Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. MAN'S IDEA OF THE CHURCH AS CAPABLE OF STRICT DEFINITION AND MEASUREMENT. There has always been a disposition to fix and limit the boundaries of the Church.
1. Irrational. The visible Church may be defined, but not the invisible. Truth is not to be measured by our belief, or godliness by the piety of the party to which we belong, or the community of the good by the little systems of our day.
2. Presumptuous. This work cannot be done by man. He has neither the capacity nor the means. "We mete out love as if our eye saw to the end of heaven." It demands higher powers - a purer eye, a deeper insight, a more far reaching vision. Even Elijah failed, and Peter greatly erred. Only the Lord himself knoweth them who are his.
3. Injurious. Mistakes must occur. Some excluded who ought to have been included, and others included who should have been excluded. Hence evil both to the judge and to the judged - pride, injustice, uncharitableness. See Saul "breathing out threatenings and slaughter." Mark John, the beloved disciple, wanting to call down fire on the Samaritans. Behold the Corinthian Church - sample of many others down to our own day - torn by factions and blighted by party spirit. How often, in the world, have grievous wars arisen from paltry questions as to boundaries! So the Church has suffered incalculable evils from "profane and vain babblings" and questions which minister strife.
II. GOD'S IDEA OF THE CHURCH AS TRANSCENDING ALL HUMAN LIMITATIONS, God is the Supreme and only Judge. He sees things as they are. He knows not only the outward works, but the heart, and the end from the beginning. In the woman whom Simon the Pharisee despised our Lord saw a true penitent. In the man who was casting out devils in his name he discerns an ally, though he followed him not openly as a disciple. In the devout Cornelius he acknowledged a true worshipper and servant of God, though he was as yet unknown to the apostles. His love overflows the letter of our Creeds and the boundaries of our Churches. And as in the past, so in the future. The picture is grand and inspiring. It foreshadows the glory of the latter day. Here is:
1. Vast extension. (Vers. 6, 7.) The Church is like a city that outgrows its walls, that absorbs the outlying villages and hamlets, that gradually includes the whole land in its benign embrace. As Jerusalem, so the Church, in the day of prosperity, would far surpass all former bounds.
2. Inviolable security. The figure is vivid and striking. It recalls the story of the prophet (2 Kings 6:15-17) and the more ancient records of Moses and of Israel in the wilderness. The true defence is not material, but spiritual - not of the world, but of God.
3. Divine blessedness. The life and splendour of the Church are in the inhabitation of God. This secures the supremacy of goodness, and the brotherhood of man in Christ Jesus. God is in the midst. "God is Light," "God is Love," God is Holiness; therefore the people will live and move and have their being in light and love and holiness. It will be the days of heaven on earth. - F.
1. What he saw. "A man with a measuring line in his hand." In Ezekiel 40:3; Ezekiel 41., 42., you have the same image. Who was this man? The general impression is that it was the Messiah in human form. He is the great Moral Architect, the Builder of the great temple of truth in the world. Then the prophet sees angels. "Behold, the angel that talked with me went forth." Who was this angel? The interpreter. Then there is another angel he sees, who went out to meet him. Who is he? Some suppose, the same as the "man with the measuring line." In addition to this he sees a young man. "Run, speak to this young man." Who is this young man? He is generally believed to be the prophet himself; and Christ is here represented as commissioning an angel to run and speak.
2. What he says to him. "Whither goest thou?" The "man with the measuring line" excites his curiosity. His appearance, gait, speed, as he carried the measuring line in his hand, would naturally give occasion to the question.
3. What he heard. He heard the answer to his question: "To measure Jerusalem, to see what is the breadth thereof, and what is the length thereof." He beard the commission given to the angel: "Run, speak to this young man." He heard a description given of Jerusalem: "Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls," etc. And he heard the Divine promise made concerning it: "For I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about." This part of his vision may be fairly taken to illustrate the future increase, security, and glory of good men on the earth.
