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EZEKIEL xxxvii. 9. Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain that they may live.
AMONG the numerous visions and allegorical represen tations contained in the scriptures, there are few more striking and affecting than that with which we are presented in this chapter. To conceive of it aright, we may suppose ourselves transported to a far stretch ing valley, or a vast plain, which at some former period had been the scene of a bloody contest between two immense hosts. Thousands upon thousands of human beings had fallen by each others swords ; their bodies, as was common in such cases, had been hastily covered with a little clay ; but by a deluge of rain, or by some other accident, the clay has been removed ; " the earth has cast forth her dead, and no more covers her slain ;" and now the whole field, as far as the eye can reach, forms a sort of Golgotha, or " place of skulls," presenting nothing to the contemplative spec tator but heaps of human bones stript of their inte-
o-uments, and, under the action of the elements,
already beginning to crumble into powder.
Such was the melancholy spectacle exhibited to the prophet Ezekiel, and described in this chapter. " The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in
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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." After the prophet had gazed a sufficient time on this heart-sickening scene, the question was put to him, " Son of man, can those bones live ?" If the prophet had judged merely according to the suggestions of sense or of reason, he would probably have answered, No ; the thing is impossible. Spring
may repair the ravages of winter, and again deck the fields with herbage, and the woods with foliage; the various orders of living creatures that now inhabit the earth may be succeeded by tribes of animated beings similar to themselves ; but the dead are for ever dead. These bones, solid and enduring though they seem, will in the course of ages moulder into dust, and become indistinguishable from the dust with which they are mingled ; but to expect them to be reorga nized into human forms, to be clothed with skin and flesh, and re-animated with life and breath, would be to expect a chimera and an impossibility. " As the cloud is consumed, and vanisheth away, so he that goeth down to the grave, shall come up no more.*
Such probably would have been the reply of the prophet, if his reply had been dictated merely by natural reason. But the prophet knew that to him who proposed the question " nothing was impossible ;" and therefore he gave an answer which was not only more modest and humble, but more rational and pious. " And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest."
The prophet was next instructed to prophesy ujK>n
the dry bones, and to proclaim to them the purpose of (rod to quicken and animate them. He obeys the divine instructions ; and the effect which forthwith
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followed was truly remarkable. " There was a noise, and a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone, and the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above." Still, how ever, there was no breath in them, no principle of vitality, no capacity of sensation or motion. But a second time the prophet prophesies, as he is com manded, and the effect is a change still more wonder ful than the former. " The breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an ex ceeding great army."
In explanation of this visionary transaction, we are informed that the bones were intended to represent the whole of Israel in that dispersed and wretched condition to which their iniquities were to reduce
them ; and that the resurrection of the bones was in tended to represent the restoration of the house of Israel to their own land, and their re-establishment in a state of great temporal comfort, and of great religious prosperity.
This remarkable prophecy relates to the " whole house of Israel ;" and it refers to a period when David, or the Messiah, was to preside over them and pro tect them as their prince and shepherd. It was not fully accomplished, then, at the return of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon ; it must refer to a restora tion far more glorious, which, though future, is now, we trust, not distant.
Interesting and instructive as it might be to regard the prophecy in this aspect, it is not in this view that I propose at present to consider it. The scene here described is exemplified not less strikingly in what, by nature, is the moral condition of the whole human race ; and the resurrection of the dry bones affords a most appropriate emblem of the glorious transformation
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which is effected when sinners are " quickened from the death of sin to a life of righteousness." It is to these subjects that I intend to apply the passage ; and taking it in this view, I would, in dependence on Divine aid, solicit your attention to the important truths which it naturally suggests.
I. It reminds us that the natural state of mankind is a state most depressed and most helpless. It is a state of moral desolation, and of spiritual death ; a state aptly represented by the dry bones in the valley of vision. Spiritual, like natural life, is distinguished by tw r o grand characteristics, a capacity of action, and a capacity of sensation and enjoyment. But in their natural condition, men display no aptitude or inclina tion for spiritual employments or spiritual pleasures ; no disposition to serve and obey their Maker ; no desire after his favour and his intercourse.
