So I prophesied as I had been commanded. And as I prophesied, there was suddenly a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone.
I. THE MINISTRY OF PROPHECY.
1. It presumes intelligent natures to which the appeal is made.
2. It presumes a Supreme Authority by which the prophet is selected, fitted, and guided in the discharge of his &rice.
3. It presumes a ministerial nature and character, on the one side open to communications from God, on the other side sympathetic with those for whose benefit such communications are vouchsafed.
4. It presumes an occasion and circumstances, suggesting the fulfillment of a spiritual mission.
II. THE POWER AND AUTHORITY OF THE LIVING GOD ACCOMPANYING TRUE PROPHECY.
1. The prophet speaks at the Divine command. There are times when he is silent, and times when he utters the thoughts, the warnings, the exhortations, that are in him. When the command is given, then the silence is broken.
2. The prophet utters a Divine message. He speaks for God, and they who listen to him hear the voice of God.
3. His utterances are therefore altogether without regard to what men would call probabilities or even possibilities. Nothing could have been further from all human likelihood than that anything should follow upon such a ministry as that here described. The prophet was directed to address "dry bones," and to summon dry bones to "hear the word of the Lord!" Had he been other than a prophet, he would have deemed such a mission an absurdity. "God's ways are not our ways, neither our thoughts his thoughts."
4. A higher than human wisdom and might breathe in the utterances of the prophet. The dignity of his attitude, the sublimity of his thoughts, are not of this world. He must be either a pretender and a fanatic, or else a representative of God himself, who can make use of such language as Ezekiel records himself to have used: "Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live."
III. THE MOVEMENT EFFECTED BY THE AGENCY OF PROPHECY. In this impressive vision the prophet witnessed the power of the words he was directed to utter. A thundering noise and an earthquake followed his prophesying, and to his own amazement he saw bones come together - bone to his bone; he saw the bones clothed with sinews, flesh, and skin. This marvelous transformation was still unaccompanied by life. Surely a revelation to us of the great things that may be and are effected through the instrumentality of a personal and spiritual agency, which yet fall short of the highest and most beautiful and blessed of all effects, viz. spiritual vitality itself. Is it not still and ever the case that by human agencies men are taught, admonished, trained to habits of rectitude, encouraged in a useful life, by a Divine Power indeed - for all good of every grade is from God - but by an exercise of power which is yet inferior to the highest of all?
IV. THE NEW LIFE WHICH IS, IN CONSONANCE WITH PROPHECY, BREATHED BY DIVINE SPIRIT. The result of the summons to the breath from the four winds was at once and most wonderfully apparent. The dry bones lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army! It is impossible to believe that the significance of this glorious conclusion to the vision is exhausted by the restoration of the sons of Israel to their native soil and ancient inheritance. We have the authority of the prophet himself for believing that in this event there was a fulfillment of the vision. And it probably seemed to many observers almost as incredible that the Jews should be bought back from their captivity and should as a nation again live and prosper, as that the bones of the dead, strewn upon a battle-field, should be restored to life and should become again an army of mighty warriors. To the mind that thinks deeply and justly it will seem still more surprising that our humanity, sunk in the slumber and the death of sin, should awake to newness of life, should receive the Spirit of God, and should become his living army of truth and righteousness. It was the purpose of Christ's coming that we might have life, and that in abundance. It is the Spirit that quickeneth. Thus it may be said that the production, fullness, and increase of spiritual life is the main result of the advent of the Savior and the gift of the Holy Ghost.
V. THE TRANSFORMATION AND CONTRAST BROUGHT ABOUT IN FULFILMENT OF PROPHECY. God speaks by his herald and representative, and his word is a word of power. The disjointed and sundered are united, the dry bones are clothed with flesh, the dead live, movement and the glad sound of life follow the stillness and the silence of the grave. An army of the living God is fashioned out of material the most unlikely. Thus the presence and operation of the Eternal is made manifest, the flagging faith of men is revived, and the future of humanity is irradiated with immortal hope. - T.
