Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD, they are saying of me, 'Is he not just telling parables?'"
I. THE PARABLE IMPLIES A RESEMBLANCE BETWEEN MEN AND FOREST TREES. Amid many differences, there are some resemblances, and it is on one of these resemblances that this admonition fastens. In the earlier stages of their life, trees grow better in clusters. They serve as a support to each other, and also as a protection against storms. But soon the roots rob nourishment, each from the other. The boughs shut out the light and air. They prevent the growth and hardening of the wood. They become mutually injurious. Sap diminishes. The branches dry and decay. So it is with men in society. Casting off the fear of God, they corrupt each other. They become one another's tempters. Healthy growth ceases. Shutting out, each from the other, the light and sunshine from heaven, their proper life shrivels, epics up, and decays. They become combustible - lit for burning.
II. RESEMBLANCE BETWEEN GOD'S RIGHTEOUS ANGER AND MATERIAL FIRE. On these two resemblances the parable depends. As fire naturally lays hold of and destroys forest trees, be does God's anger naturally lay hold of and destroy wicked men. There is a fixed and unalterable correspondence. "Be sure your sin will find you out!" You may as well swallow poison, and hope to live; you may as well set fire to gunpowder, and expect it not to explode; you may as well touch a galvanic current, and think to avoid any nervous sensation, - as to sin, and not suffer penalty. Each is alike an eternal decree of the living God. As each plant has in it the potency to produce another plant, so every sin has in it the germ of destruction.
III. PROXIMITY TO EVIL MEN CONSTITUTES A DANGER. All the trees in a forest are not equally dessicated. Yet such becomes the fierceness of the flame, fed by the drier trees, that those less dessicated are reduced to ashes. Men may be less guilty than their neighbours; they may flatter themselves that they are not so corrupt as others; nevertheless, it they do not separate themselves, or labour to improve their neighbours, they may be consumed in the general conflagration. The green trees were threatened with destruction along with the dry. Evil company is perilous. Each one has sin enough to draw down Divine anger.
IV. MENTAL BLINDNESS IS A DISASTROUS EFFECT OF SIN. "Doth he not speak in parables?" The bulk of men say, "It is a pretty story. It has much literary beauty. The preacher was eloquent, imaginative, interesting." Yet they see not the moral significance, do not feel the points of application. The sermon well suited some absent person; it did not touch them. The eyes of conscience are put out. As it was in the day when Jesus spake his parables, so is it always. "Men see, but do not perceive; they hear, but do not understand." Today a thousand self-blinded men say, "The doom of the wicked is not so terrible as it seems; for the alarming language of Jesus Christ was only a parable." Yet a parable contains hidden truth, sometimes the most arousing. - D.
1. There are certain experiences of human life so oft repeated, and so familiar to all our recollections, that when we perceive, or think we perceive, an analogy between them and the matters of religion, then religion does not appear to us to be mysterious. There is not a more familiar exhibition in society than that of a servant who performs his allotted work, and who obtains his stipulated reward; and we are all servants, and one is our Master, even God. There is nothing more common than that a son should acquit himself to the satisfaction of his parents — and we are all the children of a universal Parent, whom it is our part to please in all things. Now, so long as the work of religious instruction can be upheld by such analogies as these, — so long as the relations of civil or of domestic society can be employed to illustrate the relation between God and the creatures whom He has formed, — a vein of perspicuity will appear to run through the clear and rational exposition of him who has put all the mists and all the technicals of an obscure theology away from him. All his lessons will run in an easy and direct train. Can anything be more evident than that there is a line of separation between the sensual and the temperate, between the selfish and the disinterested, between the sordid and the honourable; or, if we require a distinction