The present chapter is entirely devoted to the consolation of Israel, though its parts are derived from two separate "words" of Jehovah. Ezekiel 36:1-15 belong to the "word" which opened with the first verse of the preceding chapter; Ezekiel 36:16 begins another "word," which only closes at Ezekiel 37:14 . The subject of the first part is the comfort offered to Israel in the destruction threatened against the heathen, and in the blessings promised to her land and people.
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you. The third step in the progress of sanctifying Jehovah's Name (comp. Ezekiel 11:19 , where a similar promise is made, and Ezekiel 18:31 , where the new heart is represented as a thing Israel must make for herself). This antinomy frequently occurs in Scripture, which never shrinks from holding man responsible for the production of that, as e.g. faith, for which he is incompetent without the help of Divine grace. Besides the cleansing of her guilt and her restitution in consequence to Jehovah's favor, Israel is promised such an inward renovation of her moral and spiritual disposition as to secure that she shall in future adhere to the worship and service of Jehovah. This change is described in a fourfold way.
A new heart.
We are here introduced to one of those profound utterances in which the Old Testament anticipates some of the richest truths of the New. The grace here promised was doubtless given in all ages to those who truly repented and sought it. But reading these words in the light of the gospel, we are able to see much more clearly what is their eternal significance.
I. THE ESSENCE OF SALVATION IS THE RENEWAL OF THE HEART . The commonest mistake is to ignore this most significant fact. People regard salvation too much as a change in the soul's estate rather than a change in its very nature. But while there is a change of condition, and while the greatest possible external consequences flow from the redemption of souls, that redemption does not consist in these things; they are but of secondary importance. The primary fact is internal. To be saved from the visible fires of a material hell, and to be carried aloft to the tunable pleasures of a celestial Paradise, may satisfy the Mohammedan-minded Christian, but it will not fulfill the great thought of Christ. Hearts are wrong, foul, diseased. Men have false ideas, corrupt desires and affections, evil imaginations, or perhaps a blank deadness of soul. Here is the seat of the disease; here, then, the cure must begin. Sin is heart-disease; salvation is heart-renewal.
II. THE OLD EVIL HEART IS OF STONE . A terrible and most significant description.
1. It is hard . It does not respond to the call of God; it neither perceives spiritual truth, nor feels Divine influences, nor responds to heavenly voices. It has no sympathy with God. It is inflexible and immobile.
2. It is cold . Not only does it not respond to the influences of God; in itself and in its new condition it is unfeeling. There is no glow of generous affection in the sinful heart.
3. It is dead . The heart is the most vital organ. For this part of the body to be petrified involves a fearful condition of utter death. The hands might be turned to stone, and yet the man might live. But if he bad a heart of stone he must be dead. Souls are "dead in trespasses and sin" ( Ephesians 2:1 ). Men fear a future death, but the Bible teaches that there is a present death of godless souls.
4. It is unnatural . A heart of stone—what can be more monstrous? Sin is all unnatural. It is contrary to nature not to have feelings of love for our heavenly Father.
III. GOD GIVES A NEW HEART OF FLESH .
1. It is a new heart . There is no curing the old one. "Ye must be born again" ( John 3:3 ). To be in Christ is to be " a new creature." Thus Christ gives complete renewal. Now, the hope of the world lies in this great fact. We try to patch up the face of society, but it is mortifying at the core; and Christ goes at once to the root of the matter. With creative power he makes the heart afresh, i.e. he gives quite new thoughts, feelings, and desires. The most abandoned wrecks of society may take courage and believe that even they can be saved if this is the glorious work of Christ in souls.
