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side, has lost its cunning, Jesus! then may we remember Thee! If the
shadows of death are to be thrown in deepest darkness on the valley,
when we are passing along it to glory, may it be ours to die like
that saint, beside whose bed wife and children once stood, weeping
over the wreck of faded faculties, and a blank, departed memory. One
had asked him, "Father, do you remember me?" and received no answer;
and another, and another, but still no answer. And then, all making
way for the venerable companion of a long and loving pilgrimage - the
tender partner of many a past joy and sorrow, his wife draws near.
She bends over him, and as her tears fall thick upon his face, she
cries, "Do you not remember me?" A stare, but it is vacant. There
is no soul in that filmy eye; and the seal of death lies upon these
lips. The sun is down, and life's brief twilight is darkening fast
into a starless night. At this moment, one calm enough to remember
how the love of Christ's spouse is "strong as death," a love that
"many waters can not quench," stooped to his ear, and said, "Do
you remember Jesus Christ?" The word was no sooner uttered than it
seemed to recall the spirit, hovering for a moment, ere it took
wing to heaven. Touched as by an electric influence, the heart beat
once more to the name of Jesus; the features, fixt in death, relax;
the countenance, dark in death, flushes up like the last gleam of
day; and, with a smile in which the soul passed away to glory, he
replied, "Remember Jesus Christ! dear Jesus Christ! He is all my
salvation, and all my desire."

By conversion man is ennobled.

While infidelity regards man as a mere animal, to be dissolved at
death into ashes and air, and vice changes man into a brute or
devil, Mammon enslaves him. She makes him a serf, and condemns him
to be a gold-digger for life in the mines. She puts her collar
on his neck, and locks it; and bending his head to the soil, and
bathing his brow in sweat, she says, Toil, toil, toil; as if this
creature, originally made in the image of God, this dethroned and
exiled monarch, to save whom the Son of God descended from the
skies, and bled on Calvary, were a living machine, constructed of
sinew, bone, and muscle, and made for no higher end than to work to
live, and live to work.

Contrast with these the benign aspect in which the gospel looks
on man. Religion descends from heaven to break our chains. She
alone raises me from degradation, and bids me lift my drooping
head, and look up to heaven. Yes; it is that very gospel which by
some is supposed to present such dark, degrading, gloomy views of
man and his destiny, which lifts me from the dust to set me among
princes - on a level with angels - in a sense above them. To say
nothing of the divine nobility grace imparts to a soul which is
stamped anew with the likeness and image of God, how sacred and
venerable does even this body appear in the eye of piety! No longer
a form of animated dust; no longer the subject of passions shared in
common with the brutes; no longer the drudge and slave of Mammon,
the once "vile body" rises into a temple of the Holy Ghost. Vile in
one sense it may be; yet what, although it be covered with sores?
What, although it be clothed in rags? What, although, in unseemly
decrepitude, it want its fair proportions? That poor, sickly,
shattered form is the casket of a precious jewel. This mean and
crumbling tabernacle lodges a guest nobler than palaces may boast
of; angels hover around its walls; the Spirit of God dwells within
it. What an incentive to holiness, to purity of life and conduct,
lies in the fact that the body of a saint is the temple of God,
a truer, nobler temple than that which Solomon dedicated by his
prayers, and Jesus consecrated His presence! In popish cathedrals,
where the light streamed through painted window, and the organ
pealed along lofty aisles, and candles gleamed on golden cups and
silver crosses, and incense floated in fragrant clouds, we have
seen the blinded worshiper uncover his head, drop reverently on his
knees, and raise his awestruck eye on the imposing spectacle; we
have seen him kiss the marble floor, and knew that sooner would he
be smitten dead upon that floor than be guilty of defiling it. How
does this devotee rebuke us! We wonder at his superstition; how may
he wonder at our profanity! Can we look on the lowly veneration he
expresses for an edifice which has been erected by some dead man's
genius, which holds but some image of a deified virgin, or bones of
a canonized saint, and which, proudly as it raises its cathedral
towers, time shall one day cast to the ground, and bury in the
dust; can we, I say, look on that, and, if sensible to rebuke,
not feel reproved by the spectacle? In how much more respect, in
how much holier veneration should we hold this body? The shrine
of immortality, and a temple dedicated to the Son of God, it is
consecrated by the presence of the Spirit - a living temple, over
whose porch the eye of piety reads what the finger of inspiration
has written: "If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God
destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are."




