At the end of seven days the word of the LORD came to me saying,
I. THE CHARACTER IN WHICH THE PROPHET OF THE LORD IS HERE REPRESENTED. "Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel."
1. The appointment of a watchman implies the peril of the Church. Watchmen in ancient times were posted on the walls or in the towers of cities in order that they might watch for the appearance or approach of an enemy, and give instant warning of the same. The house of Israel was exposed to dangers and enemies, or it would not have needed a watchman. And the Church of Christ today is opposed by "the gates of hell" (Matthew 16:18), by evil powers in the world, and by evil persons and erroneous teachings within itself (Acts 20:29, 30).
2. The appointment of watchmen in the Church is the prerogative of God. "Son of man, I have made thee a watchman," etc. No man may constitute himself a watchman, and no Church may appoint a man to this office apart from the call of the Lord thereto. Christian ministers are called of God (cf. Hebrews 5:4).
II. THE DUTY OF THE PROPHET AS A WATCHMAN. His business was "to take notice, and to give notice."
1. To watch. "Hear the word at my mouth." It is a peculiarity of these watchmen that they have not to look around to obtain intelligence, but to look up. Their eyes and ears must be directed towards the Lord. They must receive their message from him, and then proclaim it unto men. And the Christian prophet must speak the Word of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must "hear him" (Matthew 17:5); we must preach him (2 Corinthians 4:5). This part of a watchman's duty demands vigilance. Slothfulness and inattention may prove disastrous both to his charge and to himself. His observant faculties must be in active exercise.
2. To warn. "And give them warning from me." Ezekiel was to publish to the house of Israel what he heard from the Lord, and to publish it in his Name. The Christian preacher must warn and encourage, exhort and rebuke, in the Name of his Master, the Christ. He must receive from him; he must testify for him (cf. Matthew 10:40; Luke 10:16).
III. THE CHARACTERS UNTO WHOM THE WATCHMAN MUST ADDRESS HIMSELF. He must warn both the righteous and the wicked (vers. 18-21). But four types of character are adduced here.
1. The wicked man who has not been warned by the watchman, and dies because of his iniquity. (Ver. 18.) God declares that "the wages of sin is death;" that "the soul that sinneth, it shall die." And though this wicked man was not warned by the watchman, yet he was warned by his own conscience, and by voices of Divine providence, and by the sacred Scriptures. "Where the public ministry does not do its duty, Holy Scripture is still at hand, and it is each one's fault if he be not called to repentance by the voice of this" (Hengstenberg).
2. The wicked man who has been warned by the watchman, but still persists in sin, and dies because of his iniquity. (Ver. 19.) His guilt is greater, and his punishment will be more severe, by reason of the warnings which he has despised.
3. The sometime outwardly righteous man, who has become a worker of iniquity, and has not been warned by the watchman, and dies because of his sin. (Ver. 20.) This verse calls for some remarks by way of exposition.
(1) That in the providence of God the characters of men are tested. The words, "I lay a stumbling block before him," point to this. The expression signifies to subject one to trial by exposing him to difficulties and dangers, as in Jeremiah 6:21. "God tempts no man in order to his destruction, but in the course of his providence he permits men to be tried in order that their faith may be approved, and in this trial some who seem to be righteous fall" (Dr. Currey).
(2) That some characters fail beneath this test. Where the righteousness is only external, it is unable to endure the trial. But "the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ" will not be injured by the trial.
(3) That when one who has done righteous acts fails under trial and becomes a worker of iniquity, he forfeits the reward of those righteous acts, and, if he persist in sin, he will die by reason thereof. "He shall die because of his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered." To obtain the reward of good works perseverance therein even to the end is necessary (cf. Hebrews 6:10-12 2John 8 Revelation 3:11).
4. The righteous man who has been warned by the watchman, and, persevering in his righteousness, lives. (Ver. 21.) The sincerely righteous need warning, exhortation, and counsel, and are likely to profit by them.
IV. THE DIFFERENT RESULTS OF THE WATCHMAN'S MINISTRY.
1. As regards his hearers.
(1) Some would not heed his warnings. In the examples given in the text there is a majority of this class. The result to them would be greater guilt and severer condemnation. How many, alas! treat the warnings of the Christian watchman in a similar manner! They hear them, but practically despise them.
(2) Some would heed his warnings, and their salvation would be furthered by so doing. An example of this is given in ver. 21. And others, through him, might be led to turn from their iniquity, and live. Unspeakably blessed are such results.