2. It is a heart of flesh .
It is observable that, in the view of the prophet, political revival and national restoration are associated with moral and spiritual improvement and renovation. No sooner has he uttered the prediction that the people of Israel shall be delivered from their captivity and be brought back into their own land, than, in a strain of singular beauty and eloquence, he proceeds to assure his countrymen of the Divine favor revealing itself in a deeper and more precious form. Jehovah promises to complete his work of mercy on behalf of his chosen people. They shall not only be rescued from the humiliation and reproach of banishment and servitude. They shall be saved from the sin which was the occasion of their calamities. They shall experience a spiritual renovation—they shall be cleansed, renewed, and sanctified. The change shall be within the spiritual nature, and it shall manifest itself in the outer life, which shall be made a life of purity and of obedience. The figurative language in which this Divine work of renewal is described deserves careful attention; each several figure seems to present the transformation in a new light; taken together, they exhibit the most marvelous work of God in its true beauty and completeness.
I. GOD WILL GIVE FOR FOULNESS , PURITY . The defiling and offensive nature of sin is symbolized in Scripture by uncleanness of body. Of the sins with which Israel is especially charged, that of idolatry is perhaps the most prominent and the most debasing, bringing in its train a host of moral abominations. From idolatry and all its contaminations the consecrated people must needs be delivered, as a condition of all other blessing. With what simplicity and exquisite beauty is the gracious purpose of the Divine -Purifier here expressed! "I wilt sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you." The moral purity of the Divine nature is imparted to the nature of man. The Holy Spirit produces the holy character, which expresses itself in the holy life. Much of the religious observance practiced among the Hebrews was intended to convey the idea and to cultivate the practice of holiness. In the New Testament the greatest stress is laid upon this disposition and habit: "Be ye holy; for your Father in heaven is holy."
II. GOD WILL GIVE FOR HARDNESS OF HEART , A TENDERNESS AND SUSCEPTIBILITY . By hardness or obduracy we understand insensibility to Divine appeals, to rebukes and to promises—a character repelling all higher and holier motive. The stony heart is to be taken away, and replaced by a heart of flesh, i.e. a heart sensitive to Divine goodness and responsive to Divine appeals. The Israelites seem to have been peculiarly hard and stubborn in character. The word addressed to them, if it was to produce any impression, must needs have been "as a fire, and as a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces." This was so throughout long periods of the national history. When God dealt with them in his mercy, he rendered their obdurate nature susceptible to gracious influences. Under the Christian dispensation, the softer features of the human character are brought out into prominence. The Spirit of Christ is a Spirit of meekness and gentleness. The heart of flesh which he imparts is susceptible to all that is good and winning, purifying and consolatory.
III. GOD WILL GIVE FOR OLDNESS , NEWNESS OF CHARACTER . "A new heart also will I give you, and a new Spirit will I put within you." It is remarkable that we should find in Ezekiel's prophecies so striking an anticipation of the promises and privileges of Christianity. Living, as we do, under the new covenant, we are especially able to appreciate this gracious assurance. Old things pass away, all things become new, to him who is "in Christ Jesus," who is "a new creation." The oldness of the letter, the oldness of disobedience, are left behind; and spiritual newness opens up, in all its beauty and hopefulness, before us. "Newness of life" is the plainest mark of a Christianity more than nominal and formal.
IV. GOD WILL GIVE FOR ALIENATION , ACCEPTANCE . Those who had been afar off were to be brought nigh; those who had been estranged by sin were to be restored to fellowship; those who had been in rebellion were to be reconciled. The exiled should be brought home, and the cold oppression and scorn of the foreign conqueror should be exchanged for the acceptable services of the temple, and the smile of God upon his people and their inheritance. A marvelous emblem of the restoration of God's people to himself through Jesus Christ. For our Savior has "made peace," so that those who accept his mediation, from having been alienated and at enmity, are reconciled, and enjoy the fellowship, the smile, the approval, of their God.
V. GOD WILL GIVE FOR ERROR , OBEDIENCE , SUBMISSION , AND CONFORMITY TO HIS WILL . "I will cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them." To feel the force of this promise, we must remember how grievously the Israelites had erred, and how far they had strayed from the path of true and acceptable service. A renovation worthy of the name must include a thorough submission to the will which had been defied, a thorough and cordial performance of the service which had been neglected. As it was with the Israelites, so must it ever be with all upon whom God has mercy. He puts his Spirit within them, and thus the life which would otherwise have been impracticable becomes the life deliberately chosen and consistently and perseveringly followed out.—T.
