1The 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, 2And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. 3And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, thou knowest. 4Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: 6And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD. 7So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. 8And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. 9Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. 10So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army. 11Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts. 12Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. 13And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, 14And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the LORD have spoken it, and performed it, saith the LORD. EZEKIEL xxxvii
The prophecy of Ezekiel is a remarkable illustration of the nearness of the spiritual world, and not only of its nearness but of many of its laws, scenes, and circumstances. The prophet was from time to time brought into the spiritual state in which the surrounding spirit-world is seen, and he saw, as he informs us in the first chapter, ”visions of God.” This state has long been little known among men, from the avidity with which even the Church permitted itself to be taken up with the acquisition of earthly gain and power, and turned away from spiritual things until she lost even the very knowledge of them. Yet they are most important. Without knowing that there is a spiritual sphere of things, a life-world which pervades nature everywhere, and is its soul ; with which our spirits are unconsciously connected at present, but which, whenever the Lord sees fit, we may consciously behold as this prophet did ; we cannot understand a large portion of what he says, or much of the experience of other prophets, whose ancient name was seers ; and, indeed, very much of the experience of the world. Man is a spirit, clothed for the time with an earthly form, but with all the powers requisite, when his sojourn here is ended, to live in the eternal world. There is as the apostle says, a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. What wonder, then, that there should be indications, from time to time, of the spirit’s life and the spirit’s powers within us. Rather should we wonder if it were not so. And when the Lord opens the eyes of his faithful servants to behold the scenery of the spirit-land, we should listen to their disclosures with grateful attention, and seek to learn the meaning of the scenes described, which are always full of interest and full of wisdom.
The fact that we are living in two worlds is suggestive of the very deepest considerations. It solves the mystery of the earth’s motions and its ever-abounding varied life. The earth lives because joined to a living world, as the body lives because joined to a living soul. We are united to matter as to our outer life, but as to our inner we are now living in eternity, and shall simply live on in the inner-world when loosened from this outer sphere. We have companions, too, in the spirit, as well as in the body. The virtuous soul is linked in spirit-bonds with an innumerable company of angels ; the wicked plotter against another’s peace knows it not ; and would that he knew it well, he is but the instrument of malignant fiends ” more wicked than himself.” If he is exulting over his schemes of successful wickedness, in which he has obtained some sordid or unjust advantage, his invisible betrayers are rejoicing with mocking malice, that he has become their willing dupe, and is insanely triumphing in his own wreck. We stand in the sight of men, angels and demons, to work out our salvation. O may we never forget the eternal consequences which await on every act!
The law which governs all things in the spirit-world is the law of correspondences. Everything in the outer life of spirits corresponds to their inner life. The law, therefore, of correspondences, will explain all the symbols seen, and unfold the wisdom contained within them.
The object of the vision before us was twofold, natural and spiritual, temporary and everlasting. It was given in its natural meaning to comfort the Israelites with a hope of their return from the captivity in which they were, in Babylonia ; and it was, in its spiritual meaning, to testify to every man’s resurrection from the death of sin to the life of righteousness.
After the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, there were carried away to the neighbourhood of the river Chebar, in Mesopotamia, a vast company of captives. Among these was the prophet Ezekiel. The captive Jews at first were hopeful of a speedy deliverance. But when year after year passed by, and still they had to mourn in a foreign land, they began to droop. At length they began to despair, and this vision was given to the prophet, that he might comfort them in their desolation with the promise of a return to their own country once more. This explanation is given of the vision by the Divine Being Himself,and immediately after it was seen. “Then He said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel : behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost : we are cut off for our parts. Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, my people, and brought you up out of your graves, and shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land : then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord.”—Ver. 11—14.
