But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt.
I. THE SOURCE OF THE HOLY WATERS. AS the rain comes down from heaven, filters in the soil, and wells up a living spring, so the blessings of the gospel have their fountain in the very mind and heart of God himself. But, as conveyed to men, they have a well-spring human and earthly. The student of human history, who looks beneath the surface of things, and seeks to understand the growth of thought and of morals, turns his attention to the Hebrew people, wondering that from them, as from a well-head of ethical and religious life, should flow blessings so priceless for the enrichment of humanity. Yet so it is; the temple at Jerusalem is the symbol of a Divine revelation. The justest and noblest ideas which have entered into the intellectual and spiritual life of man have very largely issued from Moses and the Hebrew prophets. How far Ezekiel entered into this truth may not be certain; yet since he was a cosmopolite, in relation with Babylon, Egypt, and Tyre, and knew well the mental and moral state of the nations of antiquity, it seems reasonable to believe that he had enough of the critical spirit to compare the debt of the world to the Hebrews as compared with the people that figure so vastly in secular history. He was certainly right in tracing to Israelitish sources the waters of life, fruitfulness, and healing which were to bring blessing to mankind.
II. THE WIDENING AND DEEPENING OF THE HOLY WATERS. It is here that Ezekiel passes from history to prophecy. Possessed by the Spirit of God, he was able to look into the future and behold the wonder yet to be. It is, indeed, marvelous that, in a period of national depression, when national extinction seemed to human foresight to be imminent, the prophet of the exile should have had so clear a perception of the reality of things, and so clear a foresight of the spiritual future of the world, which must in his apprehension have appeared bound up with the continuity of the history and religious life of Israel. The river, like the temple from which it proceeded, was the emblem of what was greater than itself. Christian commentators have taken pleasure in tracing Correspondences between the gradual increase of the stream and the growth of true and spiritual religion. Beginning with Judaism, the stream of truth and blessing widened and deepened into Christianity; and Christianity itself, commencing its course in the besom of Israel, soon came to include in its ever-widening flood, its ever-deepening volume of blessing, all the nations comprehended in the dominion of Rome. And following centuries have witnessed the constant broadening of the life-giving and beneficent stream, so that none can place a limit to the area which shall be fertilized and refreshed by the waters that first flowed from the courts of the temple at Jerusalem.
III. THE BENEFICENCE OF THE HOLY WATERS. Among the results of the presence of the waters of life may be observed the following.
1. Healing. The salt and bituminous waters of the Dead Sea are represented as being healed and restored to sweetness by this inflow of the sweet and wholesome waters issuing from the sanctuary. By this may be understood the power of pure and supernatural religion to heal the corruptions of sinful society. Certainly, as a matter of fact, not a little has been done in this direction in the course of the centuries, as the Church has taken possession, first of the Roman empire, and then of the nations of the North, and as, in these latter days, it has, with missionary zeal, penetrated the foulness of the remotest heathenism.
2. Life. And this in two several directions. The prophet saw very many trees on the banks of the river, and a very great multitude of fish in its translucent waters. Life, both vegetable and animal, life of every kind and order, is the result of the stream's full and beneficent flow. Corresponding with this is the spiritual life which results from the benign and wholesome influence of true Christianity. The Lord Jesus came that men might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. Life of the spirit, the very life of God himself - such is the issue of the Divine interposition and provision.
3. Fruitfulness and abundance. The fishers spread their nets and draw up from the waters a great supply of fish; the husbandmen go forth into the gardens and vineyards by the river-side and gather great crops of fruit. The river of the water of life, like the streams of Damascus creating a green oasis in the Syrian desert, brings fertility, a wealth of blossom and of fruit, wherever it flows. Righteousness and holiness, patience and peace, devotion and hope, - such are the harvest for which the world is indebted to the sweet waters of the Divine sanctuary. - T.
I. GOD IS PLEASED OFTENTIMES IN HIS INFINITE WISDOM TO SEND THE PREACHING OF THE WORD UNTO SOME PLACES WHEREIN IT SHALL NOT PUT FORTH ITS QUICKENING AND SANCTIFYING POWER AND VIRTUE UPON THE SOULS OF THEM THAT HEAR IT.
I. THE GOSPEL HAS NOT THE SAME HEALING EFFECT ON ALL WHERE IT COMES. Has the Gospel come unto me, not in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance, and effectually wrought to the turning me from vain idols to the living and true God (1 Thessalonians 1:5)? Thus it does in all that are saved. But oh, to how many does it prove an empty sound, and who remain the same persons that they were before they heard it? They were dark and defiled, ignorant and unholy, lifeless and fruitless, and they are so still.
But the miry places and the marishes thereof shall not be healed; they shall be given to salt.
(A. Boyd, M. A.)
II. THE GREAT SIN OF CONTINUING UNFRUITFUL UNDER THE GOSPEL, OF OUR REMAINING IN THE SAME CORRUPT STATE IN WHICH IT FOUND US, AND SO RECEIVING THE GRACE OF GOD IN VAIN.