So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone.John 5:24, 25; Ephesians 5:14; Philippians 3:11, 12.) These passages show, in the most striking manner, how truly in the light of Scripture we are dead by nature, and the absolute necessity of a spiritual resurrection. But all our experience teaches the same thing. How else is it that we are so cold to recognise the love of our heavenly Father, which yet surrounds us with blessings? that we are so prone to wrong, so difficult to be led to adopt the right? that heavenly wisdom is so undelightful to our minds, until our taste has become changed, while the merest folly, and often the worst pollutions, are greedily received? It is because of this depraved and deadened state of the lower degree of the soul. The state of the natural mind is described in the vision before us, by the valley which was full of bones. The natural mind is called a valley, because its principles, as compared with the elevated affections of heavenly love, are as a valley compared to mountains. The mountains are said to bring peace (Psalm 72:3), because the exalted affections which unite the soul to the Lord do indeed bring peace; but in the valleys, fruitfulness is found, for the works which are the fruits of religion can only be produced in practical life. All men start on their spiritual journey in the valley, and only by effort and by prayer ascend to higher, holier states. But the valley the prophet saw was full of bones. What are these bones? The doctrinal truths of religion which form the framework or skeleton of man's regenerate state, round which all other virtues fix and cluster, are as bones. These bones of doctrinal truth are taught in childhood. They are stored in the memory, but often, after that, neglected. In such case their condition is like that mentioned in the description before us, "they are very dry." You look upon the careless and indifferent possessor of the most sacred truths, and see them, if noticed at all, regarded as things of no account, and you are tempted to say, like the question put to the prophet, "Can these bones live?" Can they who hear with indifference the grandest themes, the most solemn appeals, really be awakened to their higher interests? While musing sadly over this desolation, a voice comes from heaven to the conscience, "Can these bones live?" And while we dare scarce venture to hope for so great a restoration, again the Divine mercy speaks within us the gracious promise: "Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones, Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live." Confidence is imparted to the conscience. The angel Hope takes the place of grim despair, and we go to the Word, and from it learn to prophesy as the Lord has commanded. The effects which follow this sacred prophesying are portrayed. First, "there was a noise, and then a shaking." The noise represents the agitation which takes place in the thoughts of the newly awakened convert, the shaking is the tremor and change experienced in the affections. The noise induced as the first effect by the prophesying of the prophet, brings vividly to mind the conflicting thoughts which fill the council chamber of the soul, when making its first efforts for a new life. Hope and fear both utter their voices. Accusations and defences, encouragements and blame, oppose each other; a complete tumult of contending sentiments clash together; the subject in debate is, Shall we arise and live for heaven, or shall we lie down and die forever? The noise was followed by a shaking. When the soul has determined to follow the truth, and employ its Divine light to explore the affections, a discovery of their impure character takes place. We tremble, and we determine to renounce our self-will, and all its impurities. We tremble, but we look up to Him who has said, "I give you power to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and nothing shall by any means hurt you." This is a shaking which is most salutary, and breaks the bonds which have held us in spiritual captivity to the earth and sin. The truth has made us free. The next operation is thus described. "The bones came together, bone to his bone." The soul has become earnest. It is seen that there is a beautiful harmony and order in religious truths. Each has its proper place, and takes it; they come together, bone to his bone. There are doctrines in relation to the Lord, these form the head of the religious system; there are doctrines in relation to the neighbour, these are the breast; there are doctrines in relation to the active uses of love and faith in the world, these are the arms and hands; and there are doctrines for the duties of everyday life, these are the legs and the feet. To perceive all these in harmony, and to have thus an entire and complete religious system, is of the highest importance to our best interests. The accomplishment of this is intimated by the significant words, "The bones came together, bone to his bone." The prophet describes further, "and beheld that the sinews and the flesh came up upon them." The word rendered sinews would be more correct if translated nerves. We have noticed that the moving and arrangement of the bones represent the formation of a correct and complete religious system in the soul. But system is hard and stem, as an unclothed skeleton, unless accompanied and softened by the presence of heavenly goodness. This goodness is represented by flesh, which is at once soft and solid. In the form of muscles it is the grand source of energy and power in the body. Flesh, throughout the Word, is the symbol of goodness, which imparts at once fulness and softness to our spiritual states. The flesh, then, that came upon the bones in the view of the prophet, represented the goodness which is imparted to the soul as it advances in its heavenly career, and seeks not only to know and believe, but to love and do what the Divine commandments teach. With earnest desires it presses on to attain the heavenly life, and thankfully feels that it is becoming stronger for good, warmer in the course it daily pursues. The prophet next observed that, after the preceding changes, he saw skin appear, to surround and beautify the whole. The functions of the skin are three fold. It clothes, it feels, it purifies. It is the seat of sensation and touch. Feeling, in relation to all the ever-occurring particulars of momentary life, is expressed in the skin. Without this presence of life in the extremes we should both do and suffer much that would be utterly detrimental to health and life. Secondly, the skin is a means of absorbing light, moisture, and other grateful elements from the surrounding objects, which are eminently useful to the preservation and beauty of the body. Thirdly, the skin is the grand instrument by which the waste material, which had formed part of the body, is carried off invisibly, and the body's renewal and progression are secured. I dwell upon the importance of the skin, to illustrate what is equally important in a spiritual point of view, that is, a consistent Christian life, for our outward life of virtue is the skin of the Christian character. This consists of faith and love, like minute blood vessels and nerves, living in all the daily acts, the words and works of life. A just, kind, beautiful life is the expression of the soul's highest emotions and sentiments — the skin unveiling the principles within. While, then, you look well to love and faith, the heart and the lungs of religion, do not forget those works of justice, piety, and gentleness which make the Christian skin. On the contrary, go often and hold communion with the Lord, that you may become radiant with holiness, like the skin of the face of Moses, when he had talked with God. Our text adds, respecting these bodies preparing for life, "there was yet no breath in them." Breath, or spirit, signifies conscious spiritual life. As we learn, think, and act in accordance with the Divine commands, new principles of virtue and order are formed within us. We grow in grace, we acquire a new nature; but for a considerable time we have no inner consciousness of living a spiritual life. To bring out our freedom, to regenerate us as men, and to make us more completely men, we are left for a considerable time to the comparatively slow growth of rational thought, consistent obedience, and constant effort, as if from ourselves, to draw nigh to the Lord, and to win His kingdom. The time, however, comes when we feel the presence and the power of heavenly life. "Come from the four winds (the Divine Mercy says), and breathe upon these slain." We find the energies of a new state diffusing themselves with vigour and delight through our whole being, and we stand up as a portion of the Lord's grand army.
(J. Bailey, Ph. D.)
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
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