more strictly religious, between the profane and the decent keeper of all the ordinances? Here then at once we witness the two grand divisions of human society, in a state of real and visible exemplification; and what more is necessary than just to employ the most direct and intelligible motives of conduct for persuading men to withdraw from one of these divisions, and pass over to the other of them? It is needless to say how much this process is reversed by many a teacher of Christianity. It is true that they hold out most prominently the need of some great transition; but it is a transition most mysteriously different from the act of crossing that line of separation to which we have just been adverting. They reduce the men of all casts, and of all characters, to the same footing of worthlessness in the sight of God; and speak of the evil of the human heart in such terms as will sound to many a mysterious exaggeration — and, like the hearers of Ezekiel, will these not be able to comprehend the argument of the preacher when he tells them, though in the very language of the Bible, that they are the heirs of wrath; that none of them is righteous, no, not one; that all flesh have corrupted their ways, and have fallen short of the glory of God; that the world at large is a lost and a fallen world, and that the natural inheritance of all who live in it is the inheritance of a temporal death and a ruined eternity. When the preacher goes on in this strain, those hearers whom the Spirit has not convinced of sin will be utterly at a loss to understand him; nor are we to wonder if he seem to speak to them in a parable when he speaks to the disease, — that all the darkness of a parable should still seem to hang over his demonstrations when, as a faithful expounder of the revealed will and counsel of God, he proceeds to tell them of the remedy. Now, it is when the preacher is unfolding this scheme of salvation, — it is when he is practically applying it to the conscience and the conduct of his hearers, — it is when the terms of grace and faith and sanctification are pressed into frequent employment for the work of these very peculiar explanations, — it is when, instead of illustrating his subject by those analogies of common life, which might have done for men of an untainted nature, but which will not do for the men of this corrupt world, he faithfully unfolds that economy of redemption which God hath actually set up for the recovery of our degenerate species, — it is then that, to a hearer still in darkness, the whole argument sounds as strangely and as obscurely as if it were conveyed to him in an unknown language, — it is then that the repulsion of his nature to the truth as it is in Jesus finds a willing excuse in the utter mysteriousness of its articles and its terms; and gladly does he put away from him the unwelcome message, with the remark that he who delivers it is a speaker of parables, and there is no comprehending him.
I. THE TOO PREVALENT DISPOSITION IN HEARERS TO MAKE LIGHT OF WHAT THEY HEAR, to turn sermons into fiction, and to put such flexible and accommodating constructions upon the heavenly message as shall divest it of all its point and application and purpose. Prove the moral sincerity of your faith in God's Word, in the same way as you would prove your sincerity of your faith in any other word; in the word of a friend, for example, who had put some written instructions into your hands as to the path to be chosen and the dangers to be avoided, in some new expedition you were undertaking. If those instructions of your friend were scarcely looked at, or seldom read, or never studied, with a view to determine what you should do, or what you should not do, would any profession of trust in such guidance be entitled to the least credit? Would it not be evident that your course was shaped by other influences, and that you had no more respect for the instructions of your friend than for the counsels of one who had a love for the extravagant, and whose very truths were darkened by parables? Well, of this subtle and unacknowledged infidelity, it is to be feared very much will be found among us. Whenever they hear anything tending to disturb their settled opinions, it is always some extravagance or straining of metaphor, or licence of rhetoric, or trick of declamation to keep drowsy audience awake.
Ah Lord God! they say of me, Doth he not speak parables.