1. This is a reproach to the Gospel, as if it were spiritless thing, without power or efficacy to produce what it was sent for.
2. As it is a reproach to the Gospel, so also a grief to those that labour in it.
III. THE GREATNESS OF THE JUDGMENT FOR GOD TO SAY OF ANY, THEY SHALL NOT BE HEALED, BUT BE LEFT TO PERPETUAL BARRENNESS.
1. A soul not healed, or totally barren, is yet out of Christ: and to be doomed to perpetual barrenness, never to be healed, is forever to be excluded from Him.
2. A soul not healed, but given to perpetual barrenness, has no promise of the protection of Providence, but may be exposed to all the evils of the present life. Thus God threatens His barren vineyard with it (Isaiah 5:5, 6).
3. They that are finally forsaken as incurable, and given up to perpetual barrenness, have not a moment's security from eternal wrath.
IV. THE STEPS BY WHICH SUCH A JUDGMENT IS BROUGHT ON AND HOW GOD USUALLY PROCEEDS TO IT.
1. God leaves them to a careless, indifferent spirit about what momentous things the Gospel reveals, and the concern of their souls in them.
2. Such a carelessness and indifferency is usually attended with blindness and insensibility, so as not to apprehend their disease, and mind a cure, and perceive their need of it.
3. Sometimes the waters of the sanctuary are staid, or diverted; or else, they that would not be healed by them are removed to places where they have none of the external means of knowledge and fruitfulness they once enjoyed.
4. The healing grace and influence of the Spirit may be withheld; without the help of which, the disease of the soul cannot be removed, nor its barrenness cured.
5. The Spirit being withdrawn, they may be left of God to entertain errors and to believe lies; whereby they may think themselves whole, when ready to perish, and cry Peace, peace, to themselves when sudden destruction is near (2 Thessalonians 2:11).
6. Upon this, the resolution may be taken up to let them alone, that His Spirit shall not strive with them.APPLICATION. —
1. Avoid those things which lead to this, which are such as these: —(1) Making light of the waters of the sanctuary by neglecting or careless attending.(2) Taking up with a mere profession of religion, and attending upon the means of grace without looking to see that their end be answered in a saving change wrought within.(3) Neglecting or opposing the convictions of conscience, and the motions of the Spirit.(4) Setting death and judgment at too great a distance, and flattering yourselves into stupidity from a vain presumption of having many years to come.(5) Delaying to look after a cure till another time.(6) Being too much taken up with the body and this present world, the cares of which choke the Word, and cause it to become unfruitful.
2. Take the course necessary to prevent it.(1) Apprehend the dangerous case you are in by nature.(2) Attend upon the means God hath appointed in order to a cure.(3) Be diligent in hearing, much in prayer, for the presence and influence of the Spirit, to heal, quicken, and recover you to God, and bring you into vital union to Christ.
1. He doth it principally because in those places where the Word is rejected by the generality of the people, yet there may be some secret poor souls belonging to the election of grace, whom God will have gathered, and called home to Himself.
2. God doth it for a testimony against them that receive it not, and to leave them inexcusable at the last day (Mark 6:11). Let not men boast themselves in the outward enjoyment of the Word, nor rest themselves in it.
II. THE SOULS OF ALL MEN ARE SPIRITUALLY DEAD, AND FULL OF WOEFUL DISTEMPERS, UNTIL THEY ARE QUICKENED AND HEALED BY THE DISPENSATION OF THE GOSPEL. I shall not stay to mention all the particular distempers that rage in some, and that rule and reign in all, before the coming of the Gospel — as darkness, blindness, ignorance, worldly-mindedness, sensuality, hatred of God, envy and malice — which are fixed in the souls of men by presumption and self-righteousness. There is nothing in them of spiritual life or holiness, of purity or zeal, nothing that is acceptable or pleasing unto God.
III. THE WORD OF THE GOSPEL IS, IN ITS OWN NATURE, A QUICKENING, HEALING, SANCTIFYING, SAVING WORD TO THEM WHO RECEIVE IT. They bring Christ along with them, the Great Physician of souls, who alone is able to cure a sin-sick soul. They bring mercy with them to pardon sinners. They bring grace with them to cure all the distempers of lusts (Isaiah 11:5-7; Titus 2:11, 19).
IV. WHERE THE WATERS OF THE SANCTUARY COME, AND THE LAND IS NOT HEALED, THAT LAND IS GIVEN UP OF THE LORD, TO SALT AND BARRENNESS FOREVER.
