I. THE GIFT OF SPEECH. We wonder how animals succeed in communicating with one another; that they are supplied with some method of making known and passing on is unquestionable. But whatever their means may be, they fall very short of the great gift of speech which it is our priceless advantage to possess. So common and so familiar has it become, that we little heed its value or the goodness of God in bestowing it. But when we dwell in thought upon all the difference it has made to human life, and the extent to which it has enriched us, we may well bless God with fervent feeling that he has given to our race "the opening of the mouth" in speech and in song. How has it multiplied our power to instruct and enlighten, to warn and save, to comfort and to heal, to cheer and to gladden, to pray and to praise and to exhort, to prepare for all the duty and the burden of life, to make ready for the brighter scenes and ampler spheres of immortality! And as this is so,
(1) how carefully should we guard, how earnestly pray, how seriously admonish, against its abuse!
(2) how studious should we be to make the best and wisest use of this inestimable gift of God.
II. THE GRACE OF SILENCE. If there is a great value in "the opening of the mouth," so also is there much virtue in keeping it closed when "only silence suiteth best." To spare the stinging but severe retort that rises to the lips; to delay the accusation until more knowledge has been gained; to bear without rebuke the sound that tries our nerves, but is the delight of others; to refuse to pass on the unproved default; to refrain from the commonplaces of comfort in presence of some fresh, acute, overwhelming sorrow; to wait our time and. our turn until others have spoken who should, precede us, or until we have earned the right to speak; to "be dumb, to open not our mouth" under the chastening hand of God, and to retire into the sanctuary of the inner chamber that we may think and understand; - this is a true "grace," which they who seek the best in human character and life will not fail to desire and to pursue.
III. THE PRIVILEGE OF PROPHECY. No nobler order of men ever rose and wrought than the Hebrew prophets. They were "men that spoke for God" as their name indicates they should have been. And they" opened their mouth" fearlessly, faithfully, even heroically. They were to be found in the front when there was unpalatable truth to be spoken, uninviting duty to be done, serious danger to be dared. They did not shrink from speaking the straightforward truth to the people, the army, the sovereign. The Lord "before whom they stood," and in whose near presence they felt that they were safe, gave them the wisdom to speak and the courage to act. He "gave them the opening of the mouth;" and hence these strong, brave, searching, sometimes scathing, sometimes cheering words, which we still read in our homes and in our sanctuaries, which still help to form our character and to shape our life. Their true successors are found in those Christian ministers, and in those who do not call themselves by that name, who "speak for God," and who do speak for him because, like their prototypes, they
(1) are enriched by him with knowledge and insight - under-standing of his will and insight into the nature and character of their fellowmen;
(2) are endowed by him with the power of utterance - such utterance as constrains attention and secures reflection and emotion;
He caused me to eat that roll.1. There are few writers in the Bible who have imprinted the characteristics of their own mind on their writings more than the prophet Ezekiel, and this is so remarkably the case that we can hardly rise from the perusal of his book without being more forcibly than ever convinced that inspiration is not in such Sense literal as robe independent of the medium through which it passes. In fact we may almost feel that it is more than probable that God selects the peculiar dispositions and characteristics of men for the media of His revealed truths on account of some similarity between their tendencies and the subject matter of the truth revealed. Important practical results flow from these considerations, especially under the three following heads. First, that this being the case, many superficial difficulties are cleared away from the surface of Scripture from the consideration of the various dispositions and modes of expression of the writers. Secondly, very considerable encouragement and comfort may be derived from the circumstance that persons with similar dispositions to our own have written portions of the Word of God. And thirdly, it leads us to see that from this analogy of His providence we may expect certain similar results in the conduct of the Church and the world in our own day.
