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lofty themes, their aim is to present such aspects of
EZEKIEL HE prophecies of scripture are for the most part simple, practical and easily understood.
Even when they relate to the most profound and the subjects as are needed for our direction in duty, or for our comfort in endurance. Their immediate and conspicuous pur pose is to promote good conduct.
But while this is so, it is also true that the prophets' vision often extended far beyond the practical affairs of their own day; and their insight penetrated to the most profound and comprehensive principles of morals and religion. Indeed the most essential difference between the inspired prophet and the ordinary moralist or philosopher is just this profounder insight and more perfect vision of the purpose of God.
They preached righteousness, not from a superficial observation of its fitness and efficiency, but from the inspired convic tion of its eternal and immutable place in the very constitution of the world. They predicted the future with a confidence like that of the astronomer who foretells an eclipse, with the same unfaltering trust that the laws of God's great universe will go on unswerving in their course.
Though the prophets were always practical they were never opportunists, never changing their doctrine to meet changing circumstances. They always sought results, and strove for the verdict in favor of their cause, but they were never pragmatists willing to judge the truth of a case by its present success.
They were spokesmen for a sovereign God, and therefore they announced the principles of righteousness as confidently as the
mathematician declares the multiplication table or the binomial theorem.
Their faith was not dependent on their observation, but on their confidence that God knows the end from the beginning and with him is no variableness nor shadow of turning.
Their hopes seem often brightest when things were darkest, for the simple reason that their conviction did not depend at all on things, but on the character and promise of him who rules in righteousness.
It is not surprising that men believing thus in the sovereignty of God, and in the unchanging quality of righteousness, should with equal zeal perform two very different offices; exhort the world to holiness, and extol the glory of our sovereign God, or in the well selected phrase of the Westminster catechism "teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.'
It is not strange that we find the common obligation of our daily lives, such as honesty and kindness, commanded and sanctioned, not on the ground of policy or worldy wisdom, but on such tremendous and sublime considerations as the omnipotence and majesty of God.
In none of the prophetic writers does this impressive union of simple duty and profound philosophy appear so often as in the earlier chapters of Ezekiel.
In the vision, of Chap. 1:1-111-13, we have what may at first sight seem a confused and unintelligible mass of fanciful poetic imagery. Yet we are confident that it was meant to instruct those to whom it was addressed, and must have been, to them at least, intelligible, and in the main it is not really hard to understand.
When we consider also how carefully he calls attention to the place where he received this vision,-by the river Chebar in the land of the Chaldeans—we have the first hint as to its interpretation,
In recent years we have unearthed from ruins of Chaldean cities many of their works of art. The most familiar of these is the great alabaster image of the winged, human headed, oxfooted lion, the emblem of the nation.
From this and other of their works of art we have learned that the Chaldean artist aimed not at reproducing nature, but sought to express the qualities of men and things by depicting objects that were most suggestive of these qualities. The human face, expresses intelligence; the eagle's wings suggest swift and lofty action, the ox stands for strength and the lion for mastery and courage. So this winged, human headed, oxfooted lion is easily read as the emblem of a nation whose pride was in their wisdom, swiftness, strength and courage.
It mattered not to them that such an image was unnatural, or even monstrous. It told its story, it bodied forth their thought, it expressed their ideas and so fulfilled its purpose.
When we consider the vision of Ezekiel, not to find some picture that shall represent familiar forms of nature, but to discover his message to Israel and to us, its main essential meaning is apparent.
It is a chapter of philosophy. It is an answer to the question so prominent in our day as to the origin and evolution of the world. It offers a theory of cosmology that is vast and bold, complete and simple, and wonderfully modern in its form and spirit.
It contemplates the vast and awful forces of the world under four great heads.
1. The forces of the inanimate world. The wind, the water and the fire. These are the primal agencies in the world's activities. To these our scientists assign the physical conditions and activities of the material world. By these the mountains rose, valleys formed, and seas and continents divided. Ву these the soil and climate are prepared. By rain and frost and solar heat the world is rendered fit for life.
2. Then living creatures come upon the earth. Vital forces take up the task of clothing the naked earth with waving forests, blooming fields and fruitful trees.
Living creatures fill the seas with teeming multitudes, and the earth and air with beasts and birds and creeping things, all busy with their feeding and nesting and mating and the care of their young, filling the earth with the song and the roar and the hum of their buoyant energy. They are a never ceasing torrent of divers and marvelous activity. Each going "straight forward” guided by unerring instinct to their allotted tasks.
3. Then man with his inventive soul lays hold upon the forces of the vast and material world and with his "wheels," the complicated mechanism of organized society, sets in motion all the arts and industries and commerce of the world. What an apt and perfect figure is this vivid vision of complicated wheels, animated by the spirit of the living creatures, each performing its own peculiar function—"they turned not when they went"-and they went only when the spirit of the living creature moved them.
4. But above all this a throne, beyond the tumult and the clamor and the roar of earth's activities—looming high and crowned with splendor is a seat of sovereignty, the emblem of authority, the source of power. The throne of God omnipotent, immutable, supreme, and on this throne a being comparable to man; a being of intelligence, of purpose, and of affections --for these are the features which distinguish man from the other creatures. And he who sits upon the throne, dwells not in silent majesty, remote, indifferent, inactive, but ruling and loving. He speaks. From the throne of sapphire—the rain. bow circled throne_down through the crystal firmament the voice comes to the listening ear, and God communes with man, makes known his will, and manifests his love.
Such I take it is the meaning of this vision, such the prophet's concept of the world and its relation to his God.
It seems to me the most impressive picture of the universe that was ever drawn. It sets before us with poetic brilliancy the two great fundamental truths of all philosophy and all theology, namely God's eternal sovereignty and his abundant grace; his transcendent glory and his eternal immanence. He is exalted far above the firmament that is above us. He is glorious beyond conception. His dominion stretches over boundless space and endless time. His creation is of marvelous variety, it is of myriad forms and unlimited activities. This much we cannot doubt, this much is evidenced by all our senses, proclaimed by all the sciences. But far above this is the more important truth, that he who sits enthroned above the universe is neither the blind force of nature, nor an unknown divinity, but in very truth a living and a true God; ruling in righteousness, pitying as a father pitieth his children. Mighty to save.
Of the many lessons we might learn from this ancient vision, we have time to notice only one or two.
As we have already said the prophetic messengers were always practical. They never spoke at large, or uttered abstract truth without immediate application. They never indulged in "art for arts sake." They were God's messengers, and they brought messages for us to heed and to obey.
The message which seems to stand out clearly from this vision is the doctrine of the immanence of God.
The complex and intricate activities of nature, which at first sight seem confused and turbulent, are really a well ordered and harmonious system. The immense and awful masses of the material world—the sun and moon and the uncounted multitudes of stars whose bulk and magnitude surpass our powers of imagination—these, and the stupendous forces by which they move and influence one another, are as obedient to law as are the tiny motes that float in the sunlight and are tossed by the breath of our lips. The "reign of law" is the most familiar