A vision of the true golden age.
Up to this point God had been revealing more clearly his active righteousness to Israel; and this with a view to arouse their drugged and drowsy consciences. The equity and justice of his scepter had been vividly portrayed. The keen edge of his judicial sword had been felt. Some movements of better feeling in the exiles were apparent. And now God hastens to foster penitential sentiments with a promise of generous kindness. Further revelations of his great nature are made. The excellence of his grace is unveiled to the opening eye of the penitents. Stupendous condescension is shown. God himself will undertake the renovation of human nature. He will go down to the very root of the evil. He will transform the innermost principles in the minds of the people, and so qualify them for national restoration and national prosperity. And he will do this mainly that he may set before the world the wealth of goodness and kindness which constitutes his glory. "I do this for my holy Name's sake, saith the Lord."
I. ISRAEL 'S ARRAIGNMENT .
1. The gravamen of the accusation is idolatry . Than idolatry, no greater affront can be put upon God, no greater evil can be wrought. God was deposed from his rightful throne, and senseless matter elevated into his place. The perfect will of God was set aside for the vain fancies of wicked men. The devil was preferred to Jehovah.
2. Idolatry was a system of active vice . It did not represent merely a change of belief; it was the enthronement and deification of vice. Public sanction was given to lust and unchastity. The marriage-tie was dissolved. The temple of God was desecrated with animal lust. The barbarous rites of idolatrous worship served to crush every tender feeling and to make men fiends. Wrong soon lost its hideous features in the eyes of men. They became inhuman, cruel, quarrelsome, murderous. Human life lost its sanctity, and the land was stained with blond.
3. Idolatry ' s fruits were most offensive to God . In order to convey to men an approximate idea of this offensiveness, God was compelled to borrow an illustration from the most loathsome thing familiar to men. As if he had said, "Picture to yourselves the thing most repulsive to your senses; this thing will feebly convey the idea of disgust I feel towards this monstrous crime." A common dung-hill is fragrance itself compared with the moral foulness of idolatry; and dead to every virtuous instinct must be the man who can endure it.
II. ISRAEL 'S ARRAIGNMENT LED TO SEVEREST PENALTY .
1. A discharge of God ' s anger . " I poured out my fury upon them ." The long-gathering storm of just indignation burst upon them as torrents from a broken reservoir. This is God's own account of his conduct, and he speaks, as usual, after the manner of a man. The violent anger of a man under a strong sense of injury has its correspondence in God, save that in God it is filled with the element of righteousness, and is in exact proportion to the sinner's deserts.
2. It embraced the dissolution of the covenant . The covenant made with Abraham and renewed with the Israelites was founded on a moral condition. That condition had been broken and abandoned by the nation; hence God publicly testified that he was no longer bound. The land of Canaan ceased to be held by Divine covenant; and, as the result of the broken compact, the Assyrians took possession. Pledges and contracts between God and man, wantonly violated, are surely followed by gravest disaster. This should teach all men the reality and the value of righteousness.
3. The penalty , though severe, was strictly equitable. "According to their doings I judged them." The fullest equity in God's dealings is guaranteed
Every act of loving obedience shall be rewarded. Every deed of rebellion shall be punished according to the most equitable scale. And in this category is registered every secret design, as well as every overt deed.