This explanation fully gives the scope of the literal bearing of the vision. The Israelites in captivity lamented that they were like buried men. They were not only carried far from their homes, and all their glory as a nation quite eclipsed, but they had now lost hope, they were as dry bones. They were cut off from all expectation of any return to their beloved land and homes. The Babylonish power was so great, and they had seen so many great nations fall before it, that they had not the least anticipation of deliverance, especially of deliverance in the way it came. They had no idea that they would be delivered by a Median Prince, who would first overthrow the mighty empire which had subjected them, and then not only set them free, but give them protection and money to restore their temple and city. Yet so it was. The Babylonish empire was ended by Gyrus, and in the first year of his reign he proclaimed throughout his empire, that the Jews might return. He gave them the sacred vessels of the temple again, and directed their temple to be rebuilt at the expense of the royal treasury. Daniel appears to have been mainly instrumental in bringing about this happy result. And Josephus informs us that he showed Cyrus the prophecies of Isaiah, in which he is mentioned by name and his victorious occupation of Babylon predicted one hundred years before he was born. Thus does Divine Providence bring about His gracious designs. And thus we should learn ever to trust in the divine means of accomplishing whatever His mercy and wisdom require to be done. “In the evening time it shall be light” Thus is it with nations, and thus is it with individuals. Let them deserve deliverance and it will come. No matter that we cannot see the way. No matter that deliverance may seem to linger, that we may be like dry bones, buried in the graves of gloom and despondency. “Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.”
The Lord opened the graves of captive Israel after they had declared that their dry hope was lost ; and this same Lord can and will restore us from the depths of difficulty and even of despair, when our penitence has prepared us for future blessing. Let our language then ever be, ” Why art thou cast down, and why art thou disquieted within me ? Hope thou in God, for thou shalt yet praise Him, who is the help of my countenance and my God.”
Before adverting to the spiritual sense of this striking scene, it may be well to notice a view which has long been held, namely, that this vision is an intimation that the bones of all the human race will at some period be re-collected and built up into human bodies again. This idea readily occurs to those who educated in this belief. But they should remember this was not the belief of the Jews at this period. No prophet, up to this time, had spoken of those who had departed this life for their bodies. On the contrary, all who went into the eternal world had been represented as going where they would not return. This was the case with Job : ” As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away,” he said, ” so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more. He shall return no more to his house, neither shall his place know him any more.” chap. vii. 8, 9. What is it that goeth down to the grave but the body? He that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more. The man shall return no more to his house. He has gone to his everlasting home. In his description of death, in the tenth chapter, all idea of resuming the body is excluded.” Are not my days few, cease then, and let me alone, that I may take comfort a little before I go whence I I SHALL NOT RETURN, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death.” — ver. 20, 21. In another place he says, ” When a few years are come, then I shall go the way whence I SHALL NOT RETURN.” — Chap. xvi. 22.
It is true, that some have drawn a different conclusion from the words of Job, which have been given in a grievously mistranslated form in the nineteenth chapter. But let these words be correctly rendered, and they will be found in perfect harmony with the rest. It is said, ” And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold though my reins be consumed within me.” When the patriarch seems to speak of worms and body, it takes the reader at once to the grave, and when he speaks of seeing God in his flesh, after that, it seems clearly to imply a resurrection of that which had been eaten by worms. But look closely at the passage and you will perceive that worms and body, and several other words, are in italic letters, to intimate that to intimate that these words are not in the original, but are supplied by the translator. Leave these words out and you will find, then, that Job is speaking only of his grievous sufferings and his wasted frame. But he declares his trust in God his Redeemer, and his assurance that, if his sufferings were still more severe, he had no doubt that he should see God as his deliverer before he finally left his flesh ; whom his eyes would behold, and not another. This hope of the afflicted one was fulfilled. God interfered as his Redeemer. He was recovered from his grievous sorrows. God vindicated His own ways and Job’s integrity. He showed that the afflictions which oppress the wicked are permitted also to the virtuous, for their greater purification and blessing. And then Job confesses, ” I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee, wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” — chap. xlii. 5, 6. The first passage declares, that at the latter end of his trial, and while yet in his flesh, God would appear for his vindication : the latter passage declares that such an appearance and vindication had taken place, and that the Lord, indeed, blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning.
The uniform teaching of Job, then, was in harmony with all the revelation to the Jews, that when man went to his eternal home, the dust returned to dust whence it was, and the man would never return for it again.
David expressed the same thing in relation to his child when he died. He said, ” I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”— 2 Sam. xii. 23.