MAURICE

THE VALLEY OF DRY BONES


BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

FREDERICK DENISON MAURICE, English divine and author, was born in
1805. He was the son of a Unitarian clergyman, and after studying
in Cambridge began a literary career in London, where his friend
Coleridge and others persuaded him to take orders in the Church of
England. In 1836 he was appointed chaplain to Guy's Hospital. In
1840 he was elected professor of English literature and history
and in 1846 of divinity at King's College, London, but lost both
positions in 1853 because of his radical views. He was professor of
moral philosophy at Cambridge from 1860 until his death in 1872.




MAURICE

1805-1872

THE VALLEY OF DRY BONES

_The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit
of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was
full of bones, and caused me to pass by them round about. And behold
there were very many in the open valley, and lo, they were very
dry. And he said unto me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" And I
answered, "O Lord God, thou knowest."_ - EZEK. xxxvii., 1-3.


We are naturally curious to know whether two contemporary prophets
ever conversed with each other. In Micah we found such evident
indications of sympathy with the mind of Isaiah as warranted the
supposition that he was his pupil. I can not trace any signs of
a similar relation, or indeed of any personal relation, between
Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Tho they were passing through the same crisis;
tho they had both to witness the evils which were destroying their
nation; both to share its miseries; tho the false prophets were the
common enemies of both; yet their circumstances, their character,
and their work were entirely distinct, in some points even
contrasted. Their very differences, however, show us that they were
both alike prophets and priests.

The Book of Lamentations exhibits the spirit of the individual man
Jeremiah more transparently than his longer book, which is so mixed
up with historical details, with anticipations of a ruin not yet
accomplished, with hopes, however faint and soon dispelled, of a
national repentance. Most of those whom the prophet had denounced
were banished or dead. Men could talk no more about the temple of
the Lord, could boast no more that the word of the Lord was with
them; the vessel which the potter was shaping had been broken to
pieces. The sadness of the prophet, which had been checked sometimes
by indignation, sometimes by the consciousness of a word which must
still be spoken, of a work which must be done, became complete and
absorbing. Heretofore his intense sympathy with his country might
seem to be qualified by his lively apprehension of its crimes;
now both feelings were blended into one. When he looked upon the
desolation of the city there sat upon his soul a weight of sorrow
and evil, as if he were representing his whole people, as if there
was no wrong which they had committed, no evil habits which they
had contracted, which did not cling to him, for which he was not
responsible. And this was no imaginary fictitious state of mind into
which he had worked himself. God had made him inwardly conscious of
the very corruptions which had destroyed the land. If he had made
any fight against them; if they did not actually overpower him and
enslave him, this was God's work and not his; the promise of the
covenant made with his fathers, which was as good for every one as
for himself, was fulfilled to him. And now he was realizing the full
effect of this discipline. The third chapter of the Lamentations,
beginning "I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of His
wrath," contains the climax of his experience. In the memorable
passages which follow, the history of a life is gathered up. "I
said, My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord; remembering
mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall. My soul
hath them still in remembrance. This I recall to mind, therefore
have I hope. It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed.
They are new every morning; great is thy faithlessness. The Lord is
my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The Lord
is good unto them that wait for him. It is good that a man should
both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord. It is good
for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. He sitteth alone and
keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him. He putteth his
mouth in the dust if so be there may be hope. He giveth his cheek to
him that smiteth him, he is filled full with reproach. The Lord will
not cast off for ever; but tho he cause grief, yet will he have
compassion according to the multitude of his mercies for he doth not
afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men."