The bones seen by Ezekiel w r ere " very many, as well as very dry :" and a similar assertion might be made respecting mankind, contemplated in reference to their spiritual capacities and functions, and to their immortal interests and destinies. The generations of human beings who have successively peopled the islands and continents of the globe, appear to us a " multitude which no man can number ;" and yet of that innumerable multitude not an individual but is naturally alienated from the life of God, " dead in trespasses and sins." Look to the heathen world, and mark the condition of its inhabitants the condition in which the majority of the human race have existed in every age. Not only have they lost universally the knowledge of the true God ; the religious systems which they have fabricated for themselves are so many compounds of absurdity, obscenity, and cruelty ;
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in their general conduct they violate habitually the plainest arid most important requirements of morality ;
and amid the fearful prevalence of ignorance, and error, and wickedness, there is not a tribe or nation that is evincing an anxious wish, or making a welldirected effort to return " and seek the Lord, if haply they may feel after him and find him." Even in regions illuminated by supernatural revelation, and where the means of spiritual life are enjoyed, the inhabitants show, by no equivocal tokens, that they are naturally blind to " the beauties of holiness," insensible to the value of celestial and eternal things, dead to the ennobling employments and the exalted pleasures of religion. Are they not invincibly prone to " set their affections on things on the earth," to im merse themselves in sensual pleasures, and in low and grovelling pursuits, and to " mind" nothing but "earthly things." We address to them the proclamations of re ligion ; but to these proclamations, alarming though they be, many are utterly deaf, so that we might ad dress them with almost as much hope of success to the trees of the forest, or the rocks of the mountain ; and when we set before them the inestimable blessings of salvation, are we not like those who should set the richest delicacies beside the sepulchres of the dead ?
Meditate attentively, brethren, on this subject, that your minds may be suitably affected and impressed. It is a painful spectacle to look on a friend or fellowcreature blotched by ulcers, or convulsed and distorted by racking agonies, or reduced to a skeleton by pining sickness, " meagre and pale, the ghost of what he was." It is a spectacle little less affecting which the human body presents, immediately after that mysterious and fearful change which we call death, and to which change pain and sickness are the appropriate harbingers.
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The arms and the limbs, which were once so strong and active, are now powerless and motionless ; the eyes, which sparkled with intelligence and affection, are fixed in one ghastly stare ; and " the human face divine" exhibits the incipient ravages of that corruption which will soon render it an object too hideous to be looked on, even by those who often gazed on it with admiration and rapture. It would be a spectacle more shocking still, if, in some burying ground, the mansions of the
dead were to be suddenly uncovered, and to disclose their contents, presenting every gradation in the pro cess of putrefaction, bodies which the recent stroke of death has just converted into pallid corpses, bodies whose " flesh is clothed with worms and clods of dust, and the skin of which is broken and become loathsome ;" and skeletons, the bones of which are already loosened from each other, and beginning to moulder into powder. Such, however little as we may think of it, such is the spectacle which our world presents to the eye of omniscience and of infinite purity. What other aspect can it exhibit to him " who is glorious in holiness," than that of a lazar house, the inmates of which are universallv afflicted with loathsome and malignant dis tempers ; or a charnel house, a place of skulls, a place " full of dead men s bones, and all lint-leanness." Such are the scenes and objects employed in the divine word to furnish similitudes of the spiritual maladies and the spiritual miseries of mankind. It represents them as " unclean," and "vile," and "abominable;" as ^ diseased," and " without strength ;" as dying, and dead. " The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot, even unto the head, there is no soundness ; but wounds and bruises, and
putrifying sores." " We are all as an unclean tiling, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." " The
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Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand and seek God." " And you hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins." I remark,
II. That the word is the appointed means of quicken ing men from this state of spiritual death ; and this passage reminds us of the remarkable change in the moral state of mankind, which may be effected merely by the preaching of the word.
In the preceding verses, we are informed that, after Ezekiel had surveyed the valley of dry bones leisurely and attentively, he was commanded to prophesy upon them, and to say unto them, " O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord." Pie prophesied as he was commanded, and the consequence was a most remark
able change. a There was a noise, and behold a shak ing, and the bones came together, bone to his bone." Now, my friends, I do not say that the primary design of this part of the vision is to represent, but I say that it does fitly and strikingly represent, the commission given to the ministers of Christ, and the transformation which may be effected on the moral state of the world, merely through the preaching of the word. " The word of God, the truth as it is in Jesus," is the grand means prescribed by heaven for arousing sinners from their natural state of spiritual torpor and death, and for quickening them to spiritual life, health, and energy. Insensible, then, though they be to their immortal interests; deaf or dead as they are to the calls of religion ; hopeless as may seem the attempt to arouse and quicken them, it is the duty of all who are put in trust with the gospel to imitate the conduct of Ezekiel, and to " prophesy upon the dry bones, that they may live." " Whether men will hear, or whether they will forbear, we must cry aloud to them, and not spare."
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We must warn them of their danger, and inform them of their deliverer, and proclaim to them their duty, and say to every one, " Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." " We must preach Christ, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may pre sent every man perfect in Christ Jesus."