III. THIS MANIFESTATION OF JUSTICE OVERSHADOWED THE BENIGNANT NATURE OF GOD . "They profaned my holy Name." It is a great responsibility to bear the Name of God—a great responsibility to belong to his kingdom. We carry his reputation in our hands. Mankind will judge him by what they see in us. If they discover in us selfishness, avarice, lust, they will conclude that our God is not over-righteous. If we, for our sins, are chastised, men will shrink from serving such a Master. Such was the case in the olden time among all the peoples that dwelt in the vicinity of Palestine. They said contemptuously, "This Jehovah, who conquered Canaan for his people, was, not able to retain it for them! Or else, he is a God easily offended! He chooses a nation for his favor one day, and casts it off on the morrow! Or else, his justice is so severe that we prefer to keep aloof from him!" Such were the judgments of men. But this was the result of ignorance. This was derogatory to God. This prejudiced the public mind against just conceptions of God. Now, it had been God's high design to unveil gradually to mankind all the fullness of his nature—his strong affection, the riches of his mercy, his self-sacrificing grace. Did men but know him thoroughly, one great hindrance to confidence and obedience would be removed. Most surely he deserves our allegiance; he is infinitely worthy of our trust. Therefore God had pity upon his Name; for his Name is the sum-total of his goodness. Men were suffering, because they did not know God—were misled by erroneous views of his character. Hence God resolved to adopt another plan—to make a grand experiment. He will make a new covenant with the people, and will write his laws on the tablet of their hearts. He will yet conquer their rebellions with his abounding grace.
IV. THE GRAND EXPERIMENT OF KINDNESS ; viz. a gracious renewal of human nature.
1. The first step is cleansing . "From all your idols will I cleanse you." A disposition of repentance was already apparent. Many were beginning to ask how deliverance could be obtained; and, before they asked, the remedy is announced. God will undertake to purge out the virus of disease, and if he undertakes it, the change will be effectual. He will go to the root of the matter. The love of idols shall be rooted out of the heart; and, the root being killed, all the fruits will disappear. The instrument to be employed is the Truth—the revelation of Divine mercy. This is the "clean water" mentioned. To the same effect David declared, "The Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul." And Jesus the Christ affirmed, "Now ye are clean, through the word which I have spoken unto you."
2. The next step is heart-renovation . "A new heart also will I give you." By the mystic power or' his grace God produces gradually a complete change in the moral principles of every penitent man. New light enters the mind. Sin is seen in its loathsomeness. A gracious influence from heaven softens the dispositions of the heart. Feeling becomes tender. The tastes cluster round nobler objects. God is seen to be supremely good, and new affections begin to entwine round him. Old habits of evil are dissevered. New inclinations and aspirations are engendered. Step by step the man rises out of his dead self into a new life. "Old things pass away, and all things" within him "become new."
3. A further step is the indwelling of God ' s Spirit in the man . This is an anticipation of the new dispensation, more fully developed at Pentecost; this is the highest, noblest gift God can impart. In a word, this is spiritual evolution. On Adam God breathed, and he "became a living soul." But this is a new departure. The Spirit of God finds an entrance into the human soul, and works therein a new creation. All the dispositions of God are gradually reproduced. The man learns to think as God thinks, to feel as God feels, to love as God loves, to act as God acts. Then God's will is done, and God's image is reflected in the man as a face is reflected in a mirror.
4. A further step is national restoration . The man who truly loves God learns to love his fellow-man; and this bond of mutual love was the very thing wanted to weld the Hebrews into a nation. A people can safely be trusted with national prosperity only when they are loyal to God. The whole land of Palestine was a kind of enlarged temple, and only a consecrated people are fitted for a consecrated place. The old covenant, in its essential principles was to be restored. God would give himself to the people; they would give themselves up to him.
5. Material prosperity . "I will call for the corn, and will increase it." Soul-prosperity is the foundation; temporal fortune is the superstructure. "All things are ours if we are Christ's" "No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly." In Palestine 'the state of the harvest-field was a mirror in which men saw the smile or the frown of God. To obedient Jews, land-fertility was secured by an inviolable pledge of Jehovah. The windows of heaven were opened; the vines were embellished with splendid clusters; the very mountains seemed to send out rills of oil from the olive-groves.