II. SOME OF THOSE DOCTRINES AND STATEMENTS WITH REGARD TO WHICH THERE SEEMS TO BE A STRONG CONVICTION IN THE MINDS OF MANY, EITHER THAT THE BIBLE DEALS IN DESIGNEDLY POETIC REPRESENTATIONS, OR ELSE THAT MINISTERS OF THE GOSPEL OVERSTATE THEIR CASE. Parable, in the sense of fiction, invented conceits, fond imagination, it is plain there must be somewhere. Teachers and hearers cannot interpret the same book so differently, and yet both be right. Which speaks in parables? For example, which speaks in the language of parable, as to the moral dangers of our probation, whether from temptations without or from a treacherous heart within? Has the preacher needlessly magnified these dangers, in exhorting you to incessant watchfulness, to a jealous vigilance over the first springs of thought, to a sacred custody of the heart's entrances and outgoings, as feeling that life and immortality were suspended on the issue? You demur perhaps to some of his descriptions of what that heart is, as the nursery of all evil, the fountain of all that is hateful and vile in human character, the ready slave to the purpose of Satan, whenever he has a design to accomplish against God and man; but strong as this language seems, is it stronger than saying, "The heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked," or "Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, blasphemies, and such like"? Or perhaps he who speaks to you has given some dark sketches of an unseen and malignant foe, subtle in his plans, watchful for his opportunities, dreadful for the number of his emissaries, and fierce even unto the death. Doth not the Word that cannot lie declare of this enemy, that "his name is Legion," and that "your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour"? Or, once more, the preacher has spoken disparagingly of the world. Dear as it is to you who have happy associations, happy friendships, happy thoughts, he has exhorted you to beware of it, to have as little to do with it as you can, to make it the servant of your necessities, and not the master of your hearts. But on this point do the law and the testimony speak a more guarded language? Far otherwise; they have affirmed that the whole world lieth in wickedness, and that he who will be a friend of the world must consent to be considered as an enemy of God. Another topic on which men must suppose we use an unnecessary strictness, or they could not live as they do, is with respect to the proper moral signs of their being in a state of reconciliation with God — of their being partakers of a genuine repentance and a saving faith. Surely on such subjects we ought to speak in very faithfulness, for neither to our own souls nor to yours could anything be more perilous than fiction — than an extravagance which should outdo itself. Oh, then, is it our fault if, on reading in the solemn commission given to us, that "without holiness no man shall see the Lord," we pronounce as banished from the everlasting presence the man who does not even desire that holiness, — whose habits are utterly at variance with the temper and spirit of holiness, — whose converse with God is restricted to the service of lip and knee, — who neither knows, nor cares to know, what is meant by the believer's struggles with sin, or conflicts with the law in his members, or aspirations, so broken and so feeble, after the purities of the heavenly state? There is yet one other topic on which, unless ministers of the Gospel be thought to speak in the most extravagant parables, the life of three-fourths of professing Christians is one continued mystery. I mean the retributions which await the Christless soul in another world. On this subject, to go in excess of the awful and thrilling description of the Word of God is not possible. No uninspired imagination could ever attain to such heights — the worm and the fire and the outer darkness and the separation ever widening between repentance and God, and hope. These, if they are parables, at least are not our parables, but the parables of One who must have chosen such a medium of illustration because the intense and overwhelming majesty of the subject could not be described in any other way. And yet, how are we to explain the fact — for fact you know it is — that if we were to collect all those revelations of Holy Writ together, and were to arrange them in such order that they who run might read, many would listen, would seem to be impressed, would profess entire belief in all that had been said, and yet afterwards they would neither love sin the less, nor fear God the more, nor examine their state more closely; but as they came so would they go away, unchanged, unresolved, unreconciled, unforgiven? Surely the fact admits of but one solution. Say what they will, they do not believe these things. Whatever the delusion be, certain it is that each one has sonic lulling process by which the penalties of the eternal world become stripped of their terribleness, insomuch that the words are all but uttered in regard to the man who preaches of them: "What doth this babbler say?" "Then said I, O Lord God! they say of me, Doth he not speak in parables?"
(D. Moore, M. A.)