While the passage before us reminds us of the duty of the ministers of the word, it reminds us also of the effects which the word can accomplish. It cannot of itself, and unaccompanied by supernatural influence, infuse spiritual life, or produce a saving change ; but of itself, and unaccompanied with supernatural influence, it can produce a remarkable external revolution a revo lution resembling the reunion of the mutilated frag ments of the human body. It sometimes happens that, under the influence merely of the word, men are prevailed on to renounce all gross and flagrant sins; to assume " a form of godliness;" to adopt a profession of religion ; to organise themselves into churches, or to unite with churches already organised ; so that, to the human eye, they present the aspect of children of
God, disciples of Christ, and heirs of salvation. Such are the effects which the word has actually accom plished ; and, extravagant though it may seem, it is perhaps not asserting too much to affirm, that, were the word universally circulated, and universally preached, it would exterminate idolatry, with its horrid train of barbarous and bloody rites and practices ; reform the conduct, and civilize the manners of men ; and bring them almost universally to the acknowledg ment of the one living and true God. All this the word might do ; but all this might be done, and yet not one soul be savingly converted, or made spiritually alive. In such a state, sinners would be like statues,
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which exhibit all the parts of the human form, and exhibit them perhaps in all their graceful proportions, but which are destitute of life, and incapable of action or motion ; or, to take the similitude suggested by the context, they resemble the prophetical vision in that stage of it, when " the bones -came together, bone to
his bone; when the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them above, but there was no breath in them."
III. The text reminds us of the absolute necessity of supernatural influence to infuse spiritual life, and to produce a saving change. After the prophet had pro phesied upon the dry bones, and after they were or ganised into human forms, and " clothed with skin and flesh," he was commanded to prophesy farther, and say, " Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain that they may live." He did as he was commanded, and "the breath came into them;" and then it was, but not till then, that " they lived, and stood up upon their feet." We are thus taught, my friends, that wonderful and glorious as are the dis coveries of the word, and admirably adapted for its ob jects as it may be, viewed as an instrument, an additional energy is indispensably requisite to quicken those who are spiritually dead, and to make them "alive unto God."
Now, I need hardly say that the necessity of an immediate interposition of divine power, even of the vital breath of the divine Spirit, to effectuate these
results, is most explicitly inculcated in scripture. Men are there represented as " dead in trespasses and sins," as not being " sufficient of themselves to think any thing as of themselves," and as morally powerless and impotent ; that is, as invincibly disinclined to do any thing that is truly holy or spiritually good. " Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots ?
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then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil." In accordance with this representation, all the glorious changes comprehended in the renovation and sanctification of sinners are ascribed to divine agency. If men are brought to a proper understanding of the way of salvation, it is because " lie who at first com manded the light to shine out of darkness, shines into their hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus." If their hearts are renewed, if they are radically changed in their character, and views, and feelings, it is because they are " born of the Spirit," and " created anew in Christ Jesus." If they exem
plify the virtues of love, and meekness, and temperance, these are " fruits of the Spirit;" and if they evince untiring zeal in the discharge of duty, and unshaken fortitude in encountering danger and enduring affliction, it is because they are " strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." " By the grace of God they are what they are."
While the absolute necessity of supernatural influ ence to infuse spiritual life, and to produce a saving change, is thus a doctrine explicitly taught in scripture, it is a doctrine corroborated in some measure by the testimony of experience and observation. Do we not see numerous instances in which the most favourable external means prove utterly inefficacious ; in which the advantages of a pious education serve only to aug ment the guilt of those who have enjoyed them ; and in which the most powerful reasonings, and the most eloquent and pathetic appeals, make no more impres sion on the consciences of sinners, than pointless wea pons would make on the hide of the leviathan ? And is not the doctrine of the necessity of supernatural influence to infuse spiritual life, and to produce a saving change, countenanced also by the suggestions
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of reason ? If none but an almighty agent could have formed that natural light, which is the most refined and glorious of material substances, who but " He that at first commanded the light to shine out of darkness, could shine into the hearts" of the spiritually blind, " to give them the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ?" If none but God himself could have reduced to order and harmony the warring elements of that chaos out of which was formed the material universe, who else could subdue the bois terous passions, and sanctify the depraved principles of the human soul, and introduce light, and purity, and peace, into a region formerly filled with darkness, pol lution, and misrule ? If nothing short of omnipotence could produce natural life, even in its meanest form, shall we hesitate to recognize the operation of the same resistless energy in the production of that spiritual life by which we become allied to the Father of spirits, assimilated to his moral excellence, and qualified to