I. THE FUTURE INCREASE OF GOOD MEN ON THE EARTH. Two remarks are suggested concerning the extent of genuine religion. It is:
1. Measurable only by the Divine. Who had the "measuring line"? Not a mere man, not any created intelligence, but the God-Man, the Messiah. Men cannot measure the growth of piety in the world. They attempt it, but make fearful mistakes. They deal in statistics, they count the number of Churches in the world and the number of professed worshippers. But piety cannot be measured in this way. When you have summed up the number of temples and the number of professed worshippers, you have not approached a correct estimate as to the amount of genuine piety in the world. Have you scales by which to weigh genuine love? any numbers by which to count holy thoughts, aspirations, and volitions? any rules by which to gauge spiritual intelligence? Have you any plummet by which to fathom even the depths of a mother's affections? No one but God can weigh and measure the holy experiences of holy souls. By his method of measurement he may discover more piety in a humble cottage than in crowded tabernacles and cathedrals. He hath the true "measuring line," and no one else. Hence endeavour not to determine the usefulness of a minister by the numbers of his congregation or the funds contributed by them.
2. Unrestricted by material bounds. "Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls for the multitude of men and cattle therein." The literal idea is that so many shall be its inhabitants that all could not be contained within the walls, but shall spread out in the open country around (Esther 9:19), and so secure shall they be as not to need shelter behind walls for themselves and the cattle. So hereafter Judaea is to be "the land of unwalled villages" (Ezekiel 38:11), We are told that "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."
II. THE FUTURE SECURITY OF GOOD MEN ON THE EARTH. "For I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about." "A wall of fire." Who shall penetrate a massive wall of fire? But that wall is God himself, omnipotent in strength, immeasurably high. "I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God;" "And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof" (Revelation 21:3, 23). Conventional Christians talk about the Church being in danger. Are the stars of heaven in danger? The true Church is founded on a rock, and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. Omnipotence is the Guardian of the good. "He shall give his angels charge over thee," etc.
III. THE FUTURE GLORY OF THE GOOD MEN ON THE EARTH. "And will be the Glory in the midst of her." The reference here is to the Shechinah and the mercy seat. Good men are the recipients and the reflectors of Divine glory. They are the temples for the Holy Ghost to dwell in, and they reveal more of him than the whole material universe. Holiest souls are his highest manifestations. - D.T.
I. KNOWLEDGE OF THEIR CONDITION. In the dark days we are apt to say, "Doth God know?" This is our weakness. The cries Of the poor, the needy, and the oppressed are ever heard on high.
II. CONTINUED INTEREST IN THEIR WELFARE. Israel, though scattered, was not forsaken. Affliction witnesses both as to our sin and God's mercy. If God did not care, he would let us go on in sin. But because he loves and pities us and yearns for our home coming, he ceases not to cry, "Return."
III. ADEQUATE MEANS PROVIDED FOR THEIR RESTORATION. God does not require the impossible. His commands are promises. The way is open. The exiles are free to come back. Welcome and peace are assured on the word of the Lord. But self-effort is needed. We must ourselves act.
IV. GRANDEST ENCOURAGEMENT TO OBEDIENCE. The best reasons to convince the judgment. The most powerful motives to sway the heart. God appeals:
1. To the sense of right. What should be the best and the noblest? "We needs must love the highest when we see it"'
2. The feeling of brotherhood. The old unity might be restored. The Jews looked back with pride to the days of David and Solomon. So of the Church.
3. Their consciousness of the real dignity of their being. They were precious in God's sight. Specially protected and dear "as the apple of his eye." Such thoughts fitted to raise our hearts, to inspire us with worthier ideas of our nature and destiny (1 John 3:1).
4. Their hope of better times. Obedience would bring blessedness. - F.
4. Some read the words, "after the glory," "to win glory." And again, what is meant by "Behold, I will shake mine hand upon them, and they shall be a spoil to their servants"? The expression, perhaps, is indicative of a threatening attitude of Jehovah when about to inflict punishment upon his enemies, Dr. Wardlaw says of vers. 8, 9, "That the simplest and most natural interpretation is that which makes them refer to the fulfilment of the promise in ver. 5, 'I will be the Glory in the midst of her.'" When this has been fulfilled - when Jehovah's house has been built, and he has returned and taken possession of it, and become anew the glory of his people and his city - then, says the speaker, "He hath sent me unto the nations which spoiled you," words of which, in this connection, the most appropriate interpretation seems to be that Jehovah hath given him a commission against those nations. These words may be fairly taken to illustrate the moral exile of humanity. As the Jews in Babylon were exiled from their own land, souls are away front God in the "far country" of depravity. The point suggested is the reluctance of the exile to return. This reluctance is here seen -
I. IN THE EARNESTNESS OF THE DIVINE APPEAL. "Ho, ho, come forth, and flee from the land of the north, saith the Lord." Though Providence, through the interposition of Cyrus, had removed all physical obstacles to their return, still they had such lingering attachments to the land of their captivity that they seemed loth to break away. Hence the appeal of the Almighty to "flee from the land of the north." Is not this an illustration of the moral state of simmers? Though their way to return back to God has been made clear by Christ, yet return they will not. Hence how earnest and persevering the Divine call! What is the voice to humanity of the Almighty Word, the voice sounding through nature, through all history, and especially through Christ? Does it not amount to this, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord," etc.? "Return is the word. Flee from the land of the north." It is the land of corruption, the land of tyranny.