Anything more individual than these utterances it is impossible
to conceive; and yet it is just by these that one understands the
sacerdotal work to which Jeremiah was called. There was no longer
any temple. The priests as well as the princes had been for the most
part carried away by Nebuchadnezzar. But there was a man walking
about in the deserted city to which the twelve tribes had come
up, - in the midst of the ruins of the holy place into which the
sons of Aaron had gone with the memorial of their names on their
breastplates, - who really entered into the meaning of that function,
who really bore the iniquities of the children of Israel before the
Lord; - one to whom it was given to translate the ceremonies and
services of the divine house into life and reality. He had been
taught more perfectly, perhaps, than anyone who had served in the
temple, what was implied in its worship and sacrifices. He felt the
burden to which those sacrifices pointed, the burden of individual
and national sins. Yet, with that burden resting upon him, he could
enter into the presence of the Holy One of Israel. He was sure there
was a deliverance for his people as well as for himself; that there
could not be one for him if there was not also one for them. Thus
when part of his work was over, when he had nothing more to say in
the ears of kings or priests or people, this office, - which had been
so closely connected with his prophetical office, and which, if it
had depended upon outward conditions, must have been more entirely
at an end than that, - still remained in all its original power. And
the words of the prophet remained to explain to all generations the
spiritual character and acts of the priest.

The office of the priest must have seemed to be more utterly extinct
for Ezekiel than even for Jeremiah. He was forcibly removed from
all the associations of the temple while it was yet standing. When
he was called to be a prophet to the captives by the river Chebar,
he might have supposed that the earlier designation which belonged
to him as one of the Levitical family, had been extinguished in
the later one. Yet we have seen how he was instructed, at the
very commencement of his work as a prophet, that the glory of
Him who filled the temple was surrounding him in Mesopotamia as
it surrounded him when he went up to present the morning or the
evening sacrifice in Jerusalem. Such a vision was given him of
that glory as he had never beheld in the holy place. He found that
the earth, - that common, profane, Babylonian earth upon which he
dwelt, - was filled with it. All the powers of nature, the forms of
animals, man as the highest of the animals, the motions and order
of the outward world and of human society, were pointing towards it.
And the central object, the highest object which he could behold,
tho there was an ineffable brightness beyond, was a Man upon a
throne, One who could command him, in whose name he was to go forth,
whose words he was to speak.

This was no isolated revelation or dream. The very name which the
prophet thenceforth bore, the name by which he was to know himself,
depended upon it. "Son of man, stand upon thy feet and I will speak
unto thee," were the first words which he heard after he fell upon
his face. That great title is bestowed upon him through all the time
in which he was prophesying. It was in many ways more suitable to
him than to those who had gone before him. There was now no Hezekiah
or Josiah to represent the Divine king. The witnesses for the
kingdom seemed to be at an end. Nebuchadnezzar was the lord of the
earth. At such a time the natural position of the Jewish seer became
a human position. The Israelite's glory was to be a "Son of man."

Yet he was not absolved from any of the obligations of the older
prophets; he was not to expect a more willing or attentive audience
among captives than they had found at home; briars, thorns would be
with him; he must dwell among scorpions. Lamentations and mourning
and woe filled his roll as much as that which Baruch wrote out for
Jeremiah. And he must eat this roll; it must become a part of his
very soul; its words must come forth living and burning out of
himself.

He must understand, besides, all the fearful responsibilities of
the prophet. He was to speak whether the men about him would hear
or whether they would forbear. There were times when his tongue
would cleave to the roof of his mouth, when he should be dumb and
should not be to them a reprover. But when God opened his lips,
the blood of those to whom he was sent was upon him; it would be
required at his hands if they died in their iniquity and he had
not warned them. He must submit to do all symbolical acts, however
strange and fantastical they might seem in themselves, which might
bring the feeling of coming judgments home to a sense-bound people.
He must act a mimic siege, he must eat defiled bread; he must cut
off his hair and weigh it in balances, if so the people could be
made to understand, - in spite of their false prophets who spoke of
coming peace and enacted their signs, which of course involved no
discomfort or humiliation to themselves, - that the city would really
be destroyed and the sanctuary laid waste. He was to persuade his
brother captives that they were a remnant in which the nation still
lived, a stock out of which it should hereafter grow and flourish,
even tho they were most rebellious, dreaming of good things which
would never come, not waiting for that good which God had designed
for them. There was to be the same end in all the punishments which
were coming upon the land and in all its deliverances. God was
saying in all "I am the Lord."