share in his immortal felicity ? Surely not. It is " of his own will that he begets men again with the word of truth." It is his province and his prerogative to " quicken the dead, that they may live." And if it be by him that spiritual life is in every instance imparted and maintained, shall we not, whenever we witness those effects, promptly recognize his agency ? shall we not go as far, at least, as the magicians of Egypt, and say, " This is the finger of God?" JShall we not go some steps farther than these impious impostors, and say, " Not unto us, but unto thy name be the glory ?" It is a question which may not unnaturally be pro posed. Is this arrangement, by which the origination of spiritual life is in every instance the effect of an imme diate exertion of divine energy, founded on the nature of things, or is it one of mere arbitrary choice ? In
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other terms, If such had been the pleasure of the Almighty, might not the word of itself, and without any supernatural agency, have been invested with
power to quicken the spiritually dead ? To this ques tion the answer would seem to be, That the word pos sesses all the aptitude and energy that can be possessed by an instrument ; but that so inveterate is the depravity of human nature, that neither the word nor any tiling else, merely in the order of external means, is adequate to exterminate or subdue it. The arrangement in question is founded, therefore, on necessity, rather than on choice ; that is, the immediate interference of divine power to reclaim men effectually from the service of sin to the service of God, is rendered indispensably necessary by the indolence and corruption of the human heart. And should not this view of our depravity and our helplessness on the one hand, and of our obligations to divine grace on the other, serve both to deepen our humility, and to heighten our gratitude ! I observe,
IV. The quickening influence of the divine Spirit is to be obtained through prayer. The effect of the first message proclaimed by the prophet to the dry bones, was, that they were organised into human forms, and covered with skin and flesh ; but " there was no breath in them." They lay on the ground a countless multi tude of dead corpses. At this stage of the transaction
the injunction to the prophet was, " 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 on these slain that they may live." This message is called a prophecy, but it par takes evidently of the nature of a prayer. AVe arc thus reminded, brethren, that if we would obtain the vivifying influences of the divine Spirit, we must seek them by prayer and supplication It must be our fh>-
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quent and earnest cry, " Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain that they may live."
You will readily allow that it is reasonable and proper that those who are already spiritually alive, should evince a compassionate solicitude for those who are spiritually dead, and should earnestly pray that they may be quickened and revived. But even without being much disposed to speculate on such subjects, you may not unnaturally ask, Can it be reasonable or proper
to command those who are yet in a state of spiritual death, and who are destitute of the Spirit, to pray for the Spirit ? How can they ask the Spirit aright, unless they are first quickened and invigorated by his influence, that is, unless they are possessed of the very blessing which they are required to implore ? To command the living to perform the functions of living men, is fit and congruous ; but to address such commands to the dead, seems little less preposterous than it would be to com mand the rocks to listen, or the dumb animals to speak in articulate language.
In reply to these questions I would remark, that however preposterous and inexplicable it may seem, the word of God does unquestionably call on the unregenerate, or the dead spiritually, to pray, to repent, to believe, and to perform other spiritual functions. Such injunctions as the following will readily suggest them selves to your recollection : " Seek ye the Lord while he may be found." " Ask, and it shall be given you." " Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead." " Draw nigh unto God, and he will draw nigh to you. " Cleanse your hands, ye sinners ; purify your hearts, ye double-minded."
Still, however, the question remains, " How can these things be ?" How can it be reasonable to exhort the dead to perform the functions of the living ; to com-
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mand them to pray for the Spirit, if without the Spirit they cannot pray ? I do not know if I can completely solve this difficulty on rational or philosophical princi ples ; but in as far as the difficulty is a practical or important one, I think I can furnish you with an illus tration which may free you from its fetters, and enable you to " walk at liberty."
To the man who was sick of the palsy, who was so utterly powerless, that he was brought to Jesus u borne by four," Jesus said, " Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house." This man might not un naturally have said, The command you address to me is absurd and insulting ; for could I have walked, I had never made the present application. But instead of
thus hesitating and objecting, he set himself at once to comply with the injunction ; and the divine benefactor who addressed it to him, furnished him with the re quisite strength. " Immediately he arose, took up his bed, and went forth before them all." Similar was the case of the man whose hand was withered. In attempt ing to stretch it out, as he was commanded, he received the strength to comply ; so that " his hand was restored whole as the other." Parallel examples, as you will recollect, are afforded by many others of the Saviour s miracles.
