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PROPHESYING TO DRY BONES.
PREACHED IN REGENT SQUARE PRESBYTERIAN
REV. JOHN MCNEILL
TEXT.- Ezekiel xxxvii. 1-14.
THE detail of the vision is given in the first ten verses. The spiritual counterpart, the spiritual analogue we have read in the verses from the 11th to 15th. This is a representation, says God, of the whole house of Israel, its then condition, and its prospect through the marvellous operation of His Word, and grace, and providence. I believe that still the vision has reference to the times and the prospects of God's Israel. Still they are a nation scattered and peeled; still they are not reckoned among the organized, constituted peoples of the earth. And still from such a vision as this gleams of hope shine out as to what God will yet do for them, as to the way in which, manifestly and visibly, even as they have been scattered, so shall they be gathered together again and set up. But my main interest is to see what hope there is here for the condition presented by the whole Church of God in our own land and in our
Vol. III.-No. 7.
own time to-day. Let us turn to it with this thought, this wish, this prayer in our hearts.
in our hearts. We belong to Israel. We are concerned for her. The very despair mentioned—is it not the despair that sometimes rises over our own hearts as we look round and see all the blackness, and weakness, and misery, how far back we are, and how much is to be done? Do we not sometimes sigh, and say, “Our bones are dry, our strength is completely withered, our hope is lost, we are clean cut off”?
Let us turn to this vision. Let us assume things to be even at the very worst, Christianity as being worn out, played out, utterly extinct and extinguished as a practical force in the world. Well, even at the worst, were things as bad as this vision represented Israel to be, still let us see how from the very darkest night and deepest pit God's light shines in, and His power is displayed and glorified.
“ The hand of the Lord was upon me,” the prophet said, "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.” When you are dealing with Ezekiel, it is scarcely worth while to try to get a natural, or, as we might say, a rational explanation or groundwork for his vision. He is so much sui generis, so entirely of his own kind, that the material fabric of his clear dream and solemn vision can scarcely be estimated by us.
As some say,
be that when he with his countrymen was being carried away in the dreary captivity from Jerusalem to the river Chebar in Mesopotamia's open plain, they passed through some valley which not long before had been the scene and theatre of contending hosts as they fought in battle. No matter which side withdrew victorious from that field, the conqueror Death remained there more than conqueror. He claimed
his thousands, tens of thousands, and their bones were allowed to lie and whiten in the sun.
Perhaps the Israelites had passed some such place on their way to their long and dreary captivity; and it may be that out of that the Spirit of God found some material basis for this vision and its meaning for Ezekiel. " The hand of the Lord was upon me,” he says, “ 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.”
The first thing that occurs to me to say when I read this is that here the Spirit of God was careful to make the prophet Ezekiel to get the full idea-careful, accurate, just, most despairing and heart-breaking, of the sad condition of things as they actually were in Israel, and as they were before God's own eyes. My friends, how many of us are willing to be led by the hand of the Lord, and by the Spirit of the Lord, into the knowledge into which Ezekiel was led by that clear dream and solemn vision ? Is there not an optimism abroad which is too tranquil, and sunshiny, and hopeful, simply because it has never gone through London, North and South and East and West. It has never dared to face the dismal, damning facts of the situation as they actually are. Therefore it sings its little song; therefore it writes cheery little articles; and therefore altogether its prophesying is so weak. It is not grounded and founded upon actual knowledge. What we need is to be brave enough and strong enough in the Lord and in the power of His might to walk about our Zion, to go on that dismal round on which Ezekiel went, and on which Nehemiah went,
when he came back from his captivity, and saw, not in vision, but in reality, what this portrays—when he went by night "on stumbling steed, with sobbing heart," by the burnt gateways and the broken-down walls, and all the wreck and desolation of what had been fair Jerusalem. Before he began his work, he went and estimated what the work was, and what it required. Before the Lord gave to Ezekiel this vision of what He Himself yet would do, He prepared him for the work he had to do by first of all letting him see the true state of things. Have we seen? What do we know ? Before we lift up our voices and begin somewhat vaguely and vainly to talk-or even before we begin to talk of God's great power in the Gospel, before we begin to sing great psalms and say great prayers—let us go out and see, see for ourselves. If we are true to God, it will not altogether breakus down. It will break down our false confidence ; it will take away from us all mere over-enthusiasm and cheap cheering; will deepen, and broaden, and solidify us, and cause us, above all things, to lay hold with both hands on the Lord God Almighty, for none but He will serve the awful problem of the hour.
The Spirit of the Lord carried him abroad, caused him to pass by the valley, and to see north, south, east, and west, the whole scope and circumference of the need of his country and of his countrymen. And just when his heart was heaviest, just when all hope was going out of him, there came this voice, “ Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, Thou knowest." Now, if we, in attacking this problem, begin at the beginning, here is how we should be led. First of all, we must diagnose the case; that is the first thing. Then come the prescriptions and remedies, if these can at all be found.
So, if we would cease from man, and
and look at things through God's eyes as He leads us by His Word and by His Spirit, as He clarifies our vision, as He reveals to us the awful havoc, the ghastliness, the misery of our time, it would not lead us to despair, but would lead us away from cheap and false and inadequate views of the disease, and therefore from cheap and false and inadequate views of what will remedy the disease. If we went on this plan, then we should be led substantially and essentially as Ezekiel was.
Just when we would be pressed and overpressed beyond measure, out of bounds, then there would come to us, and there does come to us, as there came to Ezekiel, that question, “ Son of man, can these bones live?" It is a challenge to us. Here we stand, and there is before us in vision what was before Ezekiel in the same way: all the sin, all the wretchedness, all the misery, all the helpless
A mass of bones instead of a living, glorious, triumphant army. Let us come to the
Let us admit the very worst. Suppose that the Church of Christ were reduced to this—a mass of helplessness hastening to final corruption, still, just at the worst, things begin to mend—and the mending element in Ezekiel's day, and in our day, and in every day, is this : God lives, God is here. Look up, look up ! before we begin in a fretful, feverish way even to work—to do what has almost become a technical phrase, “ Christian work”—first of all listen to that voice that comes to you and me. Listen, O brother preacher, Sabbath - school teacher, elder. O Israelite, burdened with the problem of to-day, listen, for God speaks. Son of man, yes, things are dark, dismal, desperate. Son of man, survey the misery. An appalling sight! CAN THESE BONES LIVE ?