2. As regards himself.
(1) If the watchman should be unfaithful his guilt would be terrible. "His blood will I require at thine hand" (vers. 18, 20; cf. Genesis 9:5; Genesis 42:22). "It is the life," says Schroder, "which is in the blood, of those in Israel which is entrusted to the prophet as a watchman. For this Jehovah, the Supreme Proprietor, demands a reckoning. The prophet who forgets his duty, which he owes to the unrighteous in God's stead, becomes a manslaughterer, a murderer of that man, and is regarded as such by God;" and as a murderer, not of the body, but of the inestimably precious soul. The thought of such guilt is overwhelmingly dreadful How awful is the responsibility of the Lord's watchmen! "Who is sufficient for these things?"
(3) If the watchman is faithful and successful, great would be his joy and great his reward, as in the case stated in ver. 21. And in the case which is not mentioned here, but is yet among the possible results of his work, viz. that the wicked should believe his message, and turn unto the Lord. "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him," etc. (James 5:19, 20). Who can estimate the blessedness of a result like this?
CONCLUSION. Our subject presents:
1. The strongest reasons for fidelity on the part of the ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
2. The strongest reasons why the Church of Jesus Christ should constantly aid his ministers by earnest prayers on their behalf. (Cf. Ephesians 6:18-20; Colossians 4:3, 4; 2 Thessalonians 3:1, 2.) - W.J.
I. God, in unsearchable wisdom, and grace Divine, as well for our necessity as His own glory, appointed Two DISTINCT ORDERS OF MEN, who might continually attend upon sacred things: under the Mosaic law, these were the Priest and the Prophet. The former was necessary on account of His ineffable greatness, for the honour of His majesty, and our deep misery. With regard to the other, that of the prophetic office, not only did our guilt require the atoning priest, but our natural darkness, our native ignorance of God and Divine mysteries, called aloud for a teacher sent from God. There appears to be this difference between the priest and the prophet under the Mosaic law: the former was a minister of state, admitted to the presence of the King; one who ministered continually before Him at His holy altar; the other, as an extraordinary ambassador, who not only represented the Divine person of Messiah the Prince, but was charged with special embassies to Israel, and the neighbouring kingdoms. This is most obviously illustrated in Moses, Ezekiel, Daniel, and all the eminent prophets. The office of the prophet, therefore, was to reveal future and interesting events to mankind; to bless and pray for the people. These two characters of such dignity and respectability are united in Jesus, who is a Priest upon His throne, and that Prophet before whom all the prophets are but as twilight stars to the meridian sun. From the triumphant death and glorious resurrection of our Divine Redeemer, we are to look for a new order of men, and a new mode of instruction.
I. HIS REQUISITE CHARACTER AND QUALIFICATIONS.
I have made thee a watchman.I. THE OFFICE OF THE CHRISTIAN WATCHMAN IS TO WARN HIS PEOPLE OF THE DANGER TO WHICH, ACCORDING TO THE WORD OF GOD, ALL MEN ARE NATURALLY EXPOSED. From the "specular mount" on which the Lord hath placed him, he looks abroad upon the mighty plain where the busy generations of the world are engaged in a thousand different forms of labour, and pursuing a thousand different objects of delight, all alike undisturbed by the thought of the invasion of wrath which, ere long, is to "lay the land desolate, and to destroy the sinners out of it." Yet he can discern what they do not, — the ministers of vengeance ambushed in the very midst of them, and ready at a word to spring on their defenceless victims. And, perceiving all this, shall he keep silence? I am aware that the principle of ministerial duty which I have now stated has been objected to on various grounds. We are often told, for example, that to dwell much on such frightful and uncomfortable topics is in bad taste. But this is no question of taste; it is a matter of life or death, — of life or death eternal. Away, then, with such puerilities. Again, we are told that such a mode of dealing with sinners is ineffective, — that the true way in which men are generally brought to Christianity is through its soft and winning attractions, and that few comparatively are frightened into it by the force of threatenings and terror. But this maxim, we apprehend, is contradicted by experience. Conviction ordinarily precedes conversion. But it is a case that need not be thus argued to and fro; for hear what Jehovah hath denounced against those who, speaking in His name, keep back the message of His wrath against the sinner: — "Mine hand shall be upon the prophets that see vanity," etc.