These cases are the better deserving of your atten tion, that the miraculous cures which the Lord Jesus wrought on the bodies of men in the days of his flesh, were intended to afford emblems and illustrations of the spiritual cures that, in every successive age, he works on their souls. If, then, there was nothing absurd in him commanding the impotent and paralytic to arise and walk, or the man who had the withered arm to stretch it forth, why should it be thought absurd for him to require the spiritual dead to pray, to believe, and to
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perform other spiritual functions ? May it not be ex pected, that if men will but stir themselves up to obey these requirements, they will at the moment obtain supernatural strength. The very requirement renders it probable that that strength will be communicated ; and the promises appended to many of these require ments, renders it certain. " Ask, and ye shall receive ; seek, and ye shall find." " Draw nigh unto God, and he will draw nigh to you." " Turn you at my reproof; behold, I will pour out my Spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you."
I remark, next, that men want not power, but will, to comply with the divine command. From the pre ceding examples and illustrations you may perceive, in some measure, that there is nothing absurd or unreason able in calling on the unregenerate, or the spiritually dead, to pray for the Spirit to perform other spiritual actions and duties. I apprehend, however, that if we cannot remove completely the difficulties which beset this subject, we are able to go a step farther than we
have yet proceeded. We are able to demonstrate, that the seeming absurdity of calling on the spiritually dead to perform the functions of spiritual life, is by no means so great as the seeming absurdity of calling on the paralytic to walk, or the man who had the withered hand to stretch it forth. With this view I would re quest you to consider, that the obstacle in the latter case is physical, consisting in the want of power ; in the former case, the obstacle is moral, consisting in the want, not of power, but of will or inclination. Considering, I say, that when it is said of the unregen erate that they are dead, the expression is in some degree figurative ; for the analogy, or resemblance between na tural and spiritual death, does not hold in every particu lar ; by many it has been pushed to an unwarrantable
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extent ; and it is this circumstance chiefly, which has involved the subject in difficulty and perplexity. They who are naturally dead are incapable of all action and of sensation, as incapable as stones or other inanimate
substances ; but it is not thus with the spiritually dead. They are possessed not only of natural life, but of reason and conscience, of understanding and affection, of will and of a certain portion of active power. Enfeebled and perverted as are their faculties, there arc many things of which they are capable ; and hence, while the scrip ture at one time represents them as dead, it represents them at another as u weak and diseased ;" intimating, that debilitated though they are, their condition is not that of lifeless objects or dead corpses. There arcnumberless things competent to them as rational and voluntary agents ; and even their incapacity for spiritual duties is moral, not natural, consisting, as has just been remarked, not in physical inability, but in disin clination, resembling the blindness, not of the man who wants eyes, but of the man who obstinately shuts his eyes, or who himself has put a bandage over them. Such, then, being the incapacity of the unregenerate, it would have been but reasonable to call on them to pray, to believe, to repent, and obey, even if no par ticular encouragement had been held out to them to expect supernatural aid. How much more reasonable are such calls when the divine declarations and promises warrant them to expect that aid ; and how reasonable
that they should exert, to the utmost, their natural faculties, in attempting to comply with the divine injunctions, when it is only in thus exerting their facul ties that they arc authorised to expect supernatural grace ; and when in making these exertions, they are authorised to expect this grace with great confidence. 1 might almost say, with perfect certainty.
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I trust, my friends, that, for the present at least, I have said enough to vindicate the reasonableness and the propriety of exhorting the spiritually dead to pray, and to perform other spiritual actions and duties. Let me now, then, in concluding this particular, practically apply what has been said, by calling on those who are destitute of the Spirit, to pray for the Spirit. Such is the infirmity, and such is the perversity of human nature, that men are prone to do anything in religion rather than the exact thing which they ought to do ; and hence it is that they are apt to substitute speculation for action, disputation for devotion. Let me tell you,
my friends, in reference to the point in hand, and let me press it on you as a matter of paramount importance, that it is alike your duty and your interest, not to speculate, but to act ; not to argue and object, but to pray ; and if you set yourselves to pray with devout importunity, with importunity commensurate in any tolerable degree to the value of the blessing, light would break in upon your darkness, and your specula tive difficulties would speedily evanish.
To the man, then, who has hitherto been absorbed entirely in terrestrial pursuits, or who has been buried in sloth and supineness, I would address the expostu lation addressed to the sleeping prophet, " What meanest thou, O sleeper ? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us that we perish not." Pray for all the blessings that you need; and pray especially for the gift of the Spirit. To excite you to implore the Spirit, think of the transcendant value and the indispensable necessity of the blessing. " If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. " Unless ye are born of water and of the Spirit, ye cannot see the kingdom of God." The Spirit is the orand agent in the application of redemption ; and in
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this gift, therefore, all others are either virtually com prehended or connected. That you may pray with faith and hope, think of the readiness of God to give the Spirit. " What man is there of you, whom, if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent ? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give the holy Spirit to them that ask him." To excite you to immediate and importunate prayer, think how much valuable time you have already mis-spent ; and think of the uncertain and fleeting nature of your pre sent condition. " This, I say, brethren, the time is short." Are not your days few ? " For what is your life ; it is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away."