2. With this view the study of Ezekiel's prophecy is remarkable. It reflects a very distinct order of disposition. He delights in mystery, allegory, and the awful; he is far less beautiful and sublime than Isaiah, but far more terrible and alarming. He has scarcely any common ground with Jeremiah, for while the latter constantly appeals to the deeper feelings of our nature, he lacked, to a great degree, the energy of character to make him their martyr; while, on the other hand, Ezekiel seems to have despised an appeal to them, and without hesitation or complaint showed his mastery over them. With Daniel Ezekiel stands in strong contrast; he lacks his refinement, his reserve, and the high sculpture of his character. He seems to have been a man of great power of self-command and of the suppression, for the sake of religion, of the tenderer emotions of nature. God told him that his wife should die in order that her death and his mode of bearing it might be an allegory to the people. The event took place, and he yielded to no human sensation on account of it.
3. But my more immediate object is, first to show that in all these respects he is one of a large class of individuals, and secondly, that that class have a direct office in the Church of God. His was the mind suited and suiting itself to mystery and allegory, which, after all, are handmaids to each other. The allegory is the expressed mystery. The allegoriser is the poet of the mystery. Thus the minds which can appreciate the mystery and express themselves in the allegory are cognate the one to the other. In the same way the disposition which inclines towards the comprehension of mystery is one which sees with a firm and unwavering eye the great truths that lie beyond the present state. There is another property and virtue of the man of mystical mind which is an important one; he is one who will consent to bow the ordinary understanding in homage to the superior spiritual perceptions, and the exercise of the reason to the moral sense. Thirdly, the mystical mind is one that is able to comprehend the sacramental nature of God's world. We are in danger nowadays, from a dread of mysticism, of accepting nothing as true but that which can be both suggested and finally proved by human reason.
4. But while what I have called the mystical mind is one so suited to peculiar crises of the history of man, it is, nevertheless, subject to its own infirmities and faults. Inasmuch as it is able to transcend the ordinary perceptions of religion it will be inclined to pass by with contempt those who are unable to expand its limits, and from a professed dread of narrowness of mind in things to do with religion and faith, will itself become narrowed by the most rigid limits of superstition and conventionalism. Again the allegoriser will sometimes become hazy, indefinite, and uncertain in his descriptions, and tend at last as much to mislead those who follow him, as those who refuse to take a bold step in the guidance of their fellow creatures induce them to stop short of the fulness of spiritual truth.
5. But I proceed to elucidate the rules that I have laid down with regard to the character which Ezekiel represents by some illustrations borrowed from those occasions in which their influence is felt, and their operation called into action. It is very apparent how important a witness minds of this description have to bear in a day like our own, when upon all sides of us we see the inclination to discredit old received opinions, and to cast a dimness over that clear light which had shone to the eyes of our ancestors from the far-off days of antiquity. He, then, who is able to discern in connection with the Church, the sacramental force of religion, has nowadays a great mission to fulfil. It is not merely the power to perceive and to appreciate the mysteries of our faith, but to discern under the external surface of things a deep sacramental meaning.
5. But independently of the mind that can conceive or the poetic power that can find the fitting term of expression, this kind of character must enforce thought and word by example. Acts are great allegories, and the parables of men's lives are most efficient in their sufferings. The actions of Ezekiel told more on the Jewish people than either his genius or his parables. His loathsome food and the tearless tomb of his wife preached the most effective lesson to the captive Jews. His was the peculiar character which could do great acts of daring and suffer manfully; and the mind which I have been describing above under the title of the allegorical, is the one capable of those powerful and speaking deeds which so affect a generation.
Christian Commonwealth.The symbol showed that Ezekiel accepted his call. He humbly gave in to God, hard as the task was. Spiritual submission is the first lesson of religion. He opened his mouth in faith. If we trust God, we can trust even His judgments. The bitter of His procuring is as sweet as honey. The symbol also expressed the prophet's mandate. God's will can be known, and is known. The prophet bad waited till it was burned in on him that his was a distinct call, a distinct work. He ate the roll. He was able to expound the book. The great temptation is to talk without the book, to enter the pulpit whether the roll has been eaten or not. We have to learn the contents of our Christian faith. Personal submission, experimental knowledge, testimony. Obedience is the one law of life, and the one secret of peace.
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