II. THE CHRISTIAN MINISTER'S OBJECT SHOULD BE NOT MERELY TO AWAKEN SINNERS TO A SENSE OF PERIL, BUT TO EXCITE THEM TO FLEE FOR REFUGE FROM THAT PERIL. Now, this defenced and consecrated city — the New Jerusalem, the Church of the Living God, has been erected as a city of refuge to the guilty. To it, therefore, the watchman of souls must point the sinner whom he has awakened with the alarm of danger, and, while he shouts, "Flee from the wrath to come," must add, "Turn ye to the stronghold, ye prisoners of hope." He must hold it forth as the all-sufficient refuge "founded upon a rock," so that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." The great object, then, of the faithful minister in pointing out to men the way of salvation, is, first, To exhibit Christ as the source and foundation of the sinner's hope, and then, secondly, To do what he may to lead men into this faith and this reliance, by displaying God's testimony in the Gospel as it is in truth, — "a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation."
(J. B. Patterson, M. A.)
1. He must be a man of good repute. A man of loose habits, a disorderly, quarrelsome, dissolute, idle, dishonest man, is the most unlikely person in the world to be a watchman: hence wise men always appoint to that office persons of steady, honest, and industrious habits. And such must be the Lord's watchman.
2. He must produce proofs of his past fidelity and good management.
3. He should have discernment, ingenuity, and courage.
4. A watchman should be healthy and strong, able to bear exposure and fatigue; a soft and delicate person is a most unlikely subject to be a watchman.
5. He must be properly appointed.
6. He must have a proper dress and light. And by these marks ought the Lord's watchman to be identified: he should be clothed with humility as with a garment, and adorned with the graces of the Holy Spirit. He should also have much Divine light. He must walk and commune with, and imitate Christ.
II. THE WATCHMAN'S OFFICE.
1. One part of his duty is to tell the hour. Time flies! your life is a shadow! you spend your years as a tale that is told! your days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle! your life is a dream! your time as a stream glides swiftly away! every beating pulse you tell leaves but the number less! your life is vanity! you are but dust — what is your life? it is but a vapour.
2. Another part of the duty of a watchman is to protect the persons and property of the inhabitants from villains, accidents, and offences. In like manner ought the Church to be protected by the Lord's watchmen. All that are sick, poor, destitute, or afflicted, and those who are but young disciples and weak in their faith, they ought to make the objects of their peculiar attention.
3. It is another part of a watchman's duty to give an alarm when any doors are left open, or places unprotected, or when any danger is near. The spiritual watchman must do likewise.
4. The watchman has to give an account to the governors or magistrates of anything important that has occurred, and of the present state of the city. And the Lord's watchman has to lay before Him any conversions, improvements, declensions, goods or evils, that have transpired in the Church, and to present them before the Throne of Grace.
II. THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE JEWISH PROPHET AND THE GOSPEL MINISTER.
1. The principal and most essential qualification of a prophet was, undisguised holiness, and sublime piety. There cannot be a greater solecism in the moral world than an immoral teacher: one whose office it is to investigate the concerns of eternity, to show the importance of regeneration, to press upon others the necessity of a new birth, while he himself is a stranger to the work of the Spirit upon his own heart. Piety in a man's own breast makes him faithful; he bids fairest for success whose heart is holy; he watches as one that must give an account.
2. The mind of the prophet must be in a proper disposition and frame to receive the Divine afflatus or prophetic spirit; that is, say the Jewish doctors, it must not be oppressed with grief, or clouded with passions of any kind. This is a most necessary quality in a Gospel minister. His mind should be free from the thorny cares of time, and undisturbed with swelling passions. A dogmatical spirit, and magisterial airs, in befit a disciple, a minister of the meek and lowly Redeemer.
3. A true prophet was made and called to his office by God Himself.
III. WHAT THE TRUE PROPHET, THE SERVANT OF JESUS CHRIST, HATH TO WATCH OVER.
2. Our interest is in the universal Church of Christ: but, in a peculiar manner, we must watch over that flock with which we stand connected in a pastoral relation (Acts 20:28).
3. We ought to keep a jealous eye over our own hearts. Ministers of the Gospel must not forget that they are deeply engaged in the Christian warfare; and that Satan will employ every engine to storm them. Ministers have their peculiar infirmities, as well as private Christians. 'Tis hard to keep the helm up against so many cross winds as we meet with on this sea of fire and glass.Lessons —
1. The importance of a Gospel ministry, and the charge of souls.
2. What an honourable post Gospel ministers fill. They approach the presence of the Almighty King, and receive from the Lord what they deliver unto His people.
3. From the subject, learn the infinite love of God to mankind.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
Hear the word at My mouth
I. If we would be found really useful and serviceable for our Lord and Master, THE EAR IS TO BE DISCIPLINED. "Hear the word at My mouth." What does this mean?