2. Now, if there be any hearers present who feel that we have spoken to them, when we spoke of the resistance which is held out against peculiar Christianity on the ground of that mysteriousness in which it appears to be concealed from all ordinary discernment, we should like to take our leave of them at present with two observations. We ask them, in the first place, if they have ever, to the satisfaction of their own minds, disproved the Bible? — and if not, we ask them how they can sit at ease, should all the mysteriousness which they charge upon evangelical truth, and by which they would attempt to justify their contempt for it, be found to attach to the very language and to the very doctrine of God's own communication? He actually does say that no man cometh unto the Father but by the Son — and that His is the only name given under heaven whereby men can be saved — and that He will be magnified only in the appointed Mediator — and that Christ is all and all — and that there is no other foundation on which man can lay — and that he who believeth on Him shall not be confounded. He further speaks of our personal preparation for heaven; and here, too, may His utterance sound mysteriously in your hearing, as He tells that without holiness no man can see God — and that we are without strength while we are without the Spirit to make us holy — and that unless a man be born again he shall not enter into the kingdom of God — and that he should wrestle in prayer for the washing of regeneration — and that he should watch for the Holy Ghost with all perseverance — and that he should aspire at being perfect through Christ strengthening him — and that be should, under the operation of those great provisions which are set up in the New Testament for creating us anew unto good works, conform himself unto that doctrine of grace by which he is brought to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present evil world. Secondly, let us assure the men who at this moment bid the stoutest defiance to the message of the Gospel, that the time may yet come when they shall render to this very gospel the most striking of all acknowledgments, even by sending to the door of its most faithful ministers, and humbly craving from them their explanations and their prayers. We never saw the expiring mortal who could look with an undaunted eye on God as his Lawgiver; but often has all its languor been lighted up with joy at the name of Christ as his Saviour. We never saw the dying acquaintance who, upon the retrospect of his virtues and of his doings, could prop the tranquillity of his spirit on the expectation of a legal reward. Oh no; this is not the element which sustains the tranquillity of deathbeds: it is the hope of forgiveness. It is a believing sense of the efficacy of the atonement. It is the prayer of faith, offered up in the name of Him who is the Captain of all our salvation. It is a dependence on that power which can alone impart a meetness for the inheritance of the saints, and present the spirit holy and unreprovable and unblamable in the sight of God. Now, what we have to urge is, that if these be the topics which, on the last half hour of your life, are the only ones that will possess, in your judgment, any value or substantial importance, why put them away from you now?
(T. Chalmers, D. D.)
II. THE OBSCURITY IN WHICH TRUTH IS SOMETIMES REVEALED IS OFTEN FELT TO BE PAINFUL BY THE TEACHER. "They say of me, Doth he not speak parables?" Preachers have to take great subjects, but how little they know of them; and they who know most of them are most conscious of their ignorance, and they speak with hesitation.
III. SCEPTICALLY DISPOSED MINDS USE THE OBSCURITY OF THE REVELATION AS AN OBJECTION AGAINST THE TRUTH. "It cannot be," says the objector; "if God did condescend to reveal truth, no one can suppose that He would reveal it thus. No one could imagine that He would communicate it in that way: the thing on the face of it bears its own condemnation." "They say of me, Doth he not speak parables?" "They," who? All sceptically disposed men.
IV. HOWEVER COMMON THE OBJECTION TO CHRISTIANITY ON ACCOUNT OF ITS OBSCURITY, THE OBJECTION IS BY NO MEANS VALID.
1. Truth coming in this form is adapted to our condition in this state of probation and trial.
2. Truth coming in this form serves many useful purposes. It challenges inquiry and stimulates thought.(1) Preachers should learn that it is for them to preach the truth of God in whatever form it comes to them, regardless of the objections of their hearers.(2) Hearers should be cautious not to impose upon themselves by raising paltry objections to the truth.(3) All should learn that religious truth should be reached, not so much by a reasoning process, as by a moral state of the heart. It is to be understood rather by the heart than the head. Looked at through the eyes of moral sympathy, rather than through the eyes of reason or logic.
(Thomas Binney.)I. The charge brought against the preachers of the gospel.
1. That they preach what is unreal;
2. What is unintelligible;
3. What is allegorical.
II. Some of the statements of preachers of the gospel on which this charge against them is founded.
1. Those which relate to the natural condition of mankind.
2. To the evidences of conversion.
3. To the happiness of religion.
4. To the future punishment of the finally impenitent.
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