II. IN THE POTENCY OF THE DIVINE REASONS. Several things are suggested by God as reasons why they should attend to his call and "relearn."
1. The greatness of their separation. "I have spread you abroad as the four winds of the heaven." You ought to be one people, united as loving brethren - united in spirit and aim, in a common worship and a common purpose of life; but you are divided far apart. You are not in one part of the country, but at every point of the compass - east, west, north, south. Do not be separated any more. Gather together into one fold. Is not this a good reason why sinners should return to God? So long as they are away from him they are divided amongst themselves. They are not only apart from each other, they are not only without sympathy with each other, but in antipathy. What a motive this to "return"!
2. The tender interest of God in them. "He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye." Some regard this as meaning, "He that injures you injures himself;" as if the words meant, "He that toucheth you toucheth the pupil of his own eye." There is a great truth in this. He that injures another injures himself thereby. This is a law manifestly just and eternally irrevocable. You cannot wrong another without wronging yourself. But although this is a truth, the words, I think, convey something more than this; they convey the idea of God's gender interest in his people. It is a charming figure. The eye is one of the most intricate and delicate structures in the human frame; and the pupil of the eye - the opening by which the light of heaven enters for the purposes of vision - the most sensitive, as well as important, part of that structure. Nothing can more finely convey the idea of the exquisitely tender care of Jehovah for the objects of his love. Such interest the Bible teaches with frequency and fervour. Hence we read, "In all their affliction, he is afflicted." We read, "As a father pitieth his children," etc. We read, "Can a woman forget her sucking child?" We read, "He is touched with a feeling of our infirmities," etc. What an argument is this for man's moral return! If the Almighty Father is so tender towards us, ought we not to hurry home to his presence! The father of the prodigal son represents the universal Father of mankind. "When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him," etc.
3. The opposition of the Almighty to their enemies. "For, behold, I will shake mine hand upon them." This can be the language of no other than Jehovah, and yet is the language of one who speaks of "Jehovah" as having "sent him. There does not appear to be any reasonable explanation of this but our considering the speaker as the Divine Angel of the covenant. This is a strong reason why they should return." They need not be afraid, therefore, of their enemies. God is against them. Is not this a good reason why sinners should return to him? They need not dread their enemies, whether they be men or devils. God says, "I will shake mine hand upon them."
CONCLUSION. Why should sinners be so reluctant to return to God? What made the Jews so reluctant "to flee from the north" - to break away from Babylon and return to their own land? Was it indolence? Did they so love ease as to dread exertion? Was it love of the world? Had they established prosperous businesses, and amassed such property as to tie them to the spot? Was it old association? Had they formed acquaintances in which they were interested, associates whose services promoted their private advantage, and whose fellowship yielded pleasure to their social natures? Perhaps each of these acted - indolence, love of the world, old associations. And do not all these act now to prevent sinners from coming out of moral Babylon (see Revelation 18:4) ? - D.T.
Isaiah 54:1; Zephaniah 3:14, 15; Isaiah 12:6), and all for the restored and renewed presence of God (Pusey).
I. THE GLORY OF HIS PRESENCE. Absenteeism is a sore evil among men, but the King of Zion is always in residence.
II. THE VASTNESS OF HIS DOMINION. Not material but moral. Souls. "The riches of his inheritance in the saints." Far and wide. People of every kindred and tongue. Constant accessions of territory, till the uttermost parts of the earth are possessed.
III. THE SPLENDOUR OF HIS ACHIEVEMENTS. The cross means death to evil and life to good. As when our Lord was in the world, wherever he went he brought light and blessing, so it is still. There is joy in heaven over every sinner that repenteth, and this joy is shared by the saints on earth.
IV. THE BLESSEDNESS OF HIS REIGN. He rules not by force, but by love. The homage of his subjects is from the heart, and their service is freely and joyously rendered. The honours of his kingdom are not to the noble and the great of the earth, but to the good. At last the old word is fulfilled, "In his days shall the righteous flourish" (Psalm 72:7). - F.