1. By the coming of the healing waters of the sanctuary, I intend not the occasional preaching of a sermon, although this be sufficient to justify God in the rejection of any person or people. In the first preaching of the Gospel, the refusal of one sermon lost many their souls unto all eternity (Matthew 10:12-15; Luke 10:8). But oh, the unspeakable patience of Christ to many in the world, where the Word is continued ofttimes for a very long season, and the salvation tendered therein despised! But this is that which I intend, as the rule of the dispensation mentioned: namely, when God by His providence doth cause the Word to be preached for some continuance, and to the revelation of His whole counsel — as (Acts 20:27). Nor do I mean any waters, but the waters of the sanctuary; not any preaching but the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which Paul affirms to be his work (Ephesians 3:8).
2. What is meant by their sinful distempers not being healed?(1) Men are not quickened; they receive not a new spiritual life; they are not so brought to the knowledge of God.(2) The healing of these quickened souls consists in the curing and mortifying of their sinful distempers. If men are proud, worldly, sensual, they are dead also; there is no effect of the waters of the sanctuary upon them.
3. What is the lot and portion of such persons? Why, "they shall be given to salt"; that is, to barrenness, fruitlessness, unprofitableness, and eternal ruin.(1) For other Scriptures which assert the same truth, take (Proverbs 1:25-31; Proverbs 29:1; Luke 13:6; Hebrews 10:28-30; 2 Corinthians 2:15, 16).(2) For the degrees of rejection (Ezekiel 10:18; Ezekiel 11:23; Hebrews 6:8).(3) The ways whereby God doth usually proceed in giving up such persons to barrenness, and so to everlasting ruin. He casts them out of His care; He will be at no more charge nor cost with them, nor about them (Hebrews 6:8; Ezekiel 24:13; Jeremiah 6:29, 30). He will sometimes utterly remove the Gospel from them; turn the stream of the waters of the sanctuary, that they shall come to them no more. So He threatened the Church at Ephesus of old (Revelation 2:5).
4. God doth this sometimes, though He causeth the Word to be continued unto them, by restraining the efficacy of it, that it shall not profit them. The second thing that God doth, in giving up an unhealed land unto barrenness, is His judicial hardening of them, or leaving them to hardness and impenitency, that so they may fill up the measure of their sins (Hebrews 6:8).(1) Their natural blindness and ignorance shall be increased and confirmed; and that by two ways. God will send them "a spirit of slumber" (Romans 11:8) — that is, a great inadvertency and negligence as to the things of the Gospel that are spoken of, or preached unto them. God sends them a spirit of giddiness, causing them to err in their ways! (Isaiah 19:14). We have a notable instance of this judgment of God (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12).(2) Obstinacy in the will, or hardness of heart, properly so called, is in this judgment of God also (Isaiah 6:10; Romans 1:28).(3) Sensuality of affections is in this judgment also (Romans 1:26).(4) Searedness of conscience (1 Timothy 4:2; Ephesians 4:19).Use.
1. Of exhortation. Make use of your season, that you fall not under this sore and inexpressible judgment.(1) If you are not healed during your season, you can never be healed. If the Gospel cure you not, you must die in your sins.(2) You know not how your day is going away, nor when it will be over.
2. To discover the miserable condition of poor creatures, that having not in their season been healed by the waters of the sanctuary, are given up of the Lord to salt and barrenness.(1) They know not that they are so miserable.(2) They are pleased with the condition in which they are.(3) No man can help or relieve them. All the world cannot pull a poor creature out from under the curse of the great God.(4) Their eternal ruin is certain, as before proved.(5) This ruin is very sore on Gospel despisers.
( J. Owen, D. D.)
1. It stagnates in them: they hear in vain; learn, but do not practise; feel, but do not decide; resolve, but do not perform.
2. It mingles with their corruptions, as clear water with the mire of the marshes.
3. It becomes food for their sins, even as rank, sour grass is produced by the stagnant waters of "miry places."
4. It makes them worse and worse. The more rain, the more mire.
II. SOME OF THESE WE HAVE KNOWN.
1. The talkative man, who lives in sin, flooded with knowledge, but destitute of love.
2. Those critics who note only the faults of Christians, and are quick to dwell on them; but are false themselves.
3. Those who receive orthodox truth, and yet love the world.
4. Those who feel impressed and moved, but never obey the Word.
5. Those who are mere officials, and attend to religion in a mechanical manner.
III. SUCH PERSONS ARE IN A TERRIBLE PLIGHT.
1. Because they are not aware of it: they think it is well with them.
2. Because the ordinary means of blessing men have failed in their case.
3. In some instances the very best means have failed. A special river of gracious opportunity has flowed down to them, but its streams have visited them in vain.
4. No known means now remain.
5. Their ruin appears certain.
6. Their ruin is as terrible as it is sure.
IV. FROM THESE WE MAY LEARN —
1. A lesson of warning, lest we ourselves be visibly visited by grace streams, and yet never profit thereby.
2. A lesson of arousing, lest we rest in ordinances.
3. A lesson of gratitude, if we are indeed healed by the life river, let us bless the effectual grace of God.
4. A lesson of quickening to ministers and other workers, that they may look well to the results of their labour, and not be making marshes where they wish to create fields rich with harvest.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
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