observe, too, another thing in connection with this recognition of God as the Giver, and the use and purpose of His gifts. We find that those who obtain God’s blessings in answer to prayer constantly pass on from the benefit to recognise in their gratitude the Divine beneficence of Him who gives it. When you have received a blessing there may be a transient feeling of happiness, but it is important that we should remember that every blessing we have is but an isolated instance of the exercise of that Divine beneficence, a putting forth of those Divine attributes, which are always and everywhere at work.

IV. Yet another reason is in order to encourage the habit of intercourse with himself. It is impossible for anyone fully to understand, until he experiences it himself, what the coming into the secret presence of God is; what it is to shut the door and have communion with the Father who seeth in secret. But every renewed soul, the soul of every true Christian believer, knows what it is to have access to God through Jesus Christ. Yet there are influences which so drag us down, so draw us away from God, so shut up the channels of communication, so send the heart, as it were, coldly back into its own selfishness, that we continually need to be drawn again and again into this intercourse with God. We mourn oftentimes that it is so; yet so it is; and because it is so, God has coupled His blessings with prayer. He gives us a promise of a blessing, and then, in order that we may be drawn to intercourse with Him, He tells us that if we would have the promise fulfilled, we must come to Him and ask as His children; we must enter into our Father’s presence and must kneel before Him; we must lift up the pleading eye and utter words of entreaty, and endeavour, with the strength of faith, to grasp all His declarations. We must do this, and then, and not till then, shall we have the fulfilment of God’s promise. (W. A. Salter.)

Why God requires His people to pray, even though He has told them what He is about to do

I. In order that He may teach us that we have nothing at all to do with His purposes and determinations. Suppose God has fixed something, His decree is nothing to you,--that is not to be the law of your action. He calls you to a nobler and a more profitable study than the study of His determinations would be. You would soon be lost in such a subject, and never would arrive at any reasonable and satisfactory result respecting them. He calls you to search deep down into the eternal principles of your own nature, and of those Scriptures which He has given you for your guidance. He calls you to exercise your own sense of right and wrong. He has not revealed His determinations that He may lessen your activity or repress your thought. He calls you to exercise and make use of the powers He has given you. And that His determinations may not have a wrong influence over you, He has enjoined upon you the duty of prayer, even in reference to their execution.

II. In order that He may teach us that He accomplishes nothing without the use of means. If everything has been fixed absolutely, then clearly there is no occasion for any means to be employed to secure the result. It is equally clear that things have not been fixed and determined in this manner; and anyone who should presume that they have been, and act upon his presumption, would soon discover, in his utter ruin and destruction, the error he had Committed. In all matters relating to this present life, we never entertain such ideas for a moment. We all know that God has fixed and promised that there shall be a harvest every year whilst the world lasts. This fixing, however, does not secure the harvest. Suppose the husbandman, relying upon the promise, had refused to sow the seed, he would most assuredly have been taught his folly by being deprived of any harvest. But it is not in this direction that we need to be cautioned. We shall never be deterred from working in temporal matters by the knowledge we have of God’s decrees. But there is still danger in the principle, and that danger is sometimes realised in religious matters. The knowledge that God has promised success, and that we are entirely dependent upon God for our success, may lead us to inactivity. Because we know what God intends to do, we may rashly and foolishly conclude that He will accomplish His purpose without the employment of any means at all. But I do not find God acting in this way in the world around us. There was a time when God would prepare the world for the coming of His own Son. He might have done so by an immediate act of His own will; but He chose to raise up a visible messenger, and sent John the Baptist to prepare in the wilderness a highway for our God. There was a time when God would gather the fulness of the Gentiles unto His Church. He might have done so by causing some mysterious and unseen influence to be felt simultaneously throughout the world; but He raised up Paul, and sent him to preach amongst them the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ. He works through means. It matters not that those means are trifling and insignificant, and disproportioned to the end they serve to secure. The slightest means, so long as they are used, serve to substantiate and justify the principle that God works not without them, and the weakest instrumentality becomes strong and powerful when it is wielded by the hands of an Almighty God, and serves, too, to show us that we have some part to do in the carrying out and accomplishment of the purposes of God. And this is the lesson we have to learn here. God has promised; but He says that the fulfilment of the promise rests with ourselves. It may not be much that we have to do, but that little must be done before God’s work will he accomplished.

III. In order that He may teach us what immense capacities for doing good He has endowed us with. The whole world is within the range of our influence, because it may be made the object of our prayer. There is not a single living person who is not within reach of our power. Our prayer can rise up unto the highest, and it can sink down to the lowest and most depraved. Our friends may be separated from us by distances which we cannot destroy; but distance is a thing unknown to prayer, and so, for all practical purposes, they are near, and we can bring to bear upon them an immense, an omnipotent power. Our feelings may not allow us to talk upon religious subjects to some of our friends, and yet we can use, on their behalf, an instrumentality that has never been known to fail. We may have no wealth with which to carry forward the cause of Christ, and yet, out of our poverty, we may enrich its treasures and augment its affluence. We may have no talents to set forward, and no eloquence to describe, the glories of our Redeemer,--we may never be able to speak a single word in support of the claims of religion, and yet we may do more to Promote the cause of Christ, to magnify the glories of our Lord, and to support the claims of religion, than the man who has at his command wealth and talents and eloquence, but who is not a man of prayer.

IV. In order that He may teach us that, after all our efforts, success cometh wholly from the Lord. The husbandman never thinks of taking to himself the credit when he reaps a bountiful harvest. He blesses Him who made the seed to burst forth into life, even when it had died; who watered the earth with His showers, and matured its fruits by the genial influence of His sun. He praises God for His faithfulness to His promise. Such, too, ought our feelings to be. We knew beforehand what the result would be. We were sure of success, for God had said that He would do it. We only prayed for the fulfilment of a promise thus graciously given, and the very fact that we were only told to pray, ought to teach us that God meant that we should attribute all the glory, and ascribe all the praise to Him. Had He meant that we should share with Him the glory of securing the result, He would have given us some greater portion of the toil. He only told us to pray; and those few words that we breathe,--what are they towards securing so grand a result? They are nothing. It is only the fact that they are told to God that makes them strong and efficacious. Clearly, then, there is no glory belonging unto us. Success only humbles us: and as we look upon the answers to our Prayers in souls renewed and converted, piety and reason alike dictate the confession: “I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” (F. Edwards, B. A.)
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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezekiel 36:4". The Biblical Illustrator. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/ezekiel-36.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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