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phrase of modern science. Nothing is more settled and unquestioned than the fact that all the universe is subject to absolute and unchangeable laws which were imposed on it from the beginning. No particle of matter has either lost or gained a single attribute or quality since it was created. Nature has never been revised-But long before our sciences discovered this, while men still thought of nature as a blind and lawless struggle of conflicting forces, while they conceived of lightning and earthquake and eclipse as convulsions or accidents, the prophet conceived of the universe as the well governed empire of an omnipotent and allwise God; and taught this lesson, that we have not quite fully learned, that, not only the great forces of the material world, but the instinctive actions of the brute creation, and the most lofty enterprises of the human race, all social, political and religious conduct are observed and governed by him.
It is a marvelous thing that this voice which comes from the sapphire throne far up beyond the stars, should speak concerning the behavior of a petty people, a little group of insignificant men in an obscure corner of a third class planet in one of the smaller solar systems of the universe.
It is an impressive thought that he, to whom the nations are as a drop of the bucket or the small dust of the balance, is not limited by his vastness, but is great enough to know the inmost thoughts of every heart, and care for the welfare of the individual human soul.
The other lesson is no less impressive, and it reveals the other side of the divine order of the world. While it is God's world, it is none the less our world, while it is God that worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure: still, the call comes to each individual soul to work out his own salvation, and that with fear and trembling, for on him rests the dread responsibility of his own salvation. Not only so, but on the individual rests the responsibility for the condition of the race.
Each has his place and duty. Only as each man is faithful in his place and circumstances, can the world's welfare be advanced.
Now when we contemplate this vision of the prophet we find the most impressive feature of it all is its tremendous energy. Every element of it is active. The storm cloud and the whirlwind and the fire; the living creatures with their wings and hands and feet; the great wheels that went when the living creatures went, and they ran and returned as the appearance and the flash of the lightning. The whole scene is one of swift and fearful action, ceaseless, powerful, brilliant, wonderful.
Is this not the impression that we get from the study of the field of nature, or of human history? Wherever we look, above, below or around us there is the same rushing of impetuous energy. Every creature going straight, as the prophet puts it, straight to its place and purpose, guided by the laws of nature or the instinct of its race; and the noise of their wings is as "the noise of great waters as the voice of the Almighty, as the voice of speech, as the voice of a host." Such is the order and the use of all creation,—to every man his work. Activity is the essential requisite of health and growth and even life. To cease from our activities is to begin to die. This is the principle which Dr. Bushnell finds in the text "When they stood they let down their wings.” When we rest upon the things below, we cease to strive for things above. Whether this may properly be drawn from that special verse, it is certainly the teaching of the vision as a whole. When any creature settles down to ease and satisfaction it has ceased to grow and has begun to die. The heart takes no vacation, the nerves and tissues daily waste, and daily they must be rebuilt and replenished.
The mind itself is never idle, but with its plans and purposes, its joys and sorrows, its imaginations and its memories, it is ever occupied and constantly employed.
But the mind has a freedom which the forces of the natural world have not. The mind can turn itself to this or that employment. Its attention may be given to the things it chooses, but it cannot escape this law, that when it stands, it lets down its wings. When we rest upon and find our satisfaction in the things below, we cease to aspire to the things above us.
When we rest and are satisfied with the pleasures of the animal nature, such as food and drink and creature comforts, we lose the power and capacity for more refined and human joys. When we rest and are satisfied with beautiful clothing, handsome dwellings, and the trappings and the show of wealth, we lose the power to appreciate the nobler excellence of the well trained mind and cultivated taste, and when we rest and are satisfied with wit, wisdom, art and music, we cease to value moral excellence, and never learn the beauty of holiness. The law is universal; whenever we stop, whenever we stand, we let down our wings.
In whatever we feel that we have attained, and are already perfect, we are letting down our wings, by which alone we can attain to higher excellence and nobler character.
Such I take it, is the principle taught in this portion of the prophet's visions.
This conception of God as the sovereign Lord of all the earth, ruler of all nations, is the dominant idea in all Ezekiel's prophecies. It is indeed the key that opens the mysteries of all the later Hebrew writings, but in none of these is it so apparent as in Ezekiel's book.
To him, the faithfulness of the Jewish nation is the most important thing in the world, for they were the custodians of the world's salvation.
Because of this office they are indestructible; they are immortal till their work is done. The numerous prophecies of Ezekiel are sermons; all of them contain some phase of the same truth, namely the divine commission of the seed of Abraham to be a blessing to all nations.
In form, his prophecies are all highly dramatic; sometimes they were actually illustrated by symbolic acts, as when he took a tile and portrayed on it the city of Jerusalem, and an iron pan to represent the wall thereof; and then conducted a siege against this miniature city, with mound and camp and battering rams.
“This shall be a sign to the house of Israel.” Chapter iv: 1:3. Sometimes the action is imagined and depicted; as in the vision of the valley full of dry bones, which came to life at the call of the prophet. XXXVII:1-14.
In some cases it is hard to say whether the action is to be considered actual or parabolic: for example, the incident of cutting off his hair and beard, carefully weighing it out in three parts, one part to be burned with fire, one part to be scattered to the wind, and the third part to be smitten about with sword, a few hairs saved from destruction were afterward burned; thus signifying the utter destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the old order of the nation.
No other author gives such a rich and varied collection of vivid imagery, dramatic illustrations and symbolic acts, which, for the most part, are simple and easily interpreted; almost as simple and lucid as the parables of Jesus. But in his later prophecies, his visions become much more complex and more difficult to interpret in detail, though the gist and general purport of them all is fairly plain.
In his prophecies against his own people he is unsparing in his criticism; no figures are too strong for his use in depicting their unfaithfulness. They are like a faithless wife, guilty of the grossest vileness; they are like a pitiful foundling, which was saved by the charity of a stranger and requited that charity with basest treachery. They had broken their oath. They were worse than the heathen, for they had sinned against light and special favor. “Neither hath Samaria committed half of thy sins; but thou hast multiplied thine abominations more
Thus he pours out the burning acid of his remarkable eloquence, till the most seared conscience must have felt the pangs of remorse, for they knew that his charges were true, and that his rebukes were justified. Against his own people the chief indictment was disloyalty to God, religious defection, and idolatry; but this was by no means the only sin charged against them. They were greedy of gain, extortioners, oppressors of the poor and the helpless; they took gifts to shed innocent blood; they were guilty of adultery, incest and all manner of lewdness. All the crimes of the heathen were common among them. So the prophet justified the ways of God, and convicts his nation of fully deserving all that had befallen them.
But these denunciations are uttered, not for the purpose of intensifying their distress, but for the gracious purpose of convincing the people of God's good will. His doctrine is the same as that of his great contemporary, Jeremiah; namely, that their affliction was not for their destruction, but for correctionfor discipline; that they might be purified and fitted for their high office and made a blessing to the world.
The burdens which Ezekiel delivered against the neighboring nations are similar to those uttered by Jeremiah and other prophets of about the same time. In all of these the same point of view gives the same vision. They see the nations of the world hastening to their fall. The world is being turned upside down. Nations that had endured for thousands of years are about to sink forever. The end of the old order is near, and a new era is about to dawn. The theme to which they all address themselves is the destiny of the covenant of promise which God had made with their fathers; and of this destiny they have no doubt.
Amid the fall of empires and the death of worlds, the promise of God shall stand, and the scheme of his redemption be unfolded and fulfilled.