The Measuring Reed
Ezekiel 40:2-3
In the visions of God brought he me into the land of Israel, and set me on a very high mountain…

It is a complex and mysterious thing, — this human life which it is appointed us to live. At first glance it seems as if it were simply the outflowing of ourselves from day to day, very much as water flows from a jar, without effort or design or law of movement, Take the history of a day, or the larger history of a life from the cradle to the grave; what subtle breaths of desire, of affection and repulsion determine its movements! What accidents, casual contacts, unexpected pressures of circumstance carve its outlines! Day by day the tapestry is woven. We cannot stop the play of the loom. But what a wilderness of aimless lines comes out in the fabric! What a blur of unfinished patterns, overlying each other! What a tangle of broken threads! But a deeper glance reveals to us the persistent and inexorable action of law in the shaping of our life. Indeed it is easy to formulate a theory of life in which it seems as if it were all law, nothing but law, law that crushed all freedom and spontaneity out of life. This happens when you try to reduce life to a department of physics. You find everywhere law; only the law lies not so much in the life as in the things that press upon it and give it direction. The water that flows from a jar falls and sparkles and runs on the ground with no choice of its own. Every drop is the slave of law. So it seems when we look upon life and treat it as a chapter of mechanics; as if it were simply the product of the forces that beat upon it, as if the measure of the forces gave the measure of the life, as if the colours and shapes it takes in its outflow were all determined by the angle of the sunbeam that strikes it, and the lay of the ground where it falls. It is evident that this conception of life is inadequate and false. It is all the more dangerous, because it falls in with a current fashion of thought and contains a half-truth. We read so much nowadays of force and law, that it is natural to speak of the energy of life under these terms; only, if we take our conceptions of force and law entirely from the physical world, we reduce all the intricate and mysterious movement of life to the irresponsible throbbings of a machine. The life which each of us is living is neither a formless, accidental jumble of thoughts, words and deeds, which link themselves together without any compelling force or law of combination; nor is it the fixed and inevitable result of forces that lie outside the domain of the will, and that beat resistlessly upon our life for good or evil. There is both freedom and law in our life; freedom working within law, along the lines of law. Every human life is a structure like that temple in the prophet's dream. It is built up stone by stone. And every stone has a meaning. It falls into its place in obedience to a law. The design of the structure determines the position of the stone. The building grows according to the law of the design. But what determines the design? Here is where the element of choice comes in. We can choose one design or another. But the design once chosen determines the character of the building. It gives the law of measurement to every stone and door post and pinnacle. It is like a man with a measuring reed standing in the gate. Now there are certain things which, you will agree with me, fall entirely within our choice, which have such power and influence in the shaping of character that they become the measuring reeds of life. They give the design on the lines of which the structure of the life is built. One of these things is a man's estimate of himself. What a man holds himself to be, he tries to be, and in the long run becomes. If he count himself a cur, his life will be a kennel, whatever money he may lavish on it and however richly he may decorate it. If he recognise and hold himself true to a royalty of soul, his life will be a palace. Though it have the dimensions of a hut, and the roof cover but a single room, that room will be a throne chamber. Have you never noticed how Christ, in His effort to lift men to higher levels of life, kept in sight this law? Never was such dignity dreamed for human nature as He gave to it. He called men God's children. And all, that He might win them to a life that had the purity and beauty of God in it, a life that should be worthy of the sons of God. Christ recognised the law: man is the measure of his life. His estimate of his own worth gives the quality of his daily deed and word. The law runs from the sublime heights to which Christ carried it, to the beaten paths where men pass to and fro on the business of the world. If you hold yourself copper, your life will be copper. If you count yourself gold and diamond, your life will be gold and diamond. You must first estimate yourself as something cheap and mean, before you can sell yourself to a cheap and mean sin. But there is another measuring reed of life. As he goes on with the years, every man makes not only an estimate of himself, but also a philosophy of life. If we choose to explain life as a selfish, brutal struggle for existence, as a dull, lingering misery to be borne simply with patience or defiance, as a hunt for pleasurable sensations, as a plot for the mastery of our fellows, as a school for the education of character, as an opportunity of lighting up this earth with something of the life that pulses in the heart of God; in every case, life rises up and answers: "Yes, that is my explanation of myself. I can furnish proofs of your theory. You have translated the cipher on my heart. Take me, read me, treat me as you choose; I will supply you with plenty of facts to substantiate your philosophy of me." Life echoes back our own answer. She comes to us and sits down by us and goes to and fro over our threshold, in the very feature, step, and accent of our theory. The smallest details of life take tone and colour from our creed. Our life makes a constant effort to adjust itself to our theory. How can it be otherwise? Our theory is a measuring reed, with which we stand in the gate, and which we apply to every stone and beam that go into the structure of our life. Is it any wonder that the whole structure is simply a sort of flower, which has blossomed on the stalk of our measuring reed?

(W. W. Battershall, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: In the visions of God brought he me into the land of Israel, and set me upon a very high mountain, by which was as the frame of a city on the south.

WEB: In the visions of God brought he me into the land of Israel, and set me down on a very high mountain, whereon was as it were the frame of a city on the south.

Vision of the New Temple
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