This sentence recurs again and again in the prophecies of Ezekiel.
It is the thought of his mind, the one which gives all the sublimity
and all the practical worth to his discourses, - that the knowledge
of God is the supreme good of man, and that the desolation of his
countrymen has come from their not liking to retain it. He is
transported in spirit to the temple. There the same vision of the
glory of God which he had seen by the river returns to him. The
light of it shows him, portrayed upon the wall of the temple round
about, the abominable beasts and creeping things, and the idols
of the house of Israel; what the ancients of the house of Israel
did in the dark, every one in the chambers of his imagery; how the
women were weeping for Tammuz; how the men were worshiping the sun
towards the east. Whether such abominations as these were actually
to be seen in the temple, or whether the prophet's eye opened by the
divine Spirit saw that they were possessing the hearts of those who
seemed to others, perhaps to themselves, to be worshiping the God
of their fathers, it is clear that the mind of Ezekiel was led back
to the place in which he had ministered, that he might be taught
how little the sacred building could preserve the truth which was
enshrined in it.

What Ezekiel has seen in the temple enables him to answer the elders
of Israel when they come to consult him in his own house. Just what
was going on among those who worshiped in Jerusalem, was going on
in the hearts of those who sought his oracles. They were setting
up idols there. They wanted to know what God would do with them or
against them; they did not want to know Him. And therefore Ezekiel
announces to them a great and eternal moral law, one of the most
varied application; "God will answer you according to your idols."
The truth which is presented to you, will be colored, distorted,
inverted by the eye which receives it. The covetousness which you
are cherishing will make the best and divinest word you hear, a
minister of covetousness. Your pride and your lust will make it a
minister of lust and pride. No bolder or more awful paradox was ever
enunciated than this, nor one which the conscience of everyone will
more surely verify. And there was this special proof of courage in
making such an announcement, that it must have destroyed Ezekiel's
reputation as a prophet. The elders came in terror, feeling that
they wanted guidance and expecting some ready-made answer, such as
the regular traders in prophecy could always furnish. The truly
inspired man answers, "I can tell you nothing, - nothing at least
that will not deceive you and become a lie in your minds. For you
bring lies in your minds, and except they be extirpated, they
must convert whatever is added to them from without, to their own
quality."

Ezekiel himself illustrates in another case this great principle.
No commandment had established itself more completely by the
experience of the people to whom it was addrest, than the second.
The idolatries of the land had accumulated with each generation.
Each had cause to complain of the last as bequeathing it a stock
of corrupt habits and traditions; the sins of the fathers had been
visited upon the children. These were facts not to be gainsaid. The
captives had leisure to reflect upon them. It might have been a most
profound and profitable reflection.