Exodus 23:21) and his face (Exodus 33:14), i.e. the Angel of his face (Isaiah 63:9), who reveals his nature, to dwell in the midst of her. This dwelling of Jehovah, or of his Angel, in the midst of Zion, is essentially different from the dwelling of Jehovah in the most holy place of his temple. It commences with the coming of the Son of God in the flesh, and is completed by his return in glory (John 1:14; Revelation 21:3). Then will many, or powerful nations, attach themselves to Jehovah, and become his people (cf. Zechariah 8:20, 21; Isaiah 14:1). This kingdom of God, which has hitherto been restricted to Israel, wilt be spread out and glorified by the reception of the heathen nations which are seeking God (Micah 4:2). The repetition of the expression, 'I dwell in the midst of thee,' merely serves as a stronger asseveration of this brilliant promise" (Keil). These words may be fairly taken to represent the joy of the millennial Church. The words, as we have seen, point to the bright periods when Messiah's kingdom shall so extend as to embrace "many nations." Three remarks are suggested concerning this joy. It is righteous, reasonable, and reverential.
I. IT IS RIGHTEOUS. It is not only divinely authorized, but commanded. "Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion." Often we are informed by religious teachers that joy is a privilege, but seldom told that joy is a duty. But joy is in truth as much a duty as honesty; for he who has commanded us not to steal has also commanded us to "rejoice evermore." It is as truly a sin against Heaven to be spiritually gloomy and sad as to be socially false and dishonest. "Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion." Similar commands are found elsewhere on the pages of Holy Writ. "Break forth into joy, sing together" (Isaiah 52:9); "Cry out and shout, thou inhabitant of Zion" (Isaiah 12:6); "Rejoice evermore" (1 Thessalonians 5:16); "Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice" (Philippians 4:4). God in nature says to all, "Be happy." God in Christ says to all, "Be happy." "These things have I spoken unto you, that your joy may be full." Gratitude is joy; and ought not gratitude to flu every soul? Admiration is joy; and ought not every soul to be filled with admiration of the Divine excellence? Love is joy; and ought we not to love all creatures with the love of benevolence, and the Creator with the love of adoration?
II. IT IS REASONABLE. What is righteous is of course always reasonable. True morality is true policy. But here are reasons suggested for this joy. What are they?
1. The presence of God. "Lo, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the Lord." The highest happiness of an intelligent creature is the presence of the object it supremely loves. "In thy presence is fulness of joy." To be with God is to be with the Fountain of all joy.
2. The increase of the good. "Many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day." There is a bright prospect for the true Church; though it has been and stilt is small, uninfluential, and despised, it is destined to grow, extend its boundaries, and embrace nations. The stone shall become a mountain and fill the whole earth. Is not this a good reason for joy - to see the clouds of error in the human sky breaking, dissolving, vanishing, and the Sun of truth rising, spreading, and penetrating the whole earth with its life giving beams? Is not this a sublime reason for life giving joy - "Many nations shall be joined to the Lord," as the branches are joined to the roots of the tree, as the members of the body are joined to the head?
3. The restoration of the Jews. "And the Lord shall inherit Judah his portion in the holy land, and shall choose Jerusalem again." As all the language of this book is highly figurative, to give a literal meaning to this expression' is neither necessary nor just. It is not a literal but a spiritual restoration that is meant. Paul's words are a commentary on this (Romans 11:25-32), "For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come. out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: for this is my covenant irate them, when I shall take away their sins. As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. For as ye in times past have not believed. God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief: even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy. For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all."
III. IT IS REVERENTIAL. "Be silent, O all flesh, before the Lord: for he is raised up out of his holy habitation," "The Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him." The profoundest emotions of the soul are always mate. Superficial feelings are noisy and chattering. The shallow stream babbles amongst the hills. The deep river rolls by unheard. There are emotions of a pleasurable kind, that go off in the boisterous laugh, or the jocund song, or the sentimental hymn. But deep joy is silent as the stars. The real lover of art has joy in gazing at a magnificent piece of art, but his joy is inarticulate. The real lover of nature has deep joy in surveying some landscape of unparalleled grandeur. It is a joy that cannot go out in laughter, or speech, or song; it is silent. It is so with the godly soul. In the presence of the supremely beautiful it is filled with a joy that cannot speak, "a joy unspeakable, but full of glory."
CONCLUSION. Are we "joined to the Lord," loyal subjects of his great spiritual empire? If so, we might well be happy. - D.T.