V. THE FINAL AIM OF THIS STUPENDOUS CHANGE ; Viz. to reveal God's Name. In other words, to make known to the world his wealth of goodness. That the purpose and aim of Jehovah in this grand experiment might be made clear, it is stated both positively and negatively. "Not for your sakes do I this,' saith God, "but for my holy Name's sake." A full and accurate knowledge of God is hope and inspiration to men. If only the state of feeling in a man's heart be right, then in proportion as God is known, he will be admired, trusted, loved, served. If the soil of the heart be broken up and pulverized, the knowledge of God, like living seed, will grow and flourish and bear a rich harvest of fruit. "They that know thy Name will put their trust in thee." This heart-knowledge of God brings eternal life. Misunderstanding of God brings fear, bondage, misery, hell. The glory of God and the good of men are twin-purposes—two sides of the same coin. God's will is man's salvation. As we know God experimentally, we aspire to be like God, we yearn to do his will, heaven is begun within.—D.
The three elements of piety.
The Israelites were "profaning the Name' of Jehovah in the lands through which they were dispersed. But this could not be permitted to remain. For the sake of his own Divine Name, the sacredness of which was of such vital moment to mankind (see previous homily), God would work a gracious revolution ( Ezekiel 36:21-23 ). And what he would do is this:
1. He would work within their hearts an entire change of thought and feeling, removing their strong stubbornness and replacing it with a childlike sensibility.
2. He would thus lead them to live in purity and uprightness before the eyes of those among whom they dwelt. Thus would he magnify his holy Name.
3. Then he would restore them to the old relation which they had forfeited by their sin; they should be again his people, and he would be their God, dwelling among them and ruling over them in peace and righteousness. We have here the three constantly recurring elements of true piety.
I. INWARD RENEWAL . ( Ezekiel 36:26 .) Consisting of:
1. Sensibility taking the place of indifference or stubborn rebelliousness. Instead of the "stony heart" is the "heart of flesh;" instead of an utter, brutish disregard of Divine claims or a perverse and froward determination to reject them, is the "new heart," the "new spirit" of openness of mind, willingness which ends in eagerness to learn of God, responsiveness of feeling when he speaks, tenderness of conscience under the spoken truth of Christ.
2. Humility taking the place of pride or careless unconcern; a sense of past sin and of present unworthiness; the inward conviction that God has not been remembered, reverenced, served, trusted, as he should have been, and that life has been stained with many errors, faults, shortcomings, transgressions; a spirit of true penitence and shame; a voice, not loud but deep, says within the soul, "I have sinned."
3. Consecration instead of selfishness. The heart turns away from selfishness and from worldliness toward God, toward the Divine Redeemer, whom it receives gladly and fully as the Savior of the soul, as the Sovereign of the life.
II. OUTWARD RECTITUDE . "I will cause you to walk in my statutes," etc. ( Ezekiel 36:27 ). The obedience which springs from mere dread of penalty is of very small account; but that which proceeds from a loyal and a loving heart is worth everything. The Divine Son, who was also a Servant, could say, "I delight to do thy will;… thy Law is within my heart." And when the new spirit or the new heart is within us, we can speak in the same strain. Our piety passes, with perfect naturalness, from the reverent thought to the right word; from the grateful feeling to the upright action, from the consecrated spirit to the devoted and useful life. We obey God's word because we honor himself; we keep the commandments of Christ because we love our Lord ( John 14:15 , John 14:21 , John 14:23 ). If the Spirit of God be in us we shall bring forth the fruits of the Spirit ( Galatians 5:22 , Galatians 5:23 ). Of the commandments of Christ, to which, by his own words or by those of his apostles, he has attached the greatest weight, as indispensable to the Christian life and as the condition of his acceptance, we must include purity, truthfulness, sobriety, honesty, reverence, love—the love which forbears, which pities, which succors in time of need.
III. HEAVENLY INTERCOURSE , ( Ezekiel 36:28 .) While still inhabitants of earth, our citizenship is to be in heaven (see Philippians 3:20 ). God is to be our God, and we are to be his people. All human and earthly relationships are to find their highest and best illustration in those which are "in the heavens," which are spiritual and eternal. Communion between ourselves and our Father in heaven is to be common and constant—a daily, an hourly incident through all our life and in all our circumstances and conditions. Far below and far above all other things, we are to be the children and the heirs of God, we are to be the servants of Jesus Christ, we are to bear witness to his truth, we are to promote the coming of his kingdom on the earth.—C.