The Jews, then, up to this vision, had certainly no revelation concerning the resurrection of dead bodies, but on the contrary, were taught that when men once entered into the eternal world, they never came back. Can any one suppose, then, that this vision of the dry bones, was intended to teach them a new doctrine and yet not a word of this kind should be said ? Nay, not only are we not told that the resurrection of dead bodies was not what it was given to teach, but, on the contrary, we are informed that the return of the Jews was what the vision was intended to foretell. They who are determined still to drag this vision to prove a doctrine that is not only absurd in itself, but is, in fact, taught nowhere in the Scriptures, would do well to lay aside their preconceptions, and reconsider it in the light of truth.
Let us, therefore, now address ourselves to the spiritual bearing of the text, for in this aspect it is extremely interesting. The apostle says, “Our sufficiency is of God;, who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit : for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” — 2 Cor. iii. 5, 6. Again : ” Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth ; comparing spiritual things with spritual — 1 Cor. ii. 13. This vision was, undoubtedly, a spiritual thing. It was seen in the spirit. The Holy Ghost teacheth, then, the apostle says, to compare spiritual things with spiritual.” That man by nature is spiritually dead, and needs a spiritual resurrection, is taught constantly in the gospel, and is known by every thoughtful man’s experience. It is true, that in the interior nature of every man, the Lord has implanted a ground-work of what is good, an embryo-heaven, the commencements of angelic life. But this is not properly man’s, until by regeneration he makes it his own. It is the Lord’s abode in man. The conscious active part of the human mind, or the natural man in that opposition to all that is good and true, which in Scripture is called death. ” To be carnally minded is death; to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” — Rom. Viii. 6.
This spiritual deadness of the human soul is constantly recognised in the Scriptures, and the resurrection from this state is man’s grand resurrection, the great work he has to perform.
The natural man is dead to God, to heaven, to justice, to truth. Any possibility of resurrection arises from the inner man, which the Lord has implanted at each person’s creation, and strengthened by heavenly influences, both from within and from without, from his childhood. But by this arrangement of divine mercy, the resurrection from disorder and sin is possible. The Lord said, ” The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.” — John v. 25. ” Verily, verily, I say unto you. He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me (that is, on the Divine Love), hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but IS PASSED FROM DEATH UNTO LIFE.” — Ver. 24. When the repentant prodigal returned, the father said, “ My son was dead, and is alive again ; he was lost, and is found.” Luke xv. 24. The apostle says, “Awake thou that sleepest,and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light” — Eph. v. 14. “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins. Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved).” —ii. 1, 5. “If by any means I may attain unto the resurrection of the dead, not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect, but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.”
All these passages show, in the most striking manner, how truly in the light of Scripture we are dead by nature, and the absolute necessity of a spiritual resurrection. But all our experience teaches the same thing. How else is it that we are so cold to recognise the love of our heavenly Father, which surrounds us with blessings ? How is it that we are so prone to wrong, so difficult to be led to adopt the right ? How is it that heavenly wisdom is so little undelightful to our minds, until our taste has become changed, while the merest folly, and often the worst pollutions, are greedily received. It is because of this depraved and deadened state of the lower degree of the soul. Let us not suppose that this is a mere figure of speech. It is an actual fact. The fibres of the soul are perverted and warped from heaven, and must by the power of the Lord, exercised for our help, be restored to order and to life.
The state of the natural mind is described in the vision before us, by the valley which was full of bones. ” Behold, there were very many in the open valley ; and, lo, they were very dry.”
The natural mind is called a valley, because its principles, as compared with the elevated affections of heavenly love, are as a valley compared to mountains. The mountains are said to bring peace (Ps. lxxii. 3), because the exalted affections which unite the soul to the Lord do indeed bring peace ; but in the valleyys, fruitfulness is found, for the works which are the fruits of religion, can only be produced in practical life. All men start on their spiritual journey in the valley, and only by effort and by prayer, ascend to higher, holier states. “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord, who shall stand in his holy place ? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart, and that hath not lift his soul unto vanity.” We are all by nature in the valley, and with the multitude; it is the “valley of the shadow of death.” When we look round upon mankind, and mark their low and groveling aims, their sordid pursuits, their mean propensities, we cannot but confess, mournfully, that too many not only start in the valley, but there continue, and waste their lives without tempting to rise into the higher region of sunshine and peace. The world is all to them, the eternal world—a blank.