I have been endeavouring to show that it is the duty and the interest of those who have not yet ob
tained the Spirit to ask the Spirit. But 1 must observe, that the duty which the text more imme diately suggests is this, that they who have already experienced the quickening influences of the Spirit ought to pray, that the Spirit may be given to those who are spiritually dead ; and whatever difficulties perplex the former duty, about the reasonableness and importance of the latter, there can be no question, no doubt. If you are at all awake to the promptings either of piety, or of general benevolence, or of private affec tion ; if you have any thing like a proper regard for the glory of God, or the honour of Christ ; or any com passion for the miseries of relatives and acquaintances who are living without God, or of the masses of your fellow creatures throughout the world lying in wicked ness, you will surely pray that the quickening Spirit would visit them with his influences, lest they become
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the victims of eternal death, of hopeless and endless destruction. Let it, then, be your present and frequent
cry, " Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain that they may live." I remark,
Y. That the passage before us reminds us that we have the greatest encouragement to expect the Spirit, if we pray for him. When the prophet Ezekiel pro phesied, as he was commanded, the breath came into the dead bodies.
There is no blessing, my friends, whether temporal or spiritual, whether pertaining to the life that now is, or to that which is to come, but we are encouraged to expect it, if we seek it from God by prayer and supplication. He has graciously revealed himself as " the hearer of prayer;" and his word abounds with declarations, and injunctions, and promises, requiring us to pray to him, and authorising us to believe that he will neither be tardy nor reluctant to listen to our cr y.__ He never said to any of the seed of Jacob," and he never said to any of the seed of Adam, " Seek ye my face in vain." " He is near to all that call upon him in truth."" All things whatsoever ye ask believing, ye shall receive."" Ye have not, because ye ask not."
While we have thus abundant encouragement to hope for every blessing that we need, if only we ask it, we have special encouragement to pray for the Spirit, and to expect the Spirit. What I mean is, that we have greater encouragement to expect the Spirit, than we have to expect almost any other blessing. Some of these special encouragements it may be advantage ous to mention, that you may be excited to pray for the Spirit with faith, and fervour, and perseverance.
I would remark, then, first, that if we reflect on the nature and character of God, we must regard it as a
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thing singularly congenial to his dispositions to bestow the Spirit. The word of God teaches us to consider the chief glory, the crowning excellence of his charac ter, as consisting not in his irresistible power or his unlimited knowledge, but in his moral perfections, in that combination of his attributes which constitutes his
holiness. " He is glorious in holiness:" and his holi ness forms the theme of unceasing admiration and praise to the cherubim and seraphim in the celestial temple. Now, the grand object of the work of the Holy Spirit is to make men holy, to assimilate them to God, to stamp the divine image on the human soul, " by creating It anew, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness." Must not we conceive of it, then, as a thing eminently agreeable, ineffably congenial, to the character and disposition of God, to " give his Holy Spirit to them that ask him?"
I remark, next, that the declarations of scripture intimate, that while God is ready to bestow the bless ing in answer to prayer, he is peculiarly prompt to bestow the Spirit. And, in proof of this, I refer to the memorable injunctions and promises on the duty of prayer, contained in the Saviour s sermon on the mount, " Ask, and it shall be given you ; seek, and ye shall find ; knock, and it shall be opened unto you : For every one that askcth, receivcth ; and he that sceketh, findeth ; and to him that knockcth, it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom, if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone ? or if he ask a fish, will
he give him a serpent ? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?" But in the parallel passage of Luke, the expression is, " Give his Holy Spirit to them that ask him." This change in the
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language is not uninstructive. It intimates, or seems to intimate, that while God is ready to bestow every blessing, he is peculiarly ready to give his Spirit ; and it intimates, farther, that all other good things are virtually comprehended in the gift of the Spirit : And so, in fact, they are ; for the Spirit is the grand agent in the application of redemption : and, therefore, all other good gifts are inseparably connected with this.
