Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month…
Observe the nature of the prophet's preparation for his work. It was not an outward call; it was not a visible stamp of authority or office given to him that men might see — he had that as priest before he was called to be a prophet; but it was that secret vision of God, it was that unseen speech of his soul with the Spirit of his God and of the Spirit of God with his soul that he could never demonstrate or prove to other men. That for them might be a dream of dreams, a visionary record of what never happened; but for Him from that hour it was the most real of all realities — a living voice through all his life, that shaped and coloured it long after, and that drove him forth amongst his fellow men, now to speak to them, as he tells us, in the bitterness of his spirit, and now under the burden of the Lord to sit down astonished and silent with them in their sorrow; but that made him a new, a different man for the rest of his life — from the moment that he saw and heard those visions of God and the voice of God within them. This was the secret preparation of the prophet for the prophet's work, and this is just that hidden preparation for God's work amongst men which our Church distinctly recognises the necessity of in all those who seek her ministry, while she as distinctly recognises the need for the outward and visible call. The outward call does not do away with the need of the inward voice and calling, nor does the inward voice and preparation supersede the need of the outward call and mission. It was not so in Ezekiel's case. The one joined itself on to and grew out of the other. When Ezekiel the priest was called by this hidden and overmastering voice of God, when he was called to do a special prophet's work, it was not an unknown God whose glory he was bid to see; it was the God of his fathers, the God who had formed and organised the Jewish Church and the Jewish priesthood of which Ezekiel was a member. And the voice which bid him go was not to him an unknown voice; it was a voice that had led his ancestors through the wilderness, that had spoken to them God's law from Sinai, and the very visions of glory that he beheld weaved themselves out of and grew, as it were, out of the priest's memory of the worship of the temple. The inward call sprang out of, joined itself to, rose naturally, and all the more forcibly out of the outward position and the outward calling of the man. And so is it in all settled and orderly churches. Yes; this is the true preparation and the true mission of him who would be a prophet, a speaker for God amongst the sons of men. He must be, if he is to be a successful prophet for God, a man who has seen God for himself; he must be a man who has had that vision of God that none can see but each man for himself. There are visions of God that all men may have, and may have in common together. There are visions, for instance, which we may speak of as the reflective visions of God — visions of God in the glories of Nature; visions of God in the marvels of history and of Providence; visions of God in the revelation of His Word; visions of God in the worship and sacraments of the sanctuary; but there is one vision more, one hour of vision which should come to each man, if it were but once in his life, and woe to him who claims to be a prophet for God who has not seen that vision and passed through that hour when, the man lifting himself or lifted up above the low, and mean, and poor surroundings of the daily world in which he lives, with its strife, with its sorrows, with its cares, with its business, with its seductions, and rising high above these to the very heavens where the Lord dwells, sees God for himself, hears God's voice speaking to him as His, and claiming him for His, and gives himself in answering offer, and gives himself to God and says, "O Lord, here am I; send me to do Thy work amongst men: make of me Thine instrument and Thy servant, and give me the great glory of serving Thee, and telling Thy words in the ears of Thy people." The mission of the national Church is not first and before all things to be popular. It is first and before all things to be faithful to speak the living Word of the living God, as she learned it in her visions of God. Men seem to forget this great truth nowadays, and men seem with a faithless and an anxious timidity only eager to make the Church popular, and to make her popular with the masses, and many are the counsellors and various the advice that the Church is enjoying at this moment as to how she shall make herself popular and successful. Again, there are those who would have us trust to the attractiveness of our sanctuaries and the beauty of our worship, and who tell us we shall win the masses and the people back to our deserted churches, if only we will have bright and hearty services and beautiful aesthetic churches, and all that is charming and attractive to win the senses of the multitude. You are beginning at the wrong end when you strive to win the masses to God with attractive services. Make men feel their need of the services; make men understand that when they come to the house of God they come there that they may see visions of God, see the glory of the Lord, hear His voice, learn His will, offer Him their homage and their respect; make men thus feel their need of the worship of the sanctuary, and they will come whether the sanctuary be beautiful or not, and if they come for the beauty of the sanctuary, they are degrading it by an unreal worship, unless they come for the glory of Him whom they should seek to meet there. What the Church needs for her work now is what she has always needed — men whose hearts are filled with visions of the living God, and with a firm faith in this — that He has given them a work to do, a message to speak amongst their fellow men, and the thought of that burns as a very fire in their bones, and they cannot keep back from speaking God's message and God's word of life amongst their suffering fellow citizens and fellow countrymen. Their hearts are moved by the thought that they have to go out amongst "them of their captivity," though they feel it to be a rebellious house. They have to go out to people tied and bound in the chains of their sins, as they lie without the limits of the kingdom of Christ.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.
WEB: Now it happened in the thirtieth year, in the fourth [month], in the fifth [day] of the month, as I was among the captives by the river Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.