But the valley the prophet saw, was full of bones. What are these bones? The doctrinal truths of religion, which form the framework or skeleton of man’s regenerate state, round which all other virtues fix and cluster, are as bones. There are understood, where it is said, ”All my bones shall say, ‘Lord, who is like unto thee?’”—P8. xxxv. 10. Of the rightous it is written, “ The Lord keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken.” — Ps. xxxiv. 20. When the church is really flourishing, it is said of the good, ” And when ye see this, your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish like an herb.” — Isa. lxvi. 14. These bones of doctrinal truth are taught to most in childhood. They are stored in the memory, but often after that, neglected. In such case, their condition is like that mentioned in the description before us, ” they are very dry.” You look upon the careless and indifferent possessor of the most sacred truths, and see them, if noticed at all, regarded as things of no account, and you are tempted to say, like the question put to this prophet, ” Can these bones live ?” Can they who hear with indifference the grandest themes, the most solemn appeals, really be awakened to their higher interests.
The desolate state of the Israelites at this season, is the type of that desolation of soul which is felt by the unregenerate, when a conviction of misery and destitution comes over it, a consciousness of being severed from heaven, and utterly forlorn, hopeless, and helpless; it sighs over the miserable scene of wrecked prospects, and a dry and arid mind. He looks around and there is no comfort, all is black and cheerless. There lie the lessons of early childhood, the doctrines stored by a father’s care and a mother’s love ; but they have been long forgotten, ” they are like dry bones, and very dry.” The Bible, our childhood’s book is there, once dear, but long neglected. While musing sadly over this desolation, a voice comes from heaven to the conscience, ” Can these bones live?” And while we dare scarcely venture to hope for so great a restoration, again the Divine mercy speaks within us the gracious promise. “Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones ; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live.” Confidence is imparted to the conscience. The angel Hope takes the place of grim despair, and we go to the Word, and from it learn to prophesy as the Lord has commanded. The effects which follow this sacred prophesying are next portrayed. First, ” there was a noise, and then a shaking.” The noise represents the agitation which takes place in the thoughts of the newly awakened convert, the shaking is the tremor and change experienced in the affections.
The noise induced as the first effect by the prophesying of the prophet, brings vividly to mind the conflicting thoughts which fill the council-chamber of the soul, when making its first efforts for a new life. Hope and fear both utter their voices. Accusations and defences, encouragements and blame, oppose each other; a complete tumult of contending sentiments clash together; the subject in debate is, shall we arise and live for heaven, or shall we lie down and die for ever ? In this solemn assembly there is strong excitement ; the soul’s all is at stake; evil spirits do their utmost to induce delay, lethargy, despair, anything to arrest the newly-awakened concern of the spirit. But if, on the one hand, there are enemies which seek to terrify and to seduce, on the other there are angelic friends, who are commissioned from our heavenly Saviour to comfort and exhort. Happy is he, in whom the noise is hushed by the silvery voice of heavenly friends, who take him by the hand, and help him on, as they did Lot of old, and say, ” Escape for thy life ; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.” The noise was followed by a shaking. When the soul has determined to follow the truth, and employ its divine light to explore the affections, a discovery of their impure character takes place. We learn how selfish, how wayward, how polluted they have been. We are filled with horror at ourselves. We find we have been daily living in the practice of principles which will not bear the atmosphere of heaven for a moment. We tremble, and we determine to renounce our self-will, and all its impurities. We shake, what we now regard with loathing, from us. We tremble, but we look up to Him, who has said, ” I give you power to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” This is a shaking, which is most salutary, and breaks the bonds which have held us in spiritual captivity to the earth and sin. The truth has made us free.
The next operation is thus described. ” The bones came together, bone to his bone.” The bones, we have seen previously, represent the doctrinal truths of religion. While they were disregarded in the soul, they lay as a confused mass in the memory, here and there, without order or connection. Now, however, the scene is changed. The soul has become earnest. It is seen that there is a beautiful harmony and order in religious truths. Each has its proper place, and takes it ; they come together, bone to his bone.
There are doctrines in relation to the Lord, these form the head of the religious system ; there are doctrines in relation to the neighbour, these are the breast ; there are doctrines in relation to the active uses of love and faith in the world, these are the arms and hands ; and there are doctrines for the duties of every-day life; these are the legs and the feet. To perceive all these in harmony, and to have thus an entire and complete religious system, is of the highest importance to our best interests. The accomplishment of this, then, is intimated by the significant words, ” The bones came together, bone to his bone.”
