For you are not being sent to a people of unfamiliar speech or difficult language, but to the house of Israel--
I. THE LESS FAVOURED WOULD WELCOME THE DIVINE MESSENGER AND THE DIVINE MESSAGE. People of a strange speech, the prophet was assured, would, had he been sent to them, certainly have hearkened unto him. How is this to be accounted for? Such people would have been favourably inclined to the herald of God's justice and mercy:
1. By their surprise at an unwonted instance of God's condescension and gracious interest.
2. By their gratitude for words of warning and of promise.
3. By their responsiveness to the interposition on their behalf of a new power brought to bear upon their moral nature.
4. By the hope of Divine acceptance and of a new and better life awakened by the summons in their nature.
II. THE HIGHLY FAVOURED WILL MEET THE DIVINE MESSENGER AND THE DIVINE MESSAGE WITH INDIFFERENCE, UNBELIEF, AND IRRESPONSIVENESS.
1. Privilege is often associated with moral obduracy. The expression used is very severe: "Of a hard forehead, and of a stiff heart." It is observable, and very significant, that the historians and prophets of the Hebrews, so far from flattering their countrymen, used with regard to them language of stern upbraiding and denunciation, reproached them with their unbelief, rebelliousness, hardness of heart, and stiff-necked attitude towards Divine authority. And such reproach was abundantly justified by the facts of their history. They were chosen to privilege, not in virtue of any excellence of their own, but in the sovereign wisdom and mercy of the Lord. The more God did for them, the less they heeded his commandments. Not that this condemnation applied to all; there were those "faithful among the faithless;" but generally speaking, the Jews were a disobedient and rebellious race.
2. This moral obduracy leads to the rejection of God's messengers. "The house of Israel" so the Lord forewarned Ezekiel - " will not hearken unto thee." The same truth was expressed by our Lord himself centuries afterwards, when he reproachfully reminded his kindred according to the flesh that through long centuries messengers from God had been sent to their forefathers, only to be ill treated, wounded, and slain. Ezekiel was only to be treated as similarly authorized messengers of God both before and afterwards.
3. God's messengers are rejected by those who have rejected God himself. Most terrible are the words of the Lord to Ezekiel: "They will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto ME." God had spoken unto Israel in the events of past history, and in the directions and reproaches of conscience. Ezekiel might well believe that there was no special reason why they should listen to him; but he was well aware that there is no sin more awful than the refusal to listen to the Eternal himself, all whose words are true and just, wise and good. It was not a case for personal feeling, a case of offence given and taken. Such feeling would have been out of place. The serious aspect of Israel's unbelief was just this - it was unbelief of God; they turned away from the voice that spake from heaven.
APPLICATION. The privileges of those who, in this Christian dispensation, hear the gospel of salvation preached to them, far exceed the privileges of the ancient Hebrews. To reject the testimony of Christ's ministers is to reject Christ himself, as our Lord has explicitly declared. The condemnation and guilt are tenfold when men harden their hearts, not only against the authority of the Divine Law, but against the pleadings of Divine love. - T.
Thou art not sent to a people of a strange speech.
I. The first thing that we consider is the truth that the FOREIGN FIELD WOULD HAVE BEEN MORE PRODUCTIVE THAN THE HOME; in other words, to make the case completely our own, that ministerial success in an English parish may be far less than in the missionary settlement. We now wish to press upon your notice, as worthy of the closest attention, that the likelihood of men giving ear to the Gospel must diminish in proportion to the frequency of its repetition. It is with spiritual things as with natural; you may live within the sound of the roar of the cannon till you become insensible to the sound, and sleep without being disturbed by it; yes, and you may grow deaf to the thunders of the Word, and listen so often as not to be startled by them! Can it, then, be said on any principle of human calculation, that a man who has stood for many years the formal hearer of the Gospel till the preaching of it has deafened him, is a more promising subject for ministerial attack than the rude dweller in the desert, who never yet has been told of immortality, and never been offered salvation? In the one case we are opposed by ignorance, barbarism, and superstition; and these are formidable adversaries: in the other, we are opposed with enlightened heads and untouched hearts; and this is the combination which, of all others, presents an effectual resistance. It is this tendency of Christianity, to harden where it does not soften, which renders our home parishes so unpromising as fields of ministration. So that whatever the advantage of the home minister, there is so vast a counterpoise in the increased resistance to spiritual impression, which is the produce of a disregarded Gospel, that encouragement drawn from the words — "thou art not sent to a people of a strange speech, and of a hard language," is quite overborne by the melancholy statement, "surely had I sent thee to them, they would have hearkened unto thee."
II. IF THE FOREIGN FIELD OF LABOUR WOULD BE MORE PRODUCTIVE THAN THE HOME — IF THE HEATHEN WOULD REPENT THOUGH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL BE OBDURATE; — WHY WAS EZEKIEL NOT SENT TO MEN OF A STRANGE SPEECH AND A HARD LANGUAGE? There is a mystery which is wholly impenetrable, why God should send the Gospel to one nation, and withhold it from another. We have no sufficient means of determining the election of nations; it appears well-nigh as inexplicable as the election of individuals, — at least we can only resolve both to the sovereign will of the Almighty, and say in the words of the Saviour, "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight." The heathen are as much redeemed men by the blood-shedding of Jesus, as those who are blessed with all the privileges of the Gospel; and in what degree the energies of the atonement may extend themselves to procure the acceptance of those who act up to the light of the dispensation in which they live, we pretend not to determine; neither will we have the hardihood to say, that those who are excluded from all privileges, must be necessarily excluded from all benefit. The heathen will be judged by the laws of the dispensation beneath which he lived. We are assured by infallible authority, that it shall be more tolerable in the judgment for the heathen who never heard of the Gospel, than for those who have heard and rejected it. Though strictly we can only infer from this, that there shall be a graduated scale of punishment; is it not a fair induction that everyone may be tried according to his opportunities? and if this be admitted, then, where the opportunities are small, so also is the responsibility; and we the less marvel that God should have given only little, seeing only little will be demanded in return.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
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