Let me next remind you, that, to open a channel for the transmission of the influences of the Spirit, is the main object, or, at least, one of the main objects, of the Saviour s death ; and that to dispense the Spirit, is the
more immediate design of his ascension into heaven. To open a channel for the transmission of the influences of the Spirit is the main object, or, at least, one of the many objects, of the Saviour s death ; and hence it is said that " Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us : for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree : that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ ; that we might receive the pro mise of the Spirit through faith." As one of the main objects of the Saviour s death was to open a way for the communication of the Spirit, so to give the Spirit is the more immediate design of his ascension into heaven. This is intimated in the scriptures both of the Old and New Testament : " Thou hast ascended up on high, thou hast led captivity captive : thou hast received gifts for men ; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them." " Never theless I tell you the truth, It is expedient for you that I go away : for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you ; but if I depart, I will send him unto you." Can we imagine, then, that God will be indifferent to an object, for the sake of which he gave
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up his Son to an accursed death, and for the sake of which lie " raised him from the dead and gave him glory ?" May we not, or rather, must we not conclude, on the contrary, that the Father and the Son are still inexpressibly intent on this glorious and benevolent object ; and that they are each most willing and most eager, if we may so express it, to give the Spirit to all who apply for him ?
Closely connected with the consideration just men tioned, is that which I would next mention : It is, that the Spirit is the grand promise of the New Testa ment or the gospel dispensation : occupying a place somewhat similar to that which was formerly occupied by the promise of the Saviour. As the advent of the Saviour was the grand object to which the faith and hope of good men were directed under the patriarchal and legal dispensations, so the gift of the Spirit is the grand blessing to which the expectations of believers are directed under the Christian economy. Hence the evan
gelical dispensation is expressly characterised as " the ministration of the Spirit ;" and hence the memorable prediction or promise in the book of Joel, quoted by the apostle Peter, as having received its primary but partial fulfilment in the day of Pentecost. " It shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh ; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions : and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit." I need hardly remark, that this and similar predictions received no thing more than an incipient and imperfect accomplish ment on the day of Pentecost ; for these predictions authorise us to anticipate a period when the Spirit shall be poured out far more copiously than he has yet been,
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when the Jews shall be restored to the church with the fulness of the Gentiles, and when " the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters
cover the seas." " Upon the land of my people shall come up thorns and briers ; yea, upon all the houses of joy in the joyous city : because the palaces shall be forsaken ; the multitude of the city shall be left ; the forts and towers shall be for dens for ever, a joy of wild asses, a pasture of flocks ; until the Spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest."
Let me remind you, still farther, that the language in which the scripture instructs us to pray for the Spirit, or for blessings which necessarily imply the communication of the Spirit, is not only such as affords us the strongest encouragement, and warrants the most confident expectations, but such as may well fill us with unutterable wonder and amazement at the conde scension and grace of the Most High God. " Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, and give him no rest, till he establish and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth." " Thus saith Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the w r ork of my hands command ye me." How astonishing that we, who are feeble and sinful creatures, should thus be
invited not only to speak unto the Almighty Maker, but to teaze him, as it were, with our importunity, to address him almost with a tone of authority ; not only to ask, but to " command him, concerning the work of his hands," the results which his Spirit will yet achieve! Can we forbear to add, what must be our stupidity and our guilt if these encouragements fail to arouse us to earnest, and hopeful, and persevering supplication !
Let me remark, finally, that God has often given
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the Spirit unasked ; and that is what cannot be said of the kindred blessing of forgiveness. When he gives pardon, he gives first a spirit of penitence, prompting men to confess their iniquities and to implore forgive ness, but he has often given his Spirit without being asked; and I may add, that in no instance, when solicited, has he refused that inestimable boon. Often " has he been found of them that sought him not;" never has he refused to be found of them that have
sought him. Often has he imparted his Spirit to re claim the wandering and awaken the slumbering, to enlighten blind minds and soften hard hearts; and would it not, then, be utterly unreasonable to imagine that he will not be prompt and eager to listen to them that cry to him ? " Before they call, I will answer ; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear." I may add,
VI. When the Spirit is poured out, the result will be happy and glorious. In consequence of the prayers of the prophet, " breath from the Lord entered the dead bodies in the valley of vision, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army."
In illustration of the particular now announced, I might call on you to consider, first, the stupendous and beneficent character of the change implied in the re generation of a single soul. Think of a rational and immortal spirit, that had been alienated from the " Father of spirits," the great source of purity and joy, that was " dead in trespasses and sins," and the righteous conviction of eternal wrath ; think of such a spirit being quickened from the death of sin, restored
to the favour and fellowship, and assimilated to the image of, its Maker, and constituted an heir of imperish able felicity and glory. Here is a change more stu pendous and wonderful in its nature, more beneficent
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and glorious in its character and results, than the creation of the resplendent sun, than the formation of all the suns and systems of the material universe.
If such be the happy and glorious nature of the transformation implied in the regeneration of one human being, think, next, how beneficent and wonder ful the aggregate, the sum total of changes, compre hended in the regeneration and salvation of the whole, or even of the majority, of a village or a city, of a nation or of the world at large.