This operation of the intellect must ever be done by those who would have a firm and orderly religion built up within their minds. It can only be perfectly done with doctrines which are true. If their bones do not fit, or if they are not earnest enough to bring them together and bind them by the sinews of a firm love of truth, there is never anything formed but a rickety and unsteady faith, devoid of the elements of strength. These are only truly then, when those two elements of firmness are present, fitness and union.
The prophet describes further, ” and beheld that the sinews and the flesh came up upon them.”
The Hebrew word Gideem, rendered sinews, would be more strictly correct if translated nerves. ”He beheld, and first nerves and then flesh came up upon them.” We have noticed that the moving and arrangement of the bones represent the formation of a correct and complete religious system in the soul. But system is hard and stern, as an unclothed skeleton, unless it is accompanied and softened by the presence of heavenly goodness. This goodness is represented by flesh, which is at once soft and solid. In the form of muscles it is the grand source of energy and power in the body. The soul without goodness is like a body without flesh. The nerves, which impart motion and sensation to the muscles, and by means of which all muscular action takes place, correspond to the desires for goodness, the inner affections from which it proceeds. Flesh, throughout the Word, is the symbol of goodness, which imparts at once fullness and softness to our spiritual states. “My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God,” said the Psalmist (lxxxiv. 2). ” I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and I will give them a heart of flesh” (Ezek. xi. 19) : where it is obvious that a heart of flesh implies a gentle, kind, and humane heart, such as is only felt when heavenly goodness has made its abode in it. When the Jewish church had fallen into idolatry and many grievous evils, the prophet said, ” The holy flesh is passed from thee. When thou doest evil, then thou rejoicest.” — Jer. xi. 15: where the holy flesh undoubtedly means holy goodness. The Lord’s Divine Flesh means His Divine Goodness, the only source of good to us. Hence, He says, ” Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me, and I in Him.” — John vi. 53—56.
When we receive the Divine Goodness and Truth which are, as it were, the Flesh and Blood of the Lord Himself, we are indeed in conjunction with Him, and He abides with us.
The flesh, then, that came upon the bones in the view of the prophet, represented the goodness which is imparted to the soul as it advances in its heavenly career, and seeks not only to know and believe, but to love and do what the divine commandments teach. With earnest desires it presses on to attain the heavenly life, and thankfully feels that it is becoming stronger for good, warmer in the course it daily pursues.
How essential it is that we should never forget the gentle flesh of religion, while we are faithful to guard its bones! How hard and unlovely is that character which is ever stern and exacting, but displays none of the courteous consideration for the views and feelings of others, which wins affection while it shows it. How soft is the flesh of a child, and so soft is the innocence of the true Christian, — ” of such is the kingdom of God.” Except we become as little children we shall never enter there. While, then, we receive truth fairly and firmly, so that our characters have all the nerve and vigour of a faith well founded and clearly discerned, strong in its texture, and well bound together, let us always take care that the strength of the bones is only felt through the softness of the flesh. Let your faith be seen only as the framework of a living, loving, charity.
The prophet next observed that, after the preceding changes, he saw skin appear, to surround and beautify the whole. Any one who has considered the subject of that wonderful structure, the human body, will have seen how many beneficial and beautiful purposes are answered by clothing it with skin. This important organ is often undervalued, but it can scarcely be rated too highly. Both its constitution and its functions are worthy of our particular observation. Our limits, in this discourse, prevent us from touching upon the subject more than in a general manner. The skin is a most delicate and refined threefold network, exquisitely organized, and endowed with life n a very high degree. It is a magnificent tissue of innumerable minute blood-vessels and nerves, which are woven by the Creator into a matchless robe of beauty and of use. It clothes all the interior and finer textures of the body, and protects them from injury. In it all the inner powers of the body manifest themselves, and rest. It immeasurably surpasses the finest cloth in exquisite delicacy and finish, and it has this amazing feature, placing it as a production of Divine Intelligence, unspeakably beyond all the efforts of human art, that it is the ever-speaking testifier of the emotions of the soul. The rosy tint of quiet health, and the deep burning blush of injured modesty, with all the changing hues of varied feeling, attest this astonishing action of the skin as the mirror of the mind.