1. I take it, first, that if we wish to be useful our ear must be disciplined to hear only God's word. Believe Him, for He cannot lie. We come to tell you of what we ourselves have received upon Divine authority, and we claim that you do receive our testimony, not because it is ours, but because it is supported by Divine authority, and is in fact the echo of the Divine word. Only by this mode of utterance can we hope to succeed. On any other footing we court failure and deserve it.
2. Secondly, if we would have our ear educated, it must be not only to receive the word as of Divine authority, but to know what God's word is. Let us study the Bible with diligence. Go to that fountain of truth, I pray you, and never be satisfied with a second-hand version of it. Go you to the fountain head and drink there or ever the streams have been mudded by human blundering.
3. The great thing, I believe, with a successful winner of souls is to hear God's truth from God's own mouth. Do you want to know Christ's way of making men useful? Turn to Mark 3:13-15. Do you see the order? He calls them to Him, — you must not dream of winning souls till you first come to Christ yourself. Next we read, "That they might be with Him," — you cannot go and teach Christ, or bring others to Him, unless you have first been with Him. Communion with Jesus is training for service. After the fellowship comes the work — "That He might send them forth to preach, and to have power."
4. To have our ear well tutored we must feel the force of the truth that we deliver. Sin, — are you going to talk about the evil of it? Do you know the evil of it for yourself? Get back to the place of repentance where you once wet the earth with your tears, and talk to children or grown-up people about sin in that spirit. Pardon, — are you going to speak about that? Do you know the sweetness of it? Go to the place where first you saw the flowing of the ever-precious blood, and feel again your load of guilt removed, and you will speak of it most sweetly. The power of the Holy Spirit, — are you going to speak about that? Have you felt His quickening, enlightening, comforting, and sanctifying influence?
II. THE TONGUE IS TO BE EDUCATED. That is indeed the aim of the discipline of the ear. And to what end is the tongue educated?
1. To be able to deliver an unpleasant message. You and I cannot be useful if we want to be sweet as honey in the mouths of men. God will never bless us if we wish to please men, that they may think well of us. Are you willing to tell them what will break your own heart in the telling and break theirs in the hearing? If not, you are not fit to serve the Lord.
2. Next, you want your tongue tutored to speak the truth as having yourself heard it. The man should be full of emotion, not moved by anger, but by a sacred passion which arouses him and makes the people feel that he is in awful earnest, carried out of himself, not delivering set phrases and words from his mouth outwards, but speaking from his inmost heart. Now, if we were to meet with our Lord Jesus Himself, and were then to speak of Him in the state of mind in which His presence left us, what a style of speech that would be.
3. The tongue needs to be trained in the case of each one of us to deliver the message as from God. You may not all be called to the work of prophesying as ministers are, but you are all called by some means to warn men of the wrath to come and lead them to Christ, and I want you to feel that God is at the back of you when you warn sinners. God will own His truth, therefore never be ashamed of it.
III. I finish by endeavouring to practise THE LESSON OF THE TEXT. I desire to speak to those who are unconverted, and to speak as if I had just come from an interview with my Lord and Master, as I trust I have. I have to say to you now present, that whatever may be your natural excellence of character, and whatever the religiousness of your training, yet you must all of you be born again. The Master would lay a strong tender emphasis upon the "must." "Ye must be born again." Jesus would not demand of us more than is absolutely necessary, nor say a syllable that would tend to shut a soul out of heaven. If He says, "Ye must," why then we must. I want you to own that necessity. Next I desire to introduce you to Jesus sitting at the well with the woman of Samaria. You can see the smile upon His countenance as He instructs her. I want you now to hear Him say these words: "God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." You must have a spiritual mind and a spiritual nature through being born again: and then you must worship God in a spiritual way, for mere outward religion is nothing in His sight. Oh, ask that the Spirit of God would teach you how to worship in spirit and in truth. Now listen to my Master again. "Ye search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me. And ye will not come to Me, that ye might have life." Do you think you will get salvation by Bible reading? Alas, you are in error. You must go further than that; you must go to Christ Jesus Himself. Listen to my Master once again: "If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins." I know you will say that I speak hard things. Perhaps I do, but not with a hard heart. Now, my Lord is always tender, never man spake like this man, and never man wept as He did when He had a hard thing to say; hear ye then His declaration, "Except ye believe that I am He, ye shall die in your sins." The last thing that was ever seen of my Lord and Master upon earth was this. "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature." They stood with their ears and eves open to know how He would have them put the Gospel, and He said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned."
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
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