The use they made of it was to prove they were under a necessary law
of degeneracy. How could they help themselves? The fathers had eaten
sour grapes, and their teeth were set on edge. Who dared dispute it?
There was God's own word for it. Had he not told them the plan and
method of His own government? Such language addrest to one of the
favorite preachers or prophets of the people, would have silenced
him altogether. He would have said, "It is a mystery, no doubt; we
must take the words of the commandment tho we can not understand
them. God is Sovereign; He can do what He likes. If it pleases
Him that each generation should be more corrupt than the last, we
must submit and not dispute His will." Others there would be who
would complain boldly and with good reason of a will that compelled
to evil, but yet would lazily submit to it, supposing it to be
inevitable, tho feeling the absurdity of calling it divine. Ezekiel
boldly stands forth to dispute and deny the whole principle. He does
not dispute or deny the second commandment, - that was probably the
text of his discourse. But he will not let the second commandment
or any other words in the world be pleaded against the character of
God. Righteousness and equity he maintains to be the foundations
of the divine character and of the divine acts. He will tolerate
no resolution of them into a heathenish notion of sovereignty or
self-will. "The ways of God are equal," he says, "and your ways are
unequal." The sins of the father only descend upon the son, they
are only punished in the son, when the son accepts them, entertains
them, makes them his own. At any time he may turn round and
repudiate them and cleave to the God who doth not will the death of
the sinner, but desires that he should return and live. The doctrine
of the second commandment and of the whole law, is that a man is
righteous so long as he cleaves to the righteous God who has made
a covenant with him, unrighteous when he forsakes that covenant
and acts independently. Therefore the notion of any perpetuity in
righteousness, or in evil, is equally cut off. Every man has the
capacity of righteousness, the capacity of evil. Let him be ever so
righteous, he must become evil the moment he ceases to trust in God
and begins to trust in himself. Let him be ever so evil, he must
become righteous the moment he begins to trust in God and ceases to
trust in himself.

The enunciation of laws or principles seems more especially to
belong to Ezekiel, as the experience of personal evil and the
sympathy with national sorrow belong more to the tender and womanly
nature of Jeremiah. Nevertheless, Ezekiel was to be a priest in this
sense also, as well as in that higher sense of beholding the glory
of God and proclaiming His name. Suffering was not the destination
of one prophet; it was the badge of all the tribe. Ezekiel's life
was to be a continual parable, illustrative of the life of the
nation. A man scrupulously careful of the law, was to violate the
precepts of it respecting food, and to eat what was loathsome. A man
sensitive probably as to his reputation, and with that kind of lofty
imagination which makes attention to details and all petty acts
unspeakably painful, must submit, for the sake of his countrymen,
to such as seemed most ignominious to himself and perplexing to
them. Finally, the desire of his eyes must be taken from him with a
stroke, and he must not mourn or weep. Even at such a time he must
be a sign to the people, tho by doing so he should seem to refuse
the sympathy that he most wants, and should only lead the captives
to say, "Wilt thou not tell us what these things are to us that thou
doest so?"

Apart from these sufferings which concern him individually and
domestically, the vision of the desolation of Israel became every
day more overwhelming to him. Nor was it only the desolation of
Israel. He who was called "Son of man," was not likely to speak less
of Egypt and Tyrus and the land in which he was himself dwelling,
than those older prophets who had so many more reasons for regarding
Judea as the one garden of the Lord. The arms of Nebuchadnezzar had
been turning the earth upside down and making it waste. Everything
must have seemed to him disjointed, incoherent, withered. Could it
ever be renovated? Was it possible even for that country which God
had blest above all others and man had curst above all others, to
breathe and live again?

This was the question which was proposed to the prophet on that day
when the hand of the Lord was upon him, and he was carried into
the valley which was full of bones. The vision, clear as it is in
itself, must not be read apart from the context of the prophecy.
You should remember where Ezekiel was dwelling; by what kind of
people he was surrounded; what was the condition of his own land;
what had come and was coming upon all lands; or you will not
understand the picture which now rose up before him. You should
think, too, of the man himself, of the heat of his spirit, of the
words which he had uttered in vain, of the acts which had only
made the captives stare vacantly, of the desolation of his house
and his heart. You should think of those other visions he had of
the ascending scale of creatures, of the mysterious order of the
universe, of the glory of God, before you place yourself beside
him in the valley, and walk with him round about it, and look at
the different bones, and see how each separately how altogether,
they expound to him the condition of the house of Israel. It was
dead, - that body from which he had believed that life was to go
forth to quicken the universe. It had none of the beauty of a corpse


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Online LibraryVariousThe World's Great Sermons, Volume 5: Guthrie to Mozley → online text (page 2 of 13)