The functions of the skin are threefold. It is the seat of sensation and touch. Feeling, in relation to all the ever-occurring particulars of momentary life is expressed in the skin. Without this presence of life in the extremes we should both do and suffer much that would be utterly detrimental to health and life. By the delicacy of touch and feeling generally in the skin we are guided in our daily habits, and preserved from improprieties hurtful to our well-being. When we might injure ourselves by outer fire or knife, pain, or the dread of it, will keep us in the bounds of order. Secondly, the skin is a means of absorbing light, moisture, and other grateful elements from the surrounding objects, which are eminently useful to the preservation and beauty of the body. Witness the ruddy healthy appearance of one whose skin has the full advantage of these grand restoratives, and the pallid hue of him who toils in darkness, or in close and poisoned atmospheres. Thirdly, the skin is the grand instrument by which the waste material, which had formed part of the body, is carried off invisibly, and the body’s renewal and progression are secured. When the skin is healthy and does this incessant function duly and completely, vigour and satisfaction are the results. When it is otherwise, disease in varied, often in hideous forms, and even death will follow.
I have ventured to dwell upon the now confessed importance of the skin, to illustrate what is equally important in a spiritual point of view, that is a consistent Christian life, for our outward life of virtue is the skin of the Christian character. This consists of faith and love, like minute blood-vessels and nerves, living in all the daily acts, the words and works of life. A just, a kind, and a beautiful life, is the expression of the soul’s highest emotions and sentiments; it is the skin unveiling the principles within.
The life is, where the spirit’s touch is felt. There, either our accordance with, or our dissent from the words and works of others, is livingly expressed. In our lives, when we associate with the good and wise, we catch their tone, we imitate their virtues, we gather courage from their examples. On the other hand, the atmosphere of vicious associates is fraught with pestilence and death. In the life, too, we perceive where we can improve, and throw off the imperfections of former states. The thoughts and feelings of the child are thrown off by the youth ; the inexperience of the youth, by the maturity of the man. The imperfections of each day, of each act, are thrown off by the advancing Christian, and new life and health are received from the fountain of good. How important, then, is the Christian’s skin. Let him bathe it often in the living waters of truth. Let him sun it often in the light of interior wisdom. ” And may his light so shine before men, that they may see his good works, and glorify his Father who is in heaven.” A Christian with knowledge, and with good intentions, but without a virtuous conduct, is as unpleasant an object as a body without a skin. A life in which no true uniform consistency is observed, but is chequered by faults, which make friends earthly and angelic grieve, is like a skin afflicted with grievous sores; such a skin is dangerous and destructive to its possessor, and loathsome to behold. Good works must be done, and done uniformly. What doth the Lord thy God require of thee, ” but to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God?”— Micah vi. 8. “0 that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments I then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea.” — Isa. xlviii. 18. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven ; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven.” — Matt. vii. 21. “Love is the fulfilling of the law.”— Rom. xiii. 10. “This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments : and his commandments are not grievous.” — 1 John v. 3.
While, then, my beloved hearers, you look well to love and faith, the heart and the lungs of religion, do not forget those works of justice, piety and gentleness, which make the Christian skin. On the contrary, go often and hold communion with the Lord, that you may become radiant with holiness, like the skin of the face of Moses, when he had talked with God.
Our text adds, respecting these bodies preparing for life, “there was yet no breath in them.” Breath, or spirit, signifies conscious spiritual life. There was an invisible, silent agency, as the prophet prophesied, in obedience to the Divine command, supplying these bones with the new forms and substance, which would constitute them men. This power was there giving them life, but there was no conscious breathing. So is it in man’s regeneration. As we learn, think, and act in accordance with the Divine commands, new principles of virtue and order are formed within us. We grow in grace, we acquire a new nature; but for a considerable time we have no inner consciousness of living a spiritual life. We have the form, and are acquiring the substance of religion; but a conscious spirituality has not yet become ours. It has seemed as if the improvement came from ourselves, with substantial changes certainly, but we know not how. We have reasoned, thought, prayed, practised, and persevered ; but have not yet, or very slightly yet, an interior sense of living from the spirit of the Lord ; ” there is no breath in them.” The appearance is, we are working out our own salvation. Hence, it is said, the nerves and the flesh came up upon them, to indicate the appearance, that our improvement comes from self-exertion. In reality, however, the Lord invisibly gives all the needful help and energy, the power comes down. To bring out our freedom, to regenerate us as men, and to make us more completely men, we are left for a considerable time to the comparatively slow growth of rational thought, consistent obedience, and constant effort, as if from ourselves, to draw nigh to the Lord, and to win His kingdom. The time, however comes, when we feel the presence and the power of heavenly life. The inward agencies of heaven, with which we have become invisibly connected, are more fully opened to us, and their holy influences come upon us like the freshness and the glow of the balmy airs of summer. Our inward love, and our outward virtue, our inward perceptions and our outward view, are filled with the breath of heaven. “Come from the four winds (the Divine mercy says), and breathe upon these slain.” We find the energies of a new state diffusing themselves with vigour and delight through our whole being, and we stand up as a portion of the Lord’s grand army.