Think, again, how interesting and lovely is the spec tacle which a church or congregation exhibits, and how vast the amount of holiness and comfort which it em
bodies, when its members are generally, or universally, what they ought to be, persons renewed by the Holy Ghost, and living habitually under his benignant guid ance. Think of a society, in which fraud and false hood, selfishness and envy, dishonesty and injustice, intemperance and impurity, are almost unknown, a society, pervaded by a spirit of humility and meekness, of love and charity, of zeal and piety, and almost every member of which is prompt and forward to consecrate his property and his exertions to the glory of the com mon Saviour, the present and eternal comfort of his fellow men.
Such, brethren, will be the state of things exemplified in almost every region of the globe, when the Spirit shall be poured upon us from on high. To aid you in conceiving of this happy state of things, and to stimulate to pray and labour for the acceleration of it, let me, next, remind you of some of the similitudes employed in scripture to represent it to the imagination rather than to the intellect. Think of the change effected by the rising of the sun ; and of the difference between mid night and morning. At the former season, all nature ie
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wrapt in gloom and horror ; a death-like and universal silence reigns ; or if there be tokens of life and acti vity, they are probably the presages of danger, the yell of wild beasts prowling for prey, or the steps of the robber and the murderer. At the other season, the darkness and the danger have passed away ; the whole creation exults under the exhilarating beams of the Ruler of the day, u coming forth like a bridegroom from his chamber ;" the riches of the earth and the glories of the heavens invite our admiring gaze ; and men go forth from their dwellings to ply the labours of industry, or to enjoy the beauties of nature. Similar is the change effected by the operation of the Spirit. " Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord ; his going forth is prepared as the morning. He shall be as the light of the morning when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds ; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain."
Contemplate next the contrast presented by external nature in the seasons of winter and summer. In the former, sullen vapours obscure the sky ; and the land scape, which a few months ago appeared so fair and lovely, presents scarcely a vestige of vegetation or beauty ; and, perhaps, the Almighty " scatters the hoar frost like ashes, and gives snow like wool, and casts forth his ice in morsels," or in masses ; so that it would almost seem as if amid drifting snows and intolerable frosts all flesh would perish together. But at the appointed season the snows melt and disappear under the genial heat of the vernal sun ; the suspended powers of vegetation revive ; in a little the meadows and the fields, the hills and the valleys, are decorated with a glory surpassing the splendour of kings ; and the forests and the groves having put on their green
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attire, resound with the voices of thousands of happy songsters warbling their Maker s praise. " For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The
flowers appear on the earth ; the time of the singing of birds is come ; and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land." This wonderful transition affords another appropriate similitude of the transformation effected by the word and spirit of Jesus Christ. " I will be as the dew unto Israel ; he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive-tree, and his smell as Lebanon. They that dwell under his shadow shall return ; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine : the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon."
" As dew upon the tender herb,
Diffusing fragrance round ; As show rs that usher in the spring,
And cheer the thirsty ground : So shall his presence bless our souls,
And shed a joyful light ; That hallow d morn shall chace away
The sorrows of the night.
Striking and instructive as are these similitudes, that employed in the passage before us is perhaps more striking and instructive still. Try, then, to transport yourselves in imagination to some immense plain or valley, presenting nothing to the eye of the spectator but dead bodies, or dry bones. See these ruins of mortality organized into human forms, inspired with life and breath, marshalled under proper officers into a numerous, and orderly, and formidable army ; their banners floating in the breeze ; their armour glittering in the sun ; and the breast of every man beating high with emotions of courage and joy, at the sound of
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the trumpet, and other instruments of martial music. Astonishing as would be such a transformation and magnificent sight, still more astonishing will be the
revelation, and still more glorious will be the spectacle, which the world will exhibit to the spiritual eye, when the tribes and nations of the human race, quickened by the divine Spirit from their spiritual state of torpor and death, and putting on " the panoply of God," shall muster themselves under the banners of the " Captain of Salvation," ready to fight his battles, and to celebrate his victories.
In conclusion, what is the practical improvement to be made of the whole of this discussion? Should it not excite us to pray for the Spirit, and to pray for him with earnestness and importunity, and with a confident belief that he will be imparted in answer to prayer. Recollect, brethren, that while as " the wind bloweth where it listeth,and men hear the sound thereof, but can not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth, so is every one that is born of the Spirit," it is the duty of Christians to pray that the Spirit may be poured out on all flesh ; and it is the duty of those who have received the Spirit to seek more and more of his heavenly in fluence. How plain the command ! how rich the en couragement, " Ask, and ye shall receive ; seek, and ye shall find ; knock, and it shall be opened to you :
for every one that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened." " If ye being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father give good gifts, even his Holy Spirit, to those who ask him!"
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