In the work of regeneration, as in all other Divine operations, the order mentioned by the apostle is the true one. ” Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural ; and afterward that which is spiritual.” — 1 Cor. xv. 46. We should begin, as from ourselves, to ” labour for that which endureth to everlasting life.” In nature, growth takes place first, with seeming slowness, amid the cold chills and rains of the early year, but in due time come the glorious light, and the balmy breath of summer. So is it with religion.
It is fanaticism, and not obedience, which expects the spirit first. Magic seems to produce things suddenly, but they are mere mockeries, that delude. Nature works gradually, but the grand things she produces, are real and remain.
We cannot too strongly condemn an idea that has been extensively entertained, and and been confirmed by practices in which there has been much zeal, but not according to knowledge. We mean the persuasion that persons can be regenerated at excitement meetings, amid frantic cries and agonizing convulsive efforts. At such times reason is thrown aside, and yet God ever says, “Come and let us reason together.” The passions are heated by terrible fears of the anger of a God described awful with vengeance, and then they are soothed by the notion that their exciters can give them salvation, or they can give it themselves, by a strong effort to believe they are saved. They are terrified by false ideas of God, and then supposed to be saved by false ideas of salvation. Delusions both. God is love, and infinitely desires our salvation. Evil is our foe. Self and sin are our enemies, and produce our hell. These we should dread, against these we should fight. Salvation is deliverance from sin, not from fancy. ” Thou shalt call His name Jesus,” it is written, ” for He shall save His people FROM THEIR SINS.” ” Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world,” Let us ever be assured that our deliverance from our sins, actually so that we neither love them, nor do them, is the only course by which we can be really prepared for heaven. But, thanks be to Divine goodness, we all have the power to effect this. Let us use it. We shall not make a great leap, and become completely holy all at once ; but we shall proceed gradually, as described in our text, and throughout the Word. We shall let truth be victorious in the conflict of thought, we shall shake ourselves from the fetters of sin. We shall come into orderly views of connected doctrine, we shall join to doctrine the charity which rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth ; we shall surround ourselves with the skin of a consistent life of virtue and order, and we shall find that in due time, the Divine likeness upon us will be filled with the manifest presence of the breath of heaven, and to our unutterable felicity, that we can march on with the exceeding great army of those who earnestly combat all that impedes the realization upon earth of the kingdom of the Lord.
Who is there, my beloved brethren, now amongst us, who surveying his spirit, sees only a valley full of bones, and sighs not for a resurrection? Is there one who will not desire to join, in due time, the great army of angels, whose Head is the adorable King of kings, the Lord of hosts ? let this question stimulate every soul to strive. Can these bones live ? Trust in the Lord Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life. He has said, ” He that believeth in me, though he were dead,yet shall he live.” Obey His commands. Reform your lives. Read His Word. Learn from it to prophesy and obey. Then will you assuredly find that a divine secret power will bring the scattered bones of teachings, long neglected| into harmony, and endue them with power. He will clothe them with substance, form, and beauty. He will raise you to life, and give you to feel the breath of heaven. You will be added to the army of those who strive to subdue their own follies and evils first, and then combine with the pure, the wise, and the holy, in heaven and earth, to diminish affliction and distress, to expand all that is exalted and life-giving among men ; and, like the blessed ones above, “to follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.”
Author: JONATHAN BAYLEY –From